Former Leads United and Aston Villa coach David O'Leary is among five candidates in the running to replace Datuk K. Rajagopal. – AFP Photo
PETALING JAYA: First, it was Frenchman Philippe Troussier. Then it was former French international Marcel Desailly. Now, another big name has been linked with the vacant national head coach job.
And it’s none other than Arsenal legend David O’Leary.
The 55-year-old former Ireland international is among five candidates who are in the running to replace Datuk K. Rajagopal, whose contract was not renewed in December last year.
Troussier was the leading candidate for the job but the deal fell through last month. Desailly has been ruled out as a candidate by Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) deputy president Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah.
This leaves O’Leary in the running with Czech-Italian coach Zdenek Zeman, Italian Fabio Lopez and Englishmen Peter Reid and Bob Houghton.
O’Leary had coached Leeds United and Aston Villa in the English Premier League as well as Al-Ahli in Dubai.
The national coach selection committee chairman, Datuk Seri Subahan Kamal, said that they have until June to come up with a name.
They will then forward the name to the technical committee, headed by Tengku Abdullah, for endorsement.
“There has been a delay in appointing the national coach because we are looking at hiring someone for the long term and we are trying to get the right person,” said Subahan, who is also FAM vice-president.
“We need someone with the experience and ability to work with the other coaches in FAM’s set-up.
“We have so many applicants ... and I foresee more coming in. We will also be talking to the shortlisted candidates to see what they can offer us.”
Meanwhile, interim coach Datuk Ong Kim Swee is expected to be relieved of his duties with the national team in June.
The national Under-23 coach, who is currently with the Harimau Muda A squad in Queensland, Australia, will be allowed to focus on preparations for the Incheon Asian Games in September.
Subahan also praised Kim Swee for doing an excellent job in guiding the senior team to a 2-1 win over Yemen in their Asian Cup Group D final match last week.
“Kim Swee impressed me with his team talk in the match against Yemen. Unfortunately, he has his hands full with so many things this year,” said Subahan, who is also the national team manager.
“Kim Swee will handle the team during the international break in April ... we have several plans for the team and we intend to organise friendlies with other countries in the region to improve our ranking.”
The national team’s confirmed assignment this year are a friendly against Singapore in August and the AFF Suzuki Cup in November.