Midfielder Safiq Rahim (centre) has re-discovered his form after relinquishing the captain's armband in February. - Filepic
PETALING JAYA: National interim coach Datuk Ong Kim Swee feels that midfielder Safiq Rahim has become a better player since being relieved of the captain’s duty.
Safiq had captained the team since the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games, following an injury to centreback Norhafiz Zamani Misbah.
Under Safiq’s stewardship, Malaysia won the AFF Cup that same year.
The 26-year-old’s performance, however, came under extra scrutiny and the pressure slowly took its toll on his game as he was constantly criticised for perceived poor performances.
Kim Swee’s first task after being announced as the interim coach in February was to take the captain’s armband from Safiq and passing it to centreback Mohd Aidil Zafuan Abdul Razak.
Safiq’s game has since flourished again.
A more focused Safiq has even wrested back his midfield spot with his club Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) in the Super League and the national team.
“Look at him now, he is now a regular with his team in the M-League and it seems that his game has improved without the armband,” said Kim Swee.
“He seemed to be under pressure wearing the armband ... it was like he was carrying a huge weight on his shoulders ... but now he’s much more relaxed and focused on his game.
“It’s not easy to be the team captain ... he did a good job as skipper but I think he will be a better player without the additional pressure.”
Kim Swee, who is in the midst of preparing the national team for a friendly against the Philippines in Cebu on Sunday, admitted that he would change his tactics.
The team were held to a 0-0 draw by the Philippines at the Selayang Stadium in a friendly on March 1 before they went on to edge Yemen 2-1 in an Asian Cup qualifying match four days later.
“We are going to play them in front of their own (the Philippines) fans, we can’t play on open attacking game there. We will change our game,” said Kim Swee.