Your 10 Questions by Datuk K. Rajagopal

National Football coach answers ...

As our national coach, what are your major challenges in grooming our players to be the best? Moganasuntaram Selvadurai, Parit Buntar, Perak

One of the biggest challenges is to change the mentality of the players, to get them to be positive always, along with the need to have a winning mentality.

Apart from that, it is to keep the players performing consistently in every international match and to make coaches from the states and clubs understand how important the national team is and what are the demands of playing at the highest level.

It is also a challenge to get the public and the football supporters to be patient with the team in their pursuit of better results and to see our players develop.

The national team has improved but when compared with our neighbours, I feel we are still some way behind. How can we improve the national team and do better in the future? S. Selvakumar, Ipoh, Perak

I don't think we are under performing. We can see the progress in our players and the national team but there is a need to work hard to climb to another level.

To improve, we need to play quality matches every month against strong opponents. We have crafted a long-term programme to reach our vision of qualifying for the Asian Cup in Sydney, Australia in 2015.

It is rumoured that Safiq Rahim and Mohd Safee Sali might get the chance to play for English football clubs. How important is this to the development of Malaysian football? Do Malaysian footballers have what it takes to survive in the highly rated English football leagues? Dr Lim T K, Petaling Jaya

It is very important for the future generation of footballers to have this hope and belief. The move will be a source of motivation for the youth and we hope there will be more players who will take the same steps. Both these players have to start to think big and need to pave the way for others. They will be role models. Nothing is impossible.

Besides football, what is your favourite sport and why? Tabitha CC Boi, Penang

There are a number of sports that interests me; athletics, boxing, Formula 1, hockey, badminton and basketball. They give me an edge to develop football at the highest level and always keep me in a positive state of mind. The knowledge I gather from these sports helps me make decisions on match days.

Our Harimau Malaya is a young team and the recent loss to Singapore was, I think, due to lack of experience and pace. What would you do to improve the current squad's physical fitness level and mental strength when playing more experienced and physically fit opponents? Ooi Beng Sun, Penang

We need the players to think positively, have self belief, focus and visualise the game before they play. The players need to cope with different strategies. We need to give more than 100% during every training session and give every game our best shot.

To be physically fit, we need to regularly carry out a variety of physiological tests to evaluate individuals to determine their strengths and weaknesses.

If you were the manager of an EPL team playing against Manchester United, what would your tactical approach be, to beat them? Asmawi Hussain, Petaling Jaya

It will begin with pressuring them from the start, especially in defence and to employ a 4-3-3 formation. Next will be to shut down the flankers, both Nani and Ashley Young, and to closely mark Wayne Rooney. I will also put more pressure on Patrice Evra because when he pushes up into attack, he is very slow in tracking back. It's also important to harass and pressure their midfield because they are poor in defending.

As the national coach, what are your strengths and hopes, weaknesses and fears? David Tih, Malacca

My strengths are confidence, optimism, the desire to win and definitely integrity. I want to take Malaysian football back to the highest stage in Asia. My weaknesses can only be assessed by others and I cannot describe what they are. My fear is that life ends when you stop dreaming and hope ends when you stop believing.

At the Asian-Zone World Cup qualifiers, we lost to Singapore. To me they were good, and we were not. But we gave excuses here. When will we learn to lose gracefully? Bulbir Singh, Seremban

As a coach I did not give any excuses but I do not agree that they were better. We played well but we made more mistakes than Singapore.

Recently the coach of Iraq, Zico, said football games should not be played on artificial turfs. That is a reality and we did not complain. Singapore lost to Iraq and said that Iraq delayed the game. That was an excuse but when Singapore delayed the match against us, I did not give any excuses.

Who do you think is the best footballer of all time, and why? Eugenie Devan, Bangsar

Pele, Marodona and Messi. They have brought a different dimension to football while Messi has just begun to mesmerise us. They have a god given ability. It is wonderful to watch them play as they give us pleasure and entertain fans from all over the world.

You became famous after Malaysia won the AFF Suzuki Cup. How do you cope with this new found fame and how do you react to people who approach you? Kingston Yap, Segambut, KL

It is about being the same person and remaining down to earth and humble.

When people approach me, I receive them with humility and say thank you and have a chat with them if they want to ask me questions about football. Many want to snap photos with me and I always oblige.

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