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 By Jason Dasey

Malaysia national coach down to three-man shortlist as FAM decide

In the end, Malaysian football authorities came to their senses when they chose three locally proven candidates for their three-man shortlist for national coach.

Names such as Rene Meulensteen, Dave Jones and even Lothar Matthaus had reportedly applied, bringing with them big expectations and even bigger salary demands.

Choosing a European coach with little or no Southeast Asian experience would be the equivalent of attempting to complete the Dakar Rally in a Ferrari or Lamborghini: looks good at the start, but with limited durability and almost zero chance of staying the course.

The finalists -- Ong Kim Swee, Bojan Hodak and Robert Alberts -- are all excellent choices, who offer slightly different qualities. All will undergo final interviews at Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) headquarters on Monday. Here are three thoughts on each:

Ong, who learnt from Arsene Wenger when he visited Malaysia in 2009, knows the former Harimau Muda players backwards.

1. Ong can build on what he has created

Ong Kim Swee earned the revered title of Datuk after guiding Malaysia's Under-23 side to the 2011 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games title in Myanmar. He also won the 2013 Merdeka tournament and oversaw the U23s in the 2013 and 2015 SEA Games.

Stepping in as interim coach for a second time in September, he has done a solid if not spectacular job, in tandem with former Australia midfielder Brad Maloney.

It couldn't have been easy to pick up the pieces after Dollah Salleh stepped down in the wake of the 10-0 thrashing to United Arab Emirates in September.

Former defender Ong helped Malaysia become more resilient and compact and ensured that their remaining 2015 performances were more respectable. The one blip was a 6-0 defeat to Palestine in November.

Giving the role to Ong means that he can continue to develop the players he has worked with for more than five years. Having taken many of them to Southeast Queensland to play in the local competition in 2013 -- when he first worked with Maloney -- he knows them backwards.

Bojan Hodak brings the authority of an overseas coach with the cultural sensitivities of a local boss.

2. Hodak brings success and sternness

In his playing days, Bojan Hodak was a fearless defender, known for his toughness and amazing jump, perfected on the basketball court, back in his native Croatia.

Hodak is a no-nonsense type of character who can exert discipline and structure, with the understanding of local culture that comes from living in the region for almost 20 years -- and being married to a Malaysian.

What he achieved in his two years at Kelantan was impressive, especially the treble-winning 2012 season when he scooped the Malaysia Super League (MSL), Malaysia Cup and Malaysia FA Cup.

Things began well at Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) -- he won the 2014 MSL title -- until he had problems with the sizeable egos of the club's Argentine imports, including talisman Luciano Figueroa and was "rested" before Mario Gomez took over as head coach.

Hodak would be a good choice for the job and is probably a slight favourite over incumbent Ong, because he would bring something different to the national setup.

The 44-year-old knows many of Malaysia's senior players well from his days in Johor and has their respect. He would set ambitious targets for the national team and would accept no excuses if they failed to achieve them.

Sarawak coach Robert Alberts
Alberts' experience within the Ajax and South Korean systems make him stand out from the other two challengers.

3. Dutchman Alberts has the most experience

Having coached professionally for more than 30 years, Dutchman Robert Alberts is the most experienced of all the finalists.

Alberts worked for eight years in Sweden before arriving at Kedah in 1992, from which point he had a successful three-year reign, highlighted by the double winning season of 1993.

Singapore fans remember him from his days at Tanjong Pagar and 1999 champions Home United, and he was equally well respected in the Indonesia Super League (ISL) with 2010 ISL winners Arema Malang and PSM Makassar.

Like Ong, he has worked in the Malaysia junior system -- he was U19 boss in 2007 -- and had a two-year spell within the highly regarded South Korean setup.

And like Louis van Gaal, with whom he briefly shared dressing rooms more than four decades ago, Alberts came through the elite Ajax youth system.

But in contrast to the abrasive Van Gaal, Alberts has a more gentle and conciliatory approach, which is needed given the sometimes fragile nature of Malaysian players.

He did well under challenging circumstances at East Malaysian club, Sarawak and certainly has the background and confidence to handle a national role in Southeast Asia.

Jason Dasey is ESPN FC Senior Editor in Singapore. Formerly Asian editor of FourFourTwo, he was also a CNN and BBC broadcaster. Twitter: @JasonDasey.


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