DATUK K. RAJAGOBAL has no regrets as he prepares to bid farewell to the FA of Malaysia (FAM), and the outgoing national coach recalled the good times, paid tributes and disclosed his plans in an emotional press conference in Kelana Jaya , Monday
The former international believes he has set a benchmark for the incoming national coach as winning the AFF Cup and Sea Games gold should not be future targets.
Datuk Rajagobal achieved both -- winning the Sea Games gold in 2009 and the 2010 AFF Cup -- and FAM certainly owes him a debt of gratitude as he helped change the perception that fans had of the game after more than two decades of under-achievement.
Datuk Rajagobal will punch out for the last time on Dec 31 after four-and-half years as the longest serving national coach in the history of local football.
"As a coach, I endured many challenges but my focus and objectives did not change. I kept on motivating the players and everyone, including my coaching staff and FAM, worked as a team," said Datuk Rajagobal .
"I have no regrets and enjoyed every moment of my tenure here. I started with FAM in 1992 as an on-and-off coach before a permanent appointment in 2002.
"A few years ago, I had set a target of qualifying for the 2015 Asian Cup after the Sea Games and AFF Cup successes. I knew then it wouldn't be easy but I set this challenge for myself as I felt it was time for Malaysia to look beyond the region.
"As a coach, I have set a benchmark. My replacement must look beyond the Sea Games and AFF Cup."
Datuk Rajagobal, who played for Selangor, retired as a player in 1989 before venturing into coaching a year later with PKNS.
The 57-year-old was an assistant to national coach Ken Worden, who led Malaysia to the Merdeka Tournament and Jakarta Anniversary titles in 1992, and also worked with Frenchman Claude Le Roy.
The former striker was appointed the national Under-21 coach in 2002 and two years later, he led the Under-19 team to the quarter-finals of the AFC Cup for the first time in 33 years.
His Under-19 team were also champions in the Lions Cup and the Hong Kong Invitational in 2005.
Datuk Rajagobal also had a brief stint as caretaker coach of the national team when then coach Allan Harris was entrusted to handle the Olympic squad.
The Sea Games and AFF Cup triumphs brought him fame as he was invited to give talks in seminars and was also invited to join Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's roundtable dialogues.
Asked on the one thing he would like to change in the local game, Datuk Rajagobal said it was the mindset of players.
"Players must have big dreams. You have to instill it in players in the youth squads and expose them to regular high quality matches.
"We need to groom and guide them to qualification to major youth tournaments as only then will the nation see results.
"Expectations were different after we won the Sea Games and AFF Cup. The fans thought we were good enough to qualify for bigger events. But the reality is we are not there yet. However, I saw a steady improvement," said Datuk Rajagobal.
"My players played without fear against Bahrain and Qatar in the Asian Cup qualifiers. They moved the ball well and created pressure.
"I saw positives. I believe we have done well in the competition compared to other Southeast Asian teams.
"We have closed the gap with some top teams in Asia. However, we need to work harder to further improve.
"Success does not come overnight. It takes years. We achieved so much with our young players,"
Datuk Rajagobal said he does not hold any grudge against FAM and his critics.
"If given the opportunity again, I will return to FAM and help them with football. It was not easy handling criticism. Anybody can criticise, even a 10-year-old.
"I took it in a positive manner but I do hope my critics, especially the ex-footballers, will contribute towards development," he said.
On his future, Datuk Rajagobal said he wants to spend more time with his family.
"I do not have offers as yet. I want to spend quality time with my wife and two sons. They were supportive when I was only thinking about football," said Datuk Rajagobal. - NST