Ex-Perth Glory boss Alistair Edwards working miracles at Real Mulia
Former Australia striker Alistair Edwards has scaled the heights of Asian and international football, winning a major Cup final, representing his country at senior level in Argentina and coaching in the A-League.
Now he's at a little-known Malaysian third division club, expected to work wonders -- and yet he wouldn't want it any other way.
Since January, the one-time lethal forward of Singapore and Malaysia -- and, more recently, head coach of Perth Glory -- has been Technical Director of fledgling Real Mulia, in the Malaysia FAM League.
The club, based in Bangi near Kuala Lumpur, were only formed four months ago but have suffered only one defeat in seven matches of the season to sit in equal third spot on the table in Group A. First place will earn automatic promotion to the Malaysian second tier.
"Considering that nearly all of the other teams had been training since November and we only started in mid-January, it's more than satisfactory," Edwards told ESPN FC.
"From an idea shared with me in December, it was a case of hitting the ground running. I've been asked to come back to the region before, but what clinched it for me was to start a brand new club with a clean slate, establishing the football culture from day one."
The 46-year-old was lured to the project by club owner, Dato Sri Adi, a local construction magnate. Edwards is working alongside experienced coach Yunus Alif, a former rival striker from his days in the Malaysia Cup in the early 1990s.
"This project is exactly what I wanted at this stage of my career and really suits the skill set I've developed over the past 15 years in coaching, coach education and football administration in Australia," Edwards said. "We have fantastic support from management, with no hidden agendas... just people who want to work together to provide a great learning environment for the players."
Edwards prefers not to talk about his acrimonious exit from Perth Glory midway through the 2013-14 season, nor the recent salary cap problems faced by the club. His eldest son Cameron, 23, recently left the Western Australian side, while 21-year-old Ryan is on the books of Reading in the English Championship.
His two youngest children recently visited him at his two-bedroom apartment, 200 metres from the iconic Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur and were surprised to discover that their greying father remains a celebrity in pockets of Southeast Asia.
"The look on their face when Dad was first stopped to talk about the old days while we were out was quite amusing," he said. "I'll never forget being part of the exciting era in football here, playing in front of packed stadiums against and alongside some fantastic players like [current Malaysia coach] Dollah Salleh, [Pahang coach] Zainal Abidin and [LionsXII coach] Fandi Ahmad."
Edwards won the 1991 Malaysia Cup and league double with Johor and the 1997 Malaysia Super League title with Sarawak. He was the league's Golden Boot with Singapore in 1990.
He made 23 appearances for the Socceroos, including a memorable 1992 friendly in Buenos Aires. The Alfio Basile-coached Argentina won 2-0, thanks to a brace from Albiceleste legend Gabriel Batistuta.
Edwards also played in the 1987 World Youth Championship in Chile and wore the colours of Millwall and Brighton in England. But Edwards always seems to keep coming back to Asia. During last year's World Cup, he was as TV pundit in Singapore alongside Steve Kean, Gerry Armstrong and John Wilkinson.
Start-up football projects are never easy, but he has high hopes for Real Mulia beyond his current one-year contract.
"Real Mulia have a long term vision of playing in the Super League so we're also setting up the foundations for a world class academy to ensure the grassroots to a Super League club structure," he said. "I'm very hands on in the role and Yunus and I split the sessions up, with over 30 players in the squad. We will give our best shot at getting promotion in our first season."
At the same time that Australia discovered their World Cup qualifying fate in the second round draw in central Kuala Lumpur last month, Edwards was headed down the highway to a team dinner, not far from the city's international's airport. With Steve McMahon and David Mitchell also based in the Malaysian capital, Edwards is one of three former Perth Glory head coaches living within 30 minutes of each other.
"It's no secret that I consider Malaysia my second home. I had a wonderful and successful time here as a player and I am equally determined to have similar success off the field with Real Mulia," he said.
Jason Dasey is ESPN FC Senior Editor in Singapore. Formerly Asian editor of FourFourTwo, he was also a CNN and BBC broadcaster. Twitter: @JasonDasey.