Coaches Ong, Maloney welcomed as QPR's Malaysian bond deepens
It is a groundbreaking arrangement to have two Malaysian coaches working day-to-day at a professional club in London. But it won't be the first taste of English football for Datuk Ong Kim Swee and his assistant Brad Maloney.
The pair, who arrived in the U.K. on Tuesday, are spending the next month as part of the coaching staff of English Championship side Queens Park Rangers. It's a deal arranged by QPR's majority owners, Tune Group, who control the AirAsia budget airline.
Arsenal fan Ong became fast friends with Arsene Wenger when the long-time manager visited Kuala Lumpur in 2009. He also coached a Malaysia XI against a Chelsea side led by Andre Villas-Boas in 2011, falling to a late 1-0 defeat at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium.
As for Maloney, he was the Craven Cottage guest of his former Australia teammate Mark Schwarzer in May 2010, sitting in on a late-season shootout as Fulham prevailed 3-2 over West Ham United. It was two days after the former had won through to the Europa League final under Roy Hodgson.
But instead of being on the outside looking in, this will be a more comprehensive experience, as Ong and Maloney join QPR manager Ian Holloway, his assistant Curtis Fleming and first team coach Marc Bircham on the practice pitch, at team meetings, and on match days.
The visitors will stay at an apartment near QPR's training ground at Harlington, a stone's throw from Heathrow Airport and the M4 Motorway. It used to be Chelsea's base until Jose Mourinho moved them to the more salubrious Cobham Training Centre in Surrey in 2005.
"This will be a very good opportunity for me and Brad to learn something new, and bring it back to implement into the national team," Ong told ESPN FC.
"We can not only look at their training drills, and their games, but what they do off the field, and how they prepare the team before games.
"We will even get access to their academies to see what they do with their players between training times."
The sceptics may say that having a team placed 19th in England's second tier guiding a nation at 161st in the FIFA rankings is like the blind leading the blind. QPR are just six points off the drop zone, having won only nine of 30 league games this season.
A former manager of Blackpool in the Premier League, Holloway came back for his second spell in charge after Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was sacked in November, having only joined the club 11 months earlier.
But Maloney insists that the move will be worthwhile, and could help improve Malaysia's chances of booking a place at the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, with their third round qualifiers beginning at the end of March.
Maloney has been in regular contact, via telephone calls and emails, with QPR Director of Football, Les Ferdinand, who was a prolific striker at the club, and also played for Tottenham Hotspur and England.
"I think it will be fantastic because QPR is a great club, with a lot of history," Maloney said.
"They're aspiring to get into the Premier League, which is one of the best leagues in the world. It will be great to see how they prepare the team, what sort of sports science they are using, including recovery methods, so we can bring that knowledge back here."
Unlike his old teammate Schwarzer, who made almost 600 appearances in the Premier League, Maloney never had an English or European career. But the ex-National League stalwart did train with Manchester United for two months as a teenager in 1989 as part of an emerging talent scheme.
He says he's looking forward to interacting with QPR's Australian midfielder Massimo Luongo. The former Spurs' junior, who grew up in Sydney, was named player of the tournament in the 2015 Asian Cup triumph.
"Massimo is doing really well. He's one of the best Socceroos at the moment," Maloney said.
"But when I was young, I was a Liverpool fan because Australia's Craig Johnston was part of the successful Liverpool team from the 1980's."
The AirAsia branding at QPR's home ground Lotfus Road will provide a feeling of familiarity for the visitors from Malaysia, especially if co-chairman Tan Sri Tony Fernandes decides to drop by. Already, technical director Chris Ramsey -- QPR's manager in 2015 -- has made several trips to Kuala Lumpur to work with Malaysian junior players.
Ong and Maloney point out that the stark contrast between the two football cultures is graphically illustrated by the 30 degrees Celsius difference in daytime temperatures between Kuala Lumpur and London.
"The warm clothes were the first things we packed," smiled Maloney.
If this month-long exchange goes well, there's the potential for more cooperation between these two unlikely bedfellows. It is not impossible to imagine former national captain Safiq Rahim, arguably Southeast Asia's top midfielder, wearing the blue and white stripes of QPR one day.
Jason Dasey is ESPN FC Senior Editor in Singapore. Formerly Asian editor of FourFourTwo, he was also a CNN and BBC broadcaster. Twitter: @JasonDasey.