Former Socceroos midfielder Brad Maloney has rejected assistant coaching roles at two A-League clubs to instead remain in Malaysia to spearhead the rising nation’s U-20s team.
With his reputation enhanced by coaching Malaysia to a 3-0 victory over Gary van Egmond’s Young Socceroos at August’s AFF tournament in Vietnam - where Malaysia made the final - Maloney has been making waves with the Tigers as both a senior team and U-23s number two for the past five years.
His decision to stay put in Kuala Lumpur is testament to resources pouring into the Malaysian youth system at a level significant enough to make cash-starved FFA blush.
Maloney’s unprecedented success since taking charge of the U-20s that has won him a new legion of admirers, both at home and in the corridors of power at the Football Association of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur.
Currently in Sydney, where he has been on secondment at Sydney FC completing his Pro Diploma, Maloney turned down the A-League advances, preferring to continue to hone his craft before one day returning as a head coach, rather than an assistant.
It’s understood the offers both came over the last three months.
Having won six Socceroos caps before retiring at 34 after an NSL career with Marconi, Newcastle and Perth Glory, Maloney is on the cusp of signing a two-year extension with the aim of qualifying Malaysia for 2021 FIFA U-20 World Cup in neighbouring Indonesia.
Malaysia ultimately succumbed 1-0 to Australia in the final in Ho Chi Min City in his first tournament in charge.
But they went one better at November’s AFC U-19 Championship in Cambodia, becoming the first Malaysian side ever to top their group by winning all their games to reach the next phase of qualifying in October in Uzbekistan to send Maloney’s stocks soaring.
The resources being funneled into the sport played a large part in Maloney’s decision to stay in Malaysia, which at all levels - barring the under-achievement of the U-23s at the recent SEA Games in the Philippines- is a rising power across south east Asia.
He has this message to Australia, in terms of Malaysia’s ascension.
“We can match them technically and tactically these days, though it’s fair to say Australia are still very adept physically,” said Maloney.
“We say it all the time (in South East Asia) the gap is closing.
“A few years ago Australia would be favourite to dominate tournaments in the region but the margin is closing.
“We weren’t outplayed in our games against them at the AFF tournament and right across south east Asia the standards are rising quickly.
“At times, the Australian mentality was that these countries were easy bears but that’s definitely no longer the case.
“Every game is tough as south east Asia is catching up. Cambodia are getting better, Thailand have been strong for a while now and Vietnam are the sane. Myanmar is also catching up fast.
“If Australia doesn’t really focus on development and invest heavily in the game (at youth level) we could quickly fall behind.
“It’s vital to stay on top of that.”
Of his immediate success as a stand-alone head coach, Maloney added: “It wasn’t easy initially taking the team at short notice and getting the know the players, their names and positions and getting them organized structurally all within 10 days of the first tournament.
“The players had to adapt to a new philosophy but they’ve done that and I’m working with some gifted young players.
“I’m enjoying working with them and a lot have now signed contracts with professional clubs and that’s good to see in terms of they’ve development.”
While delighted to extend his stay in Malaysia, Maloney is eyeing an A-League opportunity at some point.
“Long term, of course I’d to coach in my own country in the top professional league,” he said.
“But at the moment what I really want to do is complete this project with the U-19 team in Malaysia.
“I want to see how far we can go at - to reach the World Cup would be unbelievable.”