In 2015, Young Socceroo Matt Davies left Perth Glory and took a gamble, heading to Asia in search for regular game-time.
Davies landed in Malaysia, the country of his mother, and joined Super League side Pahang FA. Four and a half years on and the 24-year-old has established himself as one of the best players in the competition and has already accrued 29 senior caps for Malaysia.
With Harimau Malaya in the running to qualify for the next Asian Cup, and also reach the third round of 2022 World Cup qualifying, Davies has no regrets about his move abroad.
“I think looking back now I kind of left Perth as a young kid with maybe 15 professional A-League games to my name,” the defender told The World Game.
“Now, I’ve played 150-odd games for Pahang and 30-odd games for the national team so I’ve feel like I’ve really progressed as a player here and as a person.
“2019 went pretty well. We finished second in the league and made it to both Cup semi-finals, which is a little bit disappointing to not taking anything home.
“But when you look overall we had a really strong season and we collected the most points we have in the league for 10 or 15 years I think.
“The club’s been really good to me and this will be my sixth season for Pahang. I’ve really enjoyed it here.
“I’ve got nothing but positive things to say about the people here in Pahang, the culture and the people I’ve met on my journey. And I love the lifestyle here.”
Davies grew up in Western Australia and came through the AIS. He captained the AIS team in the National Youth League, and was named player of the year, before signing for the Glory in 2012.
The fullback went to make his A-League debut for Perth in 2013 as an 18-year-old. But Davies found regular first-team football difficult to secure, a common problem for many young Aussie players, and at the age of 20 ventured overseas.
He was an instant hit in Malaysia, named captain of his club in 2016, won the young player of the year award and quickly accepted into the international fold. In 2017 was named as the best defender in the Malaysia Super League and the following season he helped Pahang win the Malaysia FA Cup.
Davies is one of five Australians currently played in the Asian nation, along with Brendan Gan, David Rowley, Ndumba Makeche and Taylor Regan. The 24-year-old believes the standard in Malaysia is getting better all the time.
“The standard’s always improving,” he said.
“A lot of people will tell you that technically the players are very good here. I think you get some really quality foreigners here, sometimes you get foreigners better than the ones you see in the A-League because of the money and the deals offered sometimes.
“You come up against some really quality opposition. It’s always improving. Brendan’s done fantastic over here and Taylor’s done really well.
“I think he’ll be captaining Selangor next season. They’ll be really strong next year and it’s good to see some familiar faces.”
Davies represented Australia at Under-19 level and was part of a Young Socceroos squad, that included the likes of Socceroos Awer Mabil and Chris Ikonomidis, that played in a tournament in Spain six years ago.
But in 2015 he switched his international allegiance to Malaysia and hasn’t looked back.
“I’ve really enjoyed it,” Davies said.
“There’s a lot of positive momentum around our national team right now. That’s something we’re trying to capitalize on and continue. We’re doing quite well in the World Cup qualifiers.
“Our goal is to qualify for the Asian Cup, or finish as high as we can in the group. [Getting to the World] is an ambitious goal, but it is a target of ours to make it through to that next qualifying stage.
“It definitely would be difficult. I think the Asian Cup might be a more realistic goal for us, but at the same time we’re not writing advancement to the next World Cup stage off.
“It’s been a really proud moment [representing Malaysia]. It’s something I didn’t imagine doing when I was growing up playing football, but so far I’ve really enjoyed it and I feel like I’m equally proud.
“I feel just as much Malaysian as I do Australian so I’m definitely proud to represent the country. We get some fantastic crowds to play in front of – 70,000 to 80,000 people backing us, which is an amazing experience.
“It’s another one of those things I’m loving being a part of.”
Davies is currently back in Malaysia after a holiday to start pre-season for the 2020 campaign. The new Super League season begins in February.
The right back has one year left on his contract with Pahang and may look to try another Asian league for 2021.
“I think I’m keen to stay in Asia, it’s a really good spot to be,” Davies said.
“I’ve not really got any commitments, I’m in a position in my life now where I don’t have to look after the kids or anything like that. So I feel like it’s a good time for me to be up here and the region’s really opening up because there’s a lot of South-east Asian spots available.
“So you can start to have a look at places like Thailand or Japan and Korea, which would be really ambitious, but they’re all opening up South-east Asian spots where South-east Asians will count as a local player.”