KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian reaction to local tycoon Tony Fernandes's purchase of newly-promoted Premier League club Queens Park Rangers (QPR) ranged from patriotic support to indifference, to jibes on fan forums.
"I don't know how this will affect me as an Arsenal fan, but as a Malaysian it makes me very proud to see a fellow Malaysian owning a Premier League club," said Hasminderaputra Abu Bakar, a spokesperson for the official Arsenal Malaysia supporters' club.
Fernandes, the owner of budget airline Air Asia and the Team Lotus Formula One outfit, announced on Thursday that he had bought 66 percent of London-based QPR. He is the second Malaysian to buy into a football club in Britain.
Vincent Tan, a Malaysian billionaire with interests in retail, gaming and tourism, owns the single biggest stake in Cardiff City, who play in the second tier.
"They almost made it to the Premier League this year, so maybe next year they will be in the Premier League with us, and then we will have two Malaysians," said Hasminderaputra. "I am proud of that."
On Fernandes, a self-proclaimed West Ham fan, he said,: "I am very pleased to see that he plans to take a different approach to the other rich owners and that they would like to run QPR like a proper business.
"So hopefully this means they will not be spoiling the transfer market with obscene amounts of money."
Mohan Thamirajah, president of the official Malaysian Chelsea Supporters club, told Reuters that it did not matter who owned a football club as long as the team enjoyed success under the new ownership.
"Basically, if you want to buy into a premiership club, you have to spend big," Mohan said. "Tony is talking about spending tens of millions but I don't know if that's enough to generate success."
Southeast Asia is passionate about football and about the English Premier League in particular. In Malaysia, the interest borders on obsession and club rivalries are almost as fierce as on the terraces of faraway English grounds.
However, Mohan said he did not think having a Malaysian owner would necessarily make the club popular with Malaysians.
"If you look at Vincent Tan and Cardiff, they've hardly caused a ripple here since the purchase. It may be because they are in the first division, so it might be different if they were in the premiership and had more TV time."
On Twitter, some Malaysian fans suggested there might be a conflict of interest as Fernandes's investment vehicle Tune Group sponsors Premier League referee gear.
Others called on Fernandes to take Malaysian's Safee Sali, who plays for Indonesia's Pelita Jaya FC, to QPR.
Fernandes joins a select club of Southeast Asian tycoons who have bought Premier League clubs, including former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who owned Manchester City briefly, and Hong Kong businessman Carson Yeung.
Malaysia got independence from Britain in 1957 and English is widely spoken among its 28 million people. In the capital Kuala Lumpur, bars are packed when satellite television channels show live Premier League games.
In the off-season, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea visitedMalaysia for friendlies and played to packed houses of up to 80,000 supporters.
Liverpool and Manchester United have the biggest fan following, and Chelsea and Arsenal are tied for third place, local supporters say.
Premier League Champions Manchester United are seeking to cash in on their support in the region with a $1-billion planned listing in neighbouring Singapore, sources say.comments