Maloney: I play for Scotland but Malaysia will always be a special part of me

FFT's Lee Seng Foo sits down with Wigan Athletic star Shaun Maloney to talk about his peculiar origin...

Fact File

Date of birth: 24 January 1983

Place of birth: Miri, Sarawak

Position: Attacking midfielder/winger

Club: Wigan Athletic

Former clubs: Celtic, Aston Villa

You were born in Miri, Sarawak and spent your early childhood there before moving to Scotland. How was it like in Malaysia?

Back then, my dad had a job there. He was a helicopter pilot and was teaching people on how to fly one, so I was there for four or five years before moving to Scotland.

The memory I have of Malaysia is absolutely fantastic. One particular memory I am still fond of is a lady named Ziton. She used to babysit me and take me and my sister on a walk nearby a waterfall and catch little fish for us. It was a great memory.

What cut short your stay then?

My family absolutely loved living there, but unfortunately my dad’s contract was not renewed and he was offered a job in Aberdeen instead. Because my mum was from Scotland, he took up the offer and that was it.

So, you have never returned to Malaysia ever since then?

I unfortunately do not have the time. If you play for your national team, your season does not end until June and by the time July comes, you will need to be back for pre-season. I most probably will get two or three weeks of holiday every year, which will not be enough for me if I want to go back to Malaysia because I prefer to stay a little longer than that. So, when the time has come for me to stop playing football, I would love to do a little bit of travelling and return to Malaysia.

Could you speak in any of the local languages?

I used to! My mum and dad told me that I used to be able to converse fluently with other children, but I sadly could not understand a thing anymore.

…. Apa khabar (How are you)?

I don’t understand what you are saying! [laughs]

Do you still keep in touch with anyone in Malaysia?

No, no, we do not have any relatives or close friends there, but I think my mum still keeps in touch with Ziton.

Was it a difficult period of transition for you when you moved to Scotland?

I think it was difficult for me and my sister to deal with the changes because we were so used to the Malaysian lifestyle. My parents did not struggle much, but I know they were desperate to go back to Malaysia. In fact, my dad actually just texted me this morning – after I told him about this interview – about how fond he was with the country. That actually says a lot because my dad was in the army and he travelled around the world.

What do you miss the most about Malaysia?

The weather. Compared to what I have here, the weather was amazing [laughs]. I do not get to see the sun very often in England, let alone in Scotland.

Back then, my sister and I would go to the beach or play outside every day because the Malaysian weather was great. Have you ever been to Aberdeen? [FFT: Erm, not yet] Well, it is not exactly the warmest place in the world. Don’t get me wrong; Aberdeen is very scenic and has a great beach, but the weather is always too cold for anyone to really have an outdoor life.

You made your Scotland debut almost 10 years ago, but before that, did the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) contact you due to your eligibility?

Nah, they did not contact me. I could qualify to play for other Home Nations as well – my father is English and my grandmother was Welsh – but in the end it was the Scottish FA that really got in touch with me.

If a person feels a strong allegiance to a country and feels proud to play for them, I think that should suffice

- Shaun Maloney

Did you ever think about representing Malaysia if you did not play for Scotland?

It is obviously strange that I am not representing my country of birth in international football, but I grew up and went to school in Scotland, so it was always my big goal to represent the country. It is something that I am really proud of.

Then, do you feel Malaysian at all?

Well, I do feel that I have a connection with the country. I think that regardless of where you end up at, you will always have an affinity with your country of birth. Although I am Scottish and play for Scotland, Malaysia will always be a special part of me.

If you were watching a match between Scotland and Malaysia, who would you be supporting?

I hope I would be playing instead of watching! [laughs] This is honestly a tough question, but I have to say Scotland.

Junior Eldstal (L) and Brendan Gan (R)

The FAM has recently “called home” footballers with Malaysian heritage such as half-Swedish Junior Eldstal and Australian-born Brendan Gan to play in the Malaysian league and represent the country. Thoughts?

I think it is great. I do not personally know them, but I think they can help improve Malaysian football with their different football backgrounds and impart their knowledge to the younger players and help them grow.

On the same topic, when it comes to players representing countries that they were not born in, it is a controversial issue and usually involves intense media attention. For instance, we have Brazilian-born Diego Costa playing for Spain and Owen Hargreaves representing England instead of his country of birth, Canada. Both players were heavily criticised by Brazilians and Canadians respectively. What is your take on this matter?

I cannot really comment on that because I am not entirely sure of their stories and each circumstance is different. However, I do believe there is too much negativity about it. Playing for your country is one of the proudest things you can achieve in life, so if a person feels a strong allegiance to a country and feels proud to play for them, I think that should suffice. You cannot force someone to play for a country he is not proud of representing at all.

Final question: have you considered ending your career in Malaysia, perhaps donning the colours of your home state team, Sarawak?

You know what? I have never thought about it, but it certainly sounds great now that you have brought it up. I know about the team - they wear red - because I looked them up a few times. I think it will be an amazing experience to live and play in Malaysia for at least a year. However, I still have a contract with Wigan, so we have to see how it goes.

One for the road