Kiwi-raised defender making a mark on Malacca and Malaysia

Virtually unknown in Malaysia prior to signing for Malacca this year, 26-year-old Khair Jefri Jones made his international debut against Myanmar on Saturday. He tells Vijhay Vick he had never considered international football until he got the call...

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At first glance, Khair Jefri Jones appears a stranger in the Malaysian team. In one training session at Wisma FAM, the towering defender even had trouble finding the allotted field.

When FourFourTwo share that observation in an interview with Jones, he laughed and replied: “I’m still finding my way around. Malaysia is not new to me as I’ve been coming back almost every year to visit mum’s family … but the football is.”

Born to a Welsh father and Malaysian mother in Negri Sembilan in 1989, Jones’ family shifted to the United Kingdom, United States and finally New Zealand, where he lived from the age of seven and where he holds permanent residence.

I see myself spending the rest of my football career in Malaysia

Having featured for Hawke’s Bay United in New Zealand’s top flight in the 2015/16 season, Jones now feels his footballing future lies in Malaysia. He signed with Malacca for the 2016 Malaysia Premier League season and is eager to help take the club into the Malaysia Super League (MSL).

“The league in New Zealand isn’t professional, my studying wasn’t going well either and the opportunity came up to play in Malaysia. Malacca approached my club and the PhD I was doing turned out not to be what I wanted, so I figured I’d give this a shot,” said Jones.

“I actually almost signed for Negri in 2014 after I met a scout, who happened to be a friend of my cousin. I later picked up an ankle injury and the move just cooled off.

“The MPL is perhaps a bit lower in standards compared to the ASB Premiership (in New Zealand), but the imports here make it as tough.

A shot of Jones from his time with NZ club Hawke's Bay

“The MSL is higher of course and I want to help Malacca earn promotion this season. We are top of the league now and need to keep going in the second half of the season.

“It was a tough call leaving my family back home and I still don’t know many outside my team … I’m just a quiet person. But I like Malacca and I can compare it to my hometown Palmerston North to some extent. It’s more humid here though. The evening kick-off for some away matches take a toll.

“I see myself spending the rest of my football career in Malaysia. The language is still a bit of a struggle, but hopefully I’ll improve in time to come.”

Surprise call-up left Jones shelving holiday plans

Jones’ performances at Malacca earned him a call-up to the national team, making his debut against Myanmar following Fazly Mazlan’s injury in the second half.

He performed well at left-back and could start against Timor Leste if Fazly is unavailable and coach Ong Kim Swee decides against converting Azrif Nasrulhaq to the left.

I can feel the hike in intensity during training with the Malaysian squad compared to Malacca and New Zealand

For Jones, everything is still a mystery. He doesn’t even know who he will be competing with for a place in Malaysia’s line-up.

“I don’t know what to expect. I never really thought about the national team as I was just focused on Malacca, who did tell me they saw I had potential for the national team … but that was it,” said Jones.

“I was actually thinking of going back to New Zealand during the mid-season break, but some time ago I was asked to fill in some papers for registration and I knew I was in contention for the team. It gave me confidence and was a motivation of course … I also kept my holiday plans on hold waiting for the call-up.

“The national team is a lot harder though. I can feel the hike in intensity during training with the Malaysian squad compared to Malacca and New Zealand. I want to pass this test and be part of the squad for the next few years.

Photo: Melaka United Soccer Association

“I don’t know where I stand among the left-backs or centre-backs in the team as I’ve not played against them nor focused on them when I’m watching their teams play.”

While Ong intends to use him as a left-back, Jones is equally adept at centre-back, where Malacca are exploiting his height (1.91m) advantage to win aerial challenges.

“I started off at left-back for Malacca but just when I was getting used to Malaysian football, three games later I was shifted to the centre. I’m getting more comfortable there as we play,” said Jones.

“I’m used to the left-side since I was seven (years old) in New Zealand. It has always been either left-back or left-wing.”

Main photo: Berita Harian