20-year old right back Quentin Cheng is one of the most recent Malaysian players of mixed heritage to arrive on these shores, first turning out for the country in the 2019 SEA Games last November, with Malaysia U-23.
He played in only one match in the Young Tigers' underwhelming campaign, one that saw them fail to advance past the group stage, but in their last group match, against Cambodia, Cheng netted his team's only goal in the 3-1 defeat, despite having come on as a late substitute.
Following the campaign, he signed with Selangor's reserve team in the Premier League.
Goal caught up with him in a telephone interview, in which the 20-year old right back revealed the experience that led to his decision to try his luck his parents' birth country.
"Both of my parents are from Malaysia; my dad Ken is from Johor while my mother Michelle is from Ipoh, Perak. They moved to Australia when they were still young, when they were 17 or 18 then studied in uni in Adelaide.
"I've visited Malaysia multiple times when I was younger, seeing my grandma and aunties on holiday. Now with the lockdown order, they do check in on me once in a while."
Early footballing interest
"Dad had attended the Royal Military College back in Malaysia, where he played rugby. But he started playing football in university when he moved to Australia, and I think that's how the interest got passed down to me and my older brother.
"I grew up with my brother, Braden, who played football and still does. He's now with the North Shore Mariners in the National Premier Leagues (NPL) New South Wales. I looked up to him as I was growing up and he made me want to play football as well. We always played together in the backyard and it could get really competitive! I was always trying to compete with him from a young age.
"When we were younger Dad would drive me and Braden to games on the weekend and training three or four times a week. I took part in competitions in New South Wales from the age of 12.
"Besides football, me and my brother also played cricket, which Dad introduced to us at a young age as well. It was always cricket in the summer, and then football in the winter months. In the end we decided to pursue a career in football over cricket for a slightly odd reason; Asians playing cricket [in Australia] is a bit of a shock for other people. Not many Asians play cricket! And the other reason being that you stand to make better money in football."
Cheng did not need long to move up to senior football, when he started playing with a national tier-two local club at the age of 19.
Despite his young age, he would end up playing in all 22 of his club's league matches in 2019, only one of three players at the club to achieve that distinction that season.
"When I was 17, I moved to the Mariners, my brother's club now, and then at age 18, I got to play for [A-League side] Central Coast Mariners' U-21 team. It was a great experience, playing everyday for a professional club, and getting to train with the senior team occasionally, which allowed me to improve the most. I got to train with the best kids in Australia, had a a great coach in Joe Haywood and Wayne O'Sullivan, who helped elevate my game. At the time I'd always thought I wasn't the best footballer, but after that year I thought I improved dramatically and started catching some of the best guys in Australia.
"I then left Central Coast to join a local club, Sutherland Sharks, a local club where I live, Sutherland Shire. They're an NPL club and with them I got to train with the senior guys; players in their mid-20's, in the 30's ex-pros, ex-A-League footballers."
Joining up with Malaysia U-23
Unbeknown to Cheng, his performance with the Sharks had garnered interest, albeit one generated thousands of miles away, back in his father's native Malaysia.
"Midway through the 2019 season, Brad Maloney the Australian Malaysia U-19 head coach [and Malaysia U-23 assistant coach] telephoned me out of the blue, which shocked me. I hadn't known that there had been interest in me in Malaysia! He told me that he learnt about me on social media, through a post made by my brother. He Googled me and tought that I may be a good fit for the U-23 national team for the SEA Games. I told my mom and dad immediately and they were surprised as well, but they were very happy and supportive of me.
"It was tough at first as I couldn't speak Malay, but everyone was welcoming and understanding of me as the new guy. So I didn't feel too left out. But in the end the tournament wasn't a positive outing for us. We were one of the favourites and there were some very good footballers on the team. It's hard to say, but I think we didn't gel, didn't have that chemistry that was needed to take us over the line and win. I also think we weren't very deadly in the attacking third, we couldn't put away our chances.
"I did get to play in the last group match, and I've never experienced anything as big as that, coming on for the national team, so I was buzzing although we were two nil down. And then we conceded another goal, but in the 89th minute I scored and couldn't really celebrate because we had to get the ball and try and get another goal.
"I'm hoping to get another call-up in the next tournament and play in more games, if not all. I was behind Wak or Syahmi [Safari] who's a very good player, so I knew it was gonna be hard for me to start. I want to get more games in the next tournament and try to get onto the senior team."
Joining Selangor 2
"It was almost immediately after I landed back in Australia after the SEA Games that I was called by the club, who said they were interested in me and that they would offer a two-year professional contract. I was slightly disappointed to learn that it was with the reserve team and not for the Super League team, but nevertheless I was very happy that I was going to play professionally.
"This time it was slightly easier for me to adapt to a new team because I've known a couple of the boys earlier, from when I trained with Malaysia U-19 for a week before joining Malaysia U-23. The coach (Michael Feichtenbeiner) is from Germany and has a different philosophy than what I'm used to, it's hard in that sense. However, having played with the national team helped me transition. It's difficult to be starting in the first two Premier League games only to be benched in the next two, but the coach gave me his reasons.
"My target for the season, at least before the Covid-19 outbreak and lockdown, is to get my name out there more. I don't think that I'm that well-known yet. I need to have a good season with Selangor 2 in order to get a Super League contract, no matter at which club. But of course, if the offer is from Selangor then I'd go with them first. Going up to the Super League is number one for me.
A post shared by Quentin Cheng (@q.cheng) on Mar 3, 2020 at 1:28am PST
Brendan Gan connection
Cheng has a few things in common with another Malaysian-Australian player; Brendan Gan. Just like the defender, the Malaysia star had grown up in Sutherland Shire, and then starred for the Sharks before eventually moving to Malaysia. The midfielder too joined Selangor ahead of the 2020 season, albeit in the top tier.
Besides Gan, another Aussie-Malaysian has been a key-player for the Harimau Malaya; right back Matthew Davies.
"I'd heard stories about Brendan. His name is popular at the Sharks, I'm pretty sure he won the player of the year award. I haven't met Matt, but I've talked to Brendan and he's a very nice guy.
"He told me to keep working hard at a time when I haven't trained with the senior [Selangor] team yet. He would try to get me to train with them, which in the end did not happen, but he told me to not feel down and that my time will eventually come."
Brendan Gan. Photo by Sports Regime