Cornthwaite opens up on Malaysia move

Ben O'Neill Columnist

By Ben O'Neill, Ben O'Neill is a Roar Expert

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    There has been a steady flow of Australian footballers to and from Malaysia’s top flights since the 1990s.

    The likes of Alistair Edwards, Scott Ollerenshaw and Mehmet Durakovic carved impressive reputations for themselves in the multicultural, football fervent South East Asian nation.

    Yet while regularly a couple, sometimes a few, Australian players have called Malaysia home each year, in 2015 record numbers of ex-A-League men have inked deals with clubs on either side of the South China Sea.

    Currently a dozen former A-League players are plying their trade with teams in either the Malaysian Super or Premier Leagues, representing a marked increase on previous seasons and perhaps suggesting the start of a long-term pattern of significant numbers of players arriving at outfits in cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Kota Bharu, Kota Kinabalu and Kuching.

    Arguably the most prominent Australian to transfer to the Malaysian Super League (MSL) this season was former Socceroo Robbie Cornthwaite. The 29-year-old defender linked with Selangor FA from K-League Classic club Jeonnam Dragons in January, and has since become a popular figure at the Shah Alam Stadium.

    At 6’6″, Cornthwaite is one of the tallest players in the MSL, so it’s perhaps apt that his first foray into South East Asian football is at a club known colloquially in the culturally diverse country as Gergasi Merah – the Red Giants.

    “Australians have got quite a good reputation in Malaysia,” Cornthwaite told The Roar from just outside Kuala Lumpur.

    “I know particularly at my club that throughout their history they’ve had a number of Australians, and some who have done very well. Mehm Durakovic [Cornthwaite’s coach at Selangor] is a bit of a club legend here, and there’s a whole host of players who have enjoyed really successful times in Malaysia.

    “Australians, other than the fact they usually have bigger bodies than the local players, bring a real work ethic and that 100 per cent commitment, that fighting spirit, that sometimes lacks a little bit in Asian football.”

    Clearly Cornthwaite has made a strong start to life as a Selangor player. In the first half of the MSL season he’s featured regularly, chipped in with a goal, and helped his side to three points from top in Malaysia’s first division.

    Of the 11 former A-League players currently at clubs in the MSL, Cornthwaite’s Selangor are positioned second-highest at the competition’s mid-point, and his personal form has been recognised with selection in a ‘Malaysia XI’ to take on English Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur later this month.

    “So far this season I have been performing really well,” Cornthwaite said.

    “Malaysia have actually got games against Liverpool and Tottenham this month, but against Tottenham they have invited five foreigners to play. I’ve just been selected to play against Tottenham on the 27th of May, and obviously that’s a huge feather in my cap.

    “I have enjoyed the first few months of my time in Malaysia and I would definitely love to stay on here for a few more years. But at the same time I am under no illusions – if I don’t play well I won’t get to stay. Changing foreigners is a business here, you have to perform.”

    Cornthwaite – who made the AFC Champions League final with Adelaide United during his six-season stay with the Reds – has made a point of following and keeping in touch with the MSL’s other Australian representatives.

    At FELDA United is former Perth Glory youngster Ndumba Makeche, who Cornthwaite says has impressed him with his performances. Makeche’s side was promoted to the MSL from the second division last year, but despite its foreign players having a significant role to play in their successful 2014 season the club still opted to replenish the vast part of its overseas contingent.

    Cornthwaite says that any player that comes to Malaysia thinking that they are going to cruise could well be in for a shock. These days many Malaysian clubs are investing significant funds into their squads, and the owners and supporters demand a return in the form of silverware.

    “I think a lot of people would come here expecting to relax and to finish off their career or something along those lines, but it’s extremely intense and almost on a daily basis we get told that ‘the club cannot wait any longer to win a cup, that we must win a cup, that it’s been too long’. And these people are dead serious – you can see the emotion in their face and in their eyes. If you win a trophy you can pretty much get yourself a blank cheque, but if not then you could be out the door.”

    Eliminated from the Malaysian FA Cup by Kuala Terengganu in March, Selangor will now need to win the MSL or the Malaysian Cup later in the year if Cornthwaite is to taste team success in his debut season in Malaysia.

    The top 16 sides across the MSL and MPL are permitted entry to the Malaysian Cup from October onwards, and Selangor are the best performing team in the history of that competition having claimed the crown an impressive 32 times and been runners-up on 15 occasions since 1921.

    Teaming up with Durakovic could well provide the perfect partnership for Cornthwaite to realise domestic glory, given the former Melbourne Victory coach turned Selangor manager is the only foreigner to have ever won the Malaysian Cup three times (in 1995, 1996 and 1997).

    Still, Cornthwaite and his teammates know they will need to crack a five-season trophyless run if they’re to please their avid aficionados.

    “We’ve had a good start to the season and I definitely feel that we have a very competitive team that can push to win a trophy this season,” Cornthwaite said.

    “With a bit of luck hopefully we can get that trophy that they’re [the club and fans] so desperate to win. Certainly our fans deserve a trophy to celebrate. It’s a different level over here in terms of support. We play games that are ten hours drive away and yet our fans are there in their thousands.

    “We have a minimum of 15, 20-thousand fans to all our home games, and they provide a really intense atmosphere. And whenever we play another club from around KL it feels as if we’re the home side because our supporters outnumber our opponents’.”

    The cultural melting pot of Malaysia is a far cry from Jeonnam, Korea Republic where Cornthwaite spent the last four years of his life.

    Nevertheless, the open-minded, Asia-inspired defender is soaking up the opportunity to live in one of the continent’s busiest and most energetic cities, and revealed he chose a life experience over approaches from China and, at this point, a return to Australia, when deciding his future late in 2014.

    “Asia has really been my market,” he said. “Obviously I have played a lot of Asian Champions League football and done well, and after short discussions and learning a little bit more about the club I was full of confidence and looking forward to coming and trying my hand in Malaysia.

    “The other big drawcard was the fact that I would be living in Kuala Lumpur, obviously a major Asian city and one with a very good lifestyle. With a young family, that was definitely a very big drawcard for me. There’s no shortage of restaurants, shopping, and things to see and do in KL, so for us it’s been a really good lifestyle change.”

    Aside from Cornthwaite and Makeche, other Australian or former A-League players currently dotted around Malaysia include Ryan Griffiths, Jon McKain, Billy Mehmet, Brendan Gan, Mario Karlovic, Reinaldo, Matt Davies, Issey Nakajima-Farran, Patrick Gerhardt, Joel Chianese, and Cameron Edwards

    “Everyone is contributing, everyone is playing, and the Aussie boys are representing themselves well. The A-League is seen as a really competitive, high-quality league in Malaysia, and the market really does look at those players and think that if they’ve done a job in the A-League, or been competitive, then they can do a job here.

    “The professionalism of Aussies come from the A-League really adds a lot of value to Malaysian football,” Cornthwaite concluded.

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    The Crowd Says (19)

    • May 19th 2015 @ 8:04am
      nordster said | May 19th 2015 @ 8:04am | ! Report

      Quick heads up…. Just steer clear of malaysia if u enjoy sodomy and are an oppositional political figure 😉

      • May 19th 2015 @ 10:00am
        Paul said | May 19th 2015 @ 10:00am | ! Report

        Those charges are dubious at best.

        Avoid Malaysia if you actually believe that crap about honesty being the best policy. Should probably avoid Australia too in that case.

        • May 19th 2015 @ 10:37am
          nordster said | May 19th 2015 @ 10:37am | ! Report

          indeedy, barbarism rules …the region does have its “quirks”

    • May 19th 2015 @ 8:21am
      Bondy said | May 19th 2015 @ 8:21am | ! Report

      Its not a good sign on Malaysian Football that Durakovic has called upon Cornthwaite to play for him , I watch the Asian Football programme and the level and quality of football out there is very poor …

      Those other Australians R Griffiths J Chianese could possibly get HAL contracts but the others ? .

      • May 19th 2015 @ 8:27am
        AZ_RBB said | May 19th 2015 @ 8:27am | ! Report

        I thought Chianese was struggling to get NPL contracts last season?

      • May 19th 2015 @ 8:31am
        fadida said | May 19th 2015 @ 8:31am | ! Report

        Chinese is absolute rubbish. I expect him at the Jets 🙁

      • May 19th 2015 @ 9:33am
        Franko said | May 19th 2015 @ 9:33am | ! Report

        McKain was ok, but largely these are NPL players being overpaid, good luck to them.

      • December 25th 2015 @ 10:34pm
        Jeff said | December 25th 2015 @ 10:34pm | ! Report

        Asian quality is good- Australia struggles against Asian teams. The level of football in Malaysia is quite good that’s why many A league stars go there

    • May 19th 2015 @ 8:37am
      fadida said | May 19th 2015 @ 8:37am | ! Report

      Cornthwaite is at his level methinks. That he was a regular at NT level up until the Ange era is disgraceful. It says more about Osieck than words could.

      Osieck chose the Flake ahead of Saintsbury. Astonishing.

      • May 19th 2015 @ 8:49am
        Bondy said | May 19th 2015 @ 8:49am | ! Report

        That’s Osieck for you what a talent identifier he was and could’ve lost his job because of the Cornthwaite appointment .

    • May 19th 2015 @ 8:49am
      RBBAnonymous said | May 19th 2015 @ 8:49am | ! Report

      I think the important thing here is for the Aussie boys to give our players a good name. Perform well on and off the field, be professional and good contracts will keep coming. I am sure Cornthwaite is on good dollars, probably more than he could earn in Australia. If players cant land a contract in the HAL then this provides another avenue for our players. It was good enough for players like Durakovic and Milicic to play in Malaysia it should be ok for these boys too.

    • Roar Guru

      May 19th 2015 @ 9:25am
      Ben of Phnom Penh said | May 19th 2015 @ 9:25am | ! Report

      A nice interview. It sounds as if he’s enjoying his football and his life in general; nice to hear.

      He’s bang-on about the silverware and the subsequent search for scapegoats. Every owner who throws money at a club expects instant trophies as a result, yet that’s not how sport works. Manager of Johor DT, Bojan Hodak was given his marching orders a couple of weeks back as they were knocked out of the cup, this is the same guy who won them the league last year. A very common problem.

      • May 19th 2015 @ 12:10pm
        AZ_RBB said | May 19th 2015 @ 12:10pm | ! Report

        Off topic. But are you looking forward to Persepolis v Al-Hilal later tonight? They’re expecting a hostile 100k to pack the Azadi.

        • Roar Guru

          May 19th 2015 @ 12:53pm
          Ben of Phnom Penh said | May 19th 2015 @ 12:53pm | ! Report

          Sadly they are only showing the East Asia side of the draw out here, as such I’ll probably plump for the Suwong-Kashiwa game. Persepolis pull one hell of a crowd; would love to visit their stadium one day.

          • May 19th 2015 @ 3:18pm
            AZ_RBB said | May 19th 2015 @ 3:18pm | ! Report

            Persepolis got 100k to two of their group stage games. Would be amazing if they get there for a 3rd time tonight. They won the Tehran Derby a few days back. That might push them towards another huge win.

      • May 19th 2015 @ 9:16pm
        Lionheart said | May 19th 2015 @ 9:16pm | ! Report

        Wouldn’t happen here hay?

    • May 19th 2015 @ 6:41pm
      John said | May 19th 2015 @ 6:41pm | ! Report

      Brendan Gan has taken up Malaysian citizenship as he is part Malaysian. He now represents Malaysia in international football

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