It isn’t every day you hear a footballer say that Shaun Maloney inspired them to play abroad, but 24-year-old Daniel Ting is an exception.
“Whilst playing at Droylsden in Manchester, I was also studying sports science at Leeds Beckett University and one day, during a brief period of procrastination whilst working on an assignment, I came across a FourFourTwo article about then Wigan Athletic player Shaun Maloney,” he says.
“Maloney was born in Malaysia, potentially making him eligible for the Malaysian national team. This caught my interest and so I decided to look into Malaysian football a little more.’’
It was the start of a remarkable journey into the heart of Malaysian football, which has seen Ting rise rapidly through the ranks of the country’s domestic game.
As a youngster looking to break into English professional football, Ting spent five years at Crewe Alexandra. He was unable to hold a regular place in the first team, though, and in 2015 found himself playing for Droyslden in the eighth tier. Born in England to an English mother and Malaysian father, the defender was intrigued by what he learned about Malaysian football after reading Maloney’s story.
‘’I decided to email FourFourTwo Malaysia and tell them about my links to the country and my footballing background,” he explains.
“From there I did an interview, which led to an agent contacting me, and within a few months I was over in Malaysia for trials and eventually signed for club side Negeri Sembilan FA.’’
— Dan Ting (@DTing33) December 2, 2016
The swift move was made slightly easier by the fact that he had grown up with a Malaysian cultural influence around him, despite not being able to speak Malay or having visited the country since he was nine years old.
“Malaysia is a very laidback and humble country, which I think suits me perfectly, and having grown up eating a lot of Malaysian food it was just normal for me. It took me a while to get used to the driving but other than that I think I settled in pretty quickly. It also helped a lot that I had my partner here with me as well as four Australian players at my first club.’’
Nevertheless, obstacles did get in the way initially, mainly due to the sweltering heat. “I’d never sweat so much in a warm up and I was wondering how everyone managed to run around for 90 minutes. Once I’d gotten over that I started to notice how technically good a lot of the players were, most were better than the players I was playing with back in England and I have to say it shocked me a little.
“It was a step up compared to the football I was playing at the time for Droylsden. However, non-league football in England is far more physical, with a lot of teams just pumping it long to the 6ft 5 centre-forward and playing off him.
“I’ve been asked so many times what Malaysian football is like compared to back in England and you can’t compare it, they’re so different yet have their similarities too. I’d be very interested to see how a Malaysian team would do in an English league.”
Having signed for first division club Negeri Sembilan FA in time for the 2016 season, Ting progressed quickly and in November joined the ‘B’ team for top division Super League side Johor DT, one of the biggest clubs in South-East Asia.
Johor DT are most renowned for signing Spanish striker Dani Guiza on a lucrative loan deal from Getafe in 2012 while he was still only 32, as well as Pablo Aimar from Benfica the following year – although both players left the country after a single season.
— Sini Laken! (@Twt_Larkin) May 7, 2015
‘’I get to work with the best coaches and play with the best players in the country, and that’s not mentioning the facilities that we have,’’ Ting says when talking about his experience so far at the club.
“My first year in Malaysia has been a great first year for me. I was given lots of opportunities to play, which in turn helped me to develop as a player and adapt to Malaysian football. I have even picked up some Malay.’’
Despite being in Malaysia for just over a year, the sky is the limit for Ting and he believes a national team call-up is a distinct possibility. “That has been my ambition right from the beginning. It would be a huge honour to represent the country of my father’s birth. There have already been five players who have moved to Malaysia from other countries and made the national team. I just have to keep working hard and improving and hopefully I will get a chance on the international stage.’’
Malaysian football’s reputation has been on the rise in 2017, in part due to Faiz Subri winning the prestigious Puskas Award for his swerving free-kick in a Super League game for Penang FC. It was a huge publicity boost for the professional domestic league in a country where football remains by far the most popular sport. With a population of 30 million, Malaysia’s national stadium, Bukit Jalil, has an official capacity of 90,000 – the same as Wembley.
In recent years, Arsenal, Spurs, Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea have all visited on pre-season tours, which highlights the country’s ongoing investment in the game. But despite dedicating substantial resources and establishing an organised league structure, the Malaysian national team has yet to reach its full potential. They are without doubt the sleeping giants of Asian international football.
For Ting, the move to Malaysia has given him a new lease of life. He is enjoying his football and adventure abroad, and has an optimistic outlook for the future.
“It would be great to be able to go back to England and play in the leagues over there, not even just in England. It would be great to experience leagues in other countries too.
“If the opportunity was to come up it would be a very difficult decision to make but for now I am very happy where I am. Malaysian football is definitely improving and it’s great to be a part of.’’
Wherever his path may lead him, one thing is for certain: Daniel Ting owes Shaun Maloney a drink.