BY OOI KIN FAI Follow on Twitter
AirAsia FC kickstarted a new phase in the budding football club with the rebranding of the club's name to Petaling Jaya (PJ) Rangers FC. In an announcement event held in the spanking new Air Asia Red Q in Sepang, club chairman Tony Fernandes outlined the dreams and vision of the club for the next few years.
The repackaging of the team also is in-line with the move to play their home games beginning 2017 at the Petaling Jaya Municipal Stadium in Kelana Jaya. The club was previously using the Shah Alam Stadium as their home base and this move is targetted with English football culture in mind.
Fernandes explained the decision when he said, "We don't have a home at the moment. Let's be real, how many people are going to support Air Asia All-Stars? If we are going to create a team in London and call ourselves Air Asia United, we wouldn't have a fan base. Obviously we would love to be in this part [Sepang] and Kamarudin has been working on building a new stadium and finding a permanent home.
"But at the moment for the forseeable future, we are going to be in PJ stadium so we decided to name ourselves PJ Rangers. To try to engage the people of Kelana Jaya, KL and even Damansara to make this their home club. To try and build a fanbase like English football clubs have done.
"We've been very successful in Malaysia building state fanbases but no club has really built a fanbase. So that's a challenge for us. We want to try and use this for clubs to have a fanbase and use this as a new beginning."
Yet, with the club still searching for the right place to build a new stadium and with an eye on Sepang as the location, one wonders if it might be ideal to start engaging the PJ community and then suddenly up and leave when the facilities are ready. However, Fernandes assures that the change won't be soon and it could still be within the PJ vicinity.
"It really depends where the stadium is. Wherever we build it, it's not going to be far from PJ anyway. Eventually we would like to have our own academy and our stadium, it might be around this area. Plus it's not like tomorrow we are going to build a new stadium, it's going to take a few years.
"We want to try something different and we don't know if it's going to be a success. The focus of the collaboration will be at the community fields in terms of building an academy. The dream is to have an academy to produce players of international standards.
"We notice that in Queens Park Rangers (QPR), kids as young as five years old goes into the club and we're looking to reproduce that here to engage the community more than we've ever done before. We want to see if we can build a football club with a community feeling that isn't state based," added Fernandes.
One thing that Fernandes and the club has done right is to not take the easy route by taking over DRB-HICOM. To grow the club organically is the right way forward and the appointment of Mat Zan Mat Aris has a lot to do the plans to attract a new fanbase.
"We could have taken over DRB but we felt that was wrong. We felt that we must earn the right to be there and we must get promoted. We don't want to buy our success. We looked at many coaches. The thing that attracted us most was his playing style. We want to play attractive football. We want PJ Rangers to have a certain style of football, a style that people want to watch," said Fernandes.
Being the owner of QPR means that Fernandes will have access to the knowledge and experience of the English football club and it's a library that he intends to fully utilise in the coming season to give PJ Rangers the added advantage over their rivals.
"Up to this point, QPR has not really been involved with the football club but this new season, we've decided that QPR will be more involved with the team. It really depends on the manager to see how much involvement. We are looking at simple things like video analysis, sports medicine and giving our coaches an opportunity to go to Harlington (QPR's training ground) to meet the coaches over there to share experiences," explains Fernandes.
The structure of state team is becoming increasingly irrelevant in today's footballing world and the plans of PJ Rangers FC will surely put that theory to the test. Changing a culture that is deeply entrenched in Malaysian football is the hardest one to make, but there's no doubting that right now PJ Rangers are one step in the right direction.
Petaling Jaya Rangers FC will continue their progression in the FAM League in 2017, hoping to secure a promotion to the 2018 Premier League.