Former Blackburn Rovers boss Steve Kean has said that he is loving his new life in Brunei and hoped to stay for the "long haul" after being talked into the unusual move by the oil-rich sultanate's sports-loving crown prince.
Kean joined obscure DPMM Brunei in October, 13 months after ending a torrid, two-year spell at Blackburn marked by fan protests and relegation from the English Premier League. And he said he had no regrets about swapping industrial northern England for Southeast Asia's tiny, tropical Brunei, a footballing backwater but one of the world's wealthiest countries per capita.
"I'm very happy in Southeast Asia. I would like to be here for the long haul," said Kean, after opening his DPMM account with a 1-0 win over Albirex Niigata in Singapore's S-League. "I would like to stay here and develop our club and I think football is only going to get bigger here in years to come, so I'd like to stay."
His DPMM tenure got off to a winning start on Saturday thanks to a first-half penalty from Brazilian midfielder Rodrigo Tosi, in front of about 1,000 fans at Singapore's Jurong East stadium. With Brunei's 400,000 population and domestic football too small for DPMM's ambitions, they compete in the S-League in Singapore, meaning a two-hour flight for every away game.
It's a far cry from the English Premier League, where Kean's Blackburn would play in front of tens of thousands of fans watching some of the biggest names in football. But equally, the Scot is unlikely to experience the vitriol that marked his time at Blackburn, where he was targeted by demonstrations and frequently greeted by "Kean out!" banners.
Kean endured sustained fury from fans after he was promoted in place of the sacked Sam Allardyce by the club's owners, Indian poultry firm Venky's, and oversaw relegation in 2012. He said he had turned down leads with other clubs including Millwall after meeting Crown Prince Al-Muhtadee Billah, DPMM's owner and one-time goalkeeper, and first in line to the throne.
"At first I spoke with the crown prince and with the management of the club and they told me the ideas that they had for DPMM," the 46-year-old said. "It wasn't necessarily the S-League as such that attracted me but when I spoke with the crown prince and they told me how they want to take the team, how they want to improve the local players, how they want to try and help coach the coaches. That's going to be a part of my role as well, helping the coaches that we have in Brunei."
Kean said that backed by the colourful crown prince, who has represented Brunei at pool, he hopes to win the S-League not just this season, but next year as well, as well as Singapore's cup competition. Based on Saturday's disjointed performance against well-drilled Albirex, that may be ambitious, although Kean said Irish imports Roy O'Donovan and Joe Gamble would soon settle.
"We've committed to the league for the next two years, we want to win it for the next two years," said Kean. He added that he had "good control" over the team, with the crown prince allowing him to bring in players and set up the team as he wishes.
"I love it. I've got good control as far as letting the management and the crown prince know what players I want to take on board, how we want to play," he said. "Our facilities in Brunei are exceptional. And I think we've got a tight group. We've got a good team spirit."
However, Kean also did not rule out an eventual return to England or Scotland. "I never closed any doors but now that I'm here I'm enjoying it, the players are responding to the coaching sessions that we're putting on for them, and long may that continue," he said.