The tigerish midfielder-turned-assistant coach of Malaysia’s Olympic team has a message for his homeland: “Don’t stand still because south-east Asia is emerging fast”.
His eyes wide open to the vast investments being made in the region at all levels and age groups, Maloney told The World Game: “Thailand, Vietnam, Myanmar, and of course Malaysia, are all pumping cash and resources into football development, and this is something you have to be wary of back in Australia.
“I know it’s difficult for the Australian teams at youth level, to get the budgets to train and play against good opposition in tournament situations on a regular basis.
“And that’s probably something that needs to be addressed if Australia isn’t to fall behind in youth development.
“Across Asia, in general, there’s a big focus on youth development and these days you can’t take any team lightly.
“You look at so-called minnows of a few years ago like Laos, Timor-Leste, Cambodia and Myanmar. They have all made huge progress and can’t be under-estimated at any level.
“Normally Australia will be physically able to impose themselves on the south-east Asian nations, but technically these teams are very good.
“Take Thailand, for example. A lot of people criticised Australia for only drawing their World Cup qualifying match but you can’t disrespect these types of teams and unfortunately some people do.
“Sometimes they are technically ahead of Australia now, as much as people might not want to accept that.”
Now 46, Maloney won six senior caps for his country before retiring at 34 after an NSL career with Marconi, Newcastle and Perth Glory.
Spells as an assistant to John-Paul de Marigny at the NSW Institute of Sport, and then player welfare at the PFA, eventually led to Kuala Lumpur, where Maloney has been helping hone the next generation of Malaysia’s would-be stars, alongside highly-rated coach Ong Kim Swee.
The pair developed a bond back in 2014 when Maloney helped out with logistics and coaching when Kim Swee brought his team to Queensland to compete in the NPL for a season.
Maloney returned to Malaysia with the team, and has been there ever since alongside Kim Swee.
They joined forces to co-coach the senior team after the resignation of Dollah Salleh following a hammering against the UAE back in 2015.
The pair held the role for 14 months, though by the time they had taken charge - the chance of qualifying for Russia 2018 had already been extinguished.
Maloney helped coach them to a 2-1 loss to Bert van Marwijk’s Saudi Arabia and a 2-1 defeat to UAE, who had previously thrashed them 10-0.
They had trimmed Malaysia’s FIFA ranking from 174 to 156 by the end of their tenure, and the appointment of Portugal’s Nelo Vingada in March 2017.
The duo subsequently returned to heading up the Under-23s, and Maloney believes the future is brimming with possibilities.
Malaysia Under-16’s beat eventual finalists Tajikistan at the group stage of the recent AFC Championship, and $20 million has been ploughed into that group of players in the past three years.
The Under-20s qualified for last month’s AFC Championship in Indonesia whilst the Under-23’s were first-time participants at AFC Championship in China last January, losing in the quarter-final to Korea Republic.
“For us, it was a good achievement, having never qualified for the finals before,” Maloney said.
The quest to qualify for 2020’s AFC championship in Thailand begins on home soil in March as the next Olympic cycle begins.
Asked if he’d like to test himself back in Australia one day, Maloney said: “Right now I’m very happy working with a mentor like Ong Kim Swee at a good level, after all this is international football.
“But coaching in Australia is something I’d love to have a crack at one day.
“It’s my home country, where I learned my football and going back there to be work as a coach is definitely an ambition of mine.”