Vijay Eswaran Aims to Develop Local Malaysian Community Through Sports

vijay eswaran, new owner of pj fc

At the beginning of this year, Vijay Eswaran of the QI Group announced the purchase of an up and coming football club in Malaysia that had just qualified for the Malaysian Super League. The team formerly known as MIFA has been rebranded as PJ City FC, a tribute to the city of Petaling Jaya, which has been home to the QI Group’s operations for the last 20 years. Eswaran is a Malaysian entrepreneur, philanthropist, and author. He is the founder and executive chairman of the QI Group of Companies, a multinational conglomerate headquartered in Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur with operations in more than 30 countries.

It’s not Vijay’s first partnership with a football club either, as his company Qnet has been the official direct selling partner of Manchester City since 2014.  And of course Manchester City should be well known to New Yorkers as the owners of our own NYCFC.

The acquisition of PJ City FC was guided by Eswaran’s desire to support and give back to the local community through sports. Football is arguably the most popular sport in Malaysia.  According to a Premier League survey, Malaysia with a population of over 32 million, has approximately 13.6 million football fans. Every four years Malaysians go ballistic over the Football World Cup, and manically support the teams they favour from Germany to Brazil. However, Malaysia’s national team remains far behind when it comes to international events.

Vijay Eswaran’s aim is to capitalise on the Malaysian craze for football to address an important social issue, which isn’t surprising as Vijay is known for his philanthropic work. The PJ City Football Club is largely made up of young boys from the minority community in Malaysia who often come from low income families and do not have either the opportunity or aptitude for higher education but possess talent and skill which need to be channeled positively. Many of these young men would otherwise have no other opportunities to improve their lives.

The PJ City Football Club is made up of three teams i.e. the senior team, the under-19 and under-21 teams. The latter two teams are heading their respective leagues right now. With the backing of the QI Group, PJ City Football Club has set an ambitious target for the Super League. The team’s goal is to finish the season in the top five. By supporting these teams, Eswaran is doing his part towards training, developing and harnessing young talent to benefit the local community.

Eswaran believes that Malaysian football can be as good as European football with the right backing, support, and training, which contributed to his decision to back this local team. Ten years ago, Eswaran promised MIFA that if they made it to the Malaysian Super league, he would support them full-time. At that time, they operated on a shoestring budget with players predominantly from low income and minority backgrounds and no money for a proper football kit. What they lacked in material support they made up for with their passion to succeed. The team was supported by a coach who constantly found new and creative ways to raise money for the team, even spending his own money when he was out of options. They were constantly on the road, traveling by public bus, playing matches in far off places and staying three to a room. They didn’t have more than one football jersey each, leaving them no choice but to reuse them constantly. On top of all this, players often had to wait months for their pay cheque. Despite all the hardships, the team kept playing and winning, slowly but steadily moving up the ranks of the leagues. This year, they finally made it to the Super League and Eswaran kept his long-held promise to back them fully. Now, with QI, PJ City FC is the only privately-owned Malaysian club in the Super League.

Many people day dream about starting a professional football club, but Eswaran knows the reality. To get a team off the ground requires persistence, talent and money. Eswaran’s decision to rename the team was intended to galvanise the community of Petaling Jaya around the club from the start. The team’s new management is made up of seasoned football management professionals and the team is a combination of both Malaysian players and foreign recruits. PJ City’s coach is K. Devan, a highly experienced coach and the talent behind the former MIFA team’s qualification to the Super League. K. Devan has signed four foreigners to the team: South Korean midfielder Bae Beon Geun and Brazilians right back Elizeu Araújo de Melo Batista; defensive midfielder Sérgio Paulo Nascimento Filho; forward Pedro Henrique de Santana Almeida and defender Filipino-Australian Joshua Jake “Josh” Grommen. Former international player S.Subramaniam is the team’s captain. Together, they have the unique opportunity to create and mould a football club that Malaysians can be proud of.

Eswaran aims for the QI Group to be known as an organisation that makes a positive social impact in everything they do. While the acquisition of the PJ City FC is primarily seen as a marketing or branding opportunity by many, as far as Eswaran is concerned, this is his chance to give back to the local community and build a new generation of sports professionals.

According to FAM secretary general Stuart Ramalingam, the QI Group’s investment in the PJ City team is a good example of the privatisation of a Malaysian football club. “It’s great to see new money coming in (PJ City team). It would have been easier to take over an established team like Perak who come with their own fan base. But they (QI Group) prefer to build up their own ‘baby’. This brings in the opportunity for new money to come into football to help the professional game grow,” said Stuart.

Football: Bringing Together the People of Malaysia

Eswaran feels that professional Malaysian football is a powerful force for good that needs to be reignited. He remembers a time when the whole nation sat glued to the television without a thought about differences in race, religion, creed, colour, or upbringing. After the national team made it to the Olympic finals in 1972, the nation was captivated. The team’s success continued for two decades as it qualified for the Olympics in 1976, 1980, 1984, and 1988. This memory caused Eswaran to ponder the different ways in which he could get Malaysians to unite through sports. He thought the answer was quite straightforward: to create football champions with a passion for excellence who would be role models for the younger generation. Just like in the glory days of the Malaysian national football team, Eswaran wants to see players of all races and religion like R. Arumugam, Santokh Singh, Soh Chin Aun, Mokhtar “Super Mokh” Dahari, James Wong, and Hassan Sani representing, inspiring, and uniting the people of Malaysia.

Malaysians have an inherent strong love of football – you can see it when they flock to coffee shops, pubs, and other public places to watch the English Premier League (EPL) matches. If the EPL can draw such big crowds, a Malaysian Super League or Malaysian Premier League can too. The QI Group has taken the first step to doing just that with the stated purpose of bringing back the glory days of Malaysian football.

Eswaran’s Commitment to Malaysia Stands Strong

Eswaran took on the football club to create something new and exciting for the modern generation of football fans. His aim is to offer a lively and immersive fan experience in Malaysian football, which is exactly what he feels the league is lacking. Eswaran and the QI Group are progressive, inclusive, and looking to build and engage with both the online community and the “on the ground” passionate and knowledgeable football fans.

The club will allow members of the public to purchase memberships and participate in the various road-shows and other activities built around the team and its matches. It will essentially be a fan club, but the difference is that it will give its members an unprecedented fan experience and much more. One thing is crystal clear: Eswaran’s objective is to inspire modern football fans to get involved in a unique and ambitious project.

PJ City FC is just the beginning of a large-scale vision for the future of Malaysian Professional Football. Growing excitement around the team means building a unifying force not only for the community of Petaling Jaya but for the whole of Malaysia. Eswaran is personally committed to the success of this new up-and-coming football club and hopes the same nostalgia he has for the golden age of Malaysian football will take root in the next generation of fans. In this way, the lessons learned through the love of the game can inspire the business leaders and entrepreneurs of the future.

Be sure to follow along with Vijay on this new journey by following him on Twitter @VijayEswaran and be sure to check out his motivational books, for more insight on the philosophy that drives Eswaran forward.