Sitting at the top: Pahang’s Damion Delano Stewart in action in a Super League match.
THE Malaysian connection at Queens Park Rangers goes beyond the ownership of chairman Tan Sri Tony Fernandes. A former QPR defensive partnership has helped Pahang share the lead of the Malaysian Super League.
Damion Delano Stewart and Zesh Rehman played together at Loftus Road for three seasons and are now key men at the back for the Elephants, who top the MSL table with Terengganu and Selangor – all on 16 points.
Stewart, a Jamaican, and Rehman, an English-born Pakistani, have helped each other carve successful careers in Asia.
Rehman was playing for Hong Kong’s Kitchee FC last year when he referred Stewart to an agent who opened the way for a deal at Pahang.
The rest is South-East Asian football history with Stewart being a standout performer as Pahang kept a clean sheet when they defeated Kelantan 1-0 at the Shah Alam Stadium last November to lift the Watson’s Malaysia Cup for the first time in 21 years.
“The iconic image of Pahang’s 2013 win was that of Stewart’s chest high followthrough, having made a clearance,” said Astro football commentator and SuperSport pundit Dez Corkhill.
“Stewart has brought life into Kuantan and has been a genuine leader both on and off the pitch.”
Once Stewart was established at Pahang, he recommended that the club get his former QPR teammate, Zesh Rehman, onboard for the 2014 campaign.
And Rehman, who also made 30 appearances for Premier League club Fulham early in his career, picked up silverware on his Pahang debut as the Elephants defeated Lions XII 1-0 to win January’s Charity Shield.
At 33, Stewart is three years
older than Rehman and a veteran
of a decade-and-a-half as a professional player. Apart from QPR, Stewart had spells in England with Bradford City, Bristol City and Notts County.
“My happiest memories were spent with QPR because we were like a family and that’s the same feeling I have being at Pahang,” Stewart said.
“My highlight would be scoring the winner for QPR against Aston Villa at their stadium in a cup game.”
Stewart has also had an impressive international career, earning 57 caps since 1999 and playing against the stars of Brazil, including Ronaldo, and being coached by Liverpool legend and Astro SuperSport guest pundit, John Barnes.
“It was great working with John because he’s someone who has played the game and really understands it,” he said. “I really think he could make a big difference as national coach of Malaysia, if given the chance.
“The best win I ever had with Jamaica was 3-0 away to El Salvador and that was the only time we had ever beat them at their home.”
Stewart began his professional career with the Kingston-based Harbour View Football Club in his homeland. As Harbour View won the Jamaican Premier League in 2000, Stewart was given the nickname Stew Peas after the famous Caribbean dish of red kidney beans, stewed beef, coconut milk and spices.
Stewart celebrates his first anniversary in Kuantan next week. He says he is enjoying the food and culture of Malaysia and believes Pahang have a good chance of winning the MSL title, with the help of their two former QPR stars and other, high quality imports.
“The games are competitive, the fans are great and I’m having a good time,” he said. “We are contenders for the title with our strong team spirit but we really need to sort out our away form. Once we start picking up points on the road, I think being champions is possible.”
> Jason Dasey is host and executive producer at Astro SuperSport. Catch him and the experts on BPL Turning Points every Monday 9pm on Channels 810 and 831HD. Twitter: @JasonDasey