Kuala Lumpur in 1975. Arsenal are struggling on a pitch alive with thousands of little frogs jumping around. The heat, humidity and jet lag are not making it any easier. And then there is the legendary Mokhtar Dahari. Super Mokh is tearing the London side apart and scores both Malaysia's goals in a 2-0 win.
Fast forward nearly 40 years and British football is finding another Malaysian, who likes to get his own way, hard to handle. Vincent Tan is the owner of Cardiff City and, over the festive season, has become a pantomime villain in the pages of the British sports press having sacked his popular manager Malky Mackay and replaced him with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
In south-east Asia it is a little different and Peter Butler, the tough-tackling midfielder who was a cult hero among West Ham United fans in the early 90s, has spent the best part of a decade managing in south-east Asia and Malaysia and believes there is more to the Chinese Malay tycoon than his media portrayal in the west suggests.
"Vincent Tan and the people around him are not stupid, they are very smart indeed," says Butler, no apologist for a country in which he is regarded as a talented coach who speaks his mind, even if that sometimes gets him into trouble. In 2012 alone, Butler, as manager of Terengganu, substituted his goalkeeper midway through a game for what he saw as the deliberate conceding of a goal, publicly challenged players to a lie detector test, was banned by the club for six months (later overturned by the Malaysian FA) and called journalists "parasites".
"Cardiff wouldn't be where they are today if it wasn't for Tan," Butler adds. "He has achieved so much. You can't have it all your own way. If you get foreign investment in clubs, then this is going to happen. Asian owners like Tan are very big on KPIs [key performance indicators], accountability and want to know everything that's going on and want their say. They want to be part of it." It is hands on with a leather-gloved grip. Butler claims that interference from above in the region, while varying in degrees, is constant and that developing a relationship with an Asian owner is critical – something that Steve Kean seemed to realise very quickly when Venky's took over Blackburn Rovers.
"Suddenly you don't just have 25 players to manage, you have to learn how to manage upwards and that is the most important relationship. Malaysian and Asian football is all about managing relationships and, if you can't or won't do that, then you will not last long. I've learnt that the hard way. In south-east Asia, finishing a contract is success. There are no rules."
Steve Darby is another well-known English export to the region and in charge of Kelantan, one of Malaysia's biggest clubs. The Liverpudlian is not surprised by events at Cardiff. "The manner in which Tan is running his club is not so shocking to people here," says Darby, who is an advocate of Malaysian money being invested in local rather than European football.
"I have been lucky. I have had royalty, top CEOs and politicians as presidents of my clubs and they have all let me run the football side without interference." The genial former goalkeeper has, however, seen other coaches receive instructions during games. "In this part of the world winning is all that matters. I was even presented with a shirt by my president in Singapore with my name on the back changed from 'Darby' to 'Must-win'."
Tan is not involved in football in his homeland, where most clubs are owned by regional state football associations and run by powerful presidents from the business or political world. Kelantan's president is Annuar Musa, a well-known politician. The University College London graduate insists that he leaves team affairs to the manager, although he admits that results are all important. He argues that the globalisation of what he calls the EPL – most Malaysians know it as the BPL – has introduced a new culture that is bound to come into conflict with the time-honoured way of doing things.
"Vincent is a friend of mine, though we never talk about football," said the former minister for rural development in Malaysia. "I am not sure how much he understands traditional football in the UK but now there are people who invest in the EPL who come from Russia, the United States, the Middle East and now in Asia. All these have slightly different traditions in management and come from different backgrounds and it is natural we can see this in how they run the clubs."
Cardiff's profile in Malaysia has certainly increased in recent months but still lags way behind those of Manchester United and Liverpool – the two most popular clubs in the country. Tan and Cardiff is a story but not the biggest – an A to Z of 2013 sport in one newspaper at the end of the year featured Queens Park Rangers' and Hull's issues with their owners but there was no mention of goings-on in south Wales.
The reporting of the affair is led by the UK media. English language newspapers reprint reports from the Daily Mail or the Sun as well as international news agencies. According to Haresh Deol, editor of the Malay Mail, the situation is not much different in the local language press, especially as Tan has not been doing much talking. "Malay language papers translate what has already been printed by the British press or agencies – and most of it not being very nice towards Tan," says Deol. "Thus the fans – having heavily relied on reports from UK – have formed the opinion that Tan has not been smart in managing the club, despite having success, and that Tan, instead of Malky Mackay, should have been given the boot."
There has been some debate in the letters pages of newspapers between those arguing Tan is embarrassing the country and those who see no problem with a man who owns the club doing what he wants. A bigger story in the political section has been criticism of the £3m handed over by the Malaysian taxpayer to sponsor Cardiff and publicise the Visit Malaysia 2014 tourism campaign. This was a coup for Tan and down, according to Annuar, to his impressive connections with those in power.
The tourism and culture minister, Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz, claimed that the one-season deal would bring a global "publicity and public relations" benefit from the exposure of the Premier League. The English top flight has potent publicity potential but, according to Annuar, Tan is in it for the money. "My impression from conversations with Vincent's partners is that they thought Cardiff was a good club with a great chance of getting promoted. He has made investments in a wide variety of businesses and going into the EPL is just another investment. He has a good record of success and time will tell if Cardiff is another."