Brian McLean treated like a king in Brunei '“ but focus is on Hibs
Brian McLean has urged other Scottish footballers to try and experience playing abroad after a life-enhancing two years with Brunei DPMM.
The 32-year-old centre-back this week signed a short-term deal with Hibs until the end of the season after returning to his homeland when the imposing of a three-foreigner rule in the Singaporean league – in which DPMM play – meant he was unable to be retained.
However, he believes he returns to the Scottish scene a better player and a more rounded person after his time in Asia. “I was at that point in my life where I fancied a change of scenery,” McLean said of his move to Brunei just over two years ago. “It was something a little bit different, something outside the box. You do hear people saying I’d love to go abroad but they never go through with it, whereas I made a decision to leave Ross County. I could have stayed for another year but I left and I had a six-month period where I wasn’t working. I was just training and keeping myself as fit as I possibly could. I managed to get to January and that’s when it all developed.
“I would recommend it to other Scots. If they’ve got an opportunity to go abroad, they should have a serious, serious look at it. It’s definitely made me a better player and it opens up your horizons to a different culture, a whole different kettle of fish really. As a life experience, it was fantastic.”
As someone who helped DPMM win the S-League for the first time in their history during his first season there, McLean was held in high regard by the club’s illustrious owner, Crown Prince Al-Muhtadee Billah, who is heir to one of the world’s greatest fortunes in Brunei. “Normal temperatures over there were 30-plus, although we trained at night, when it was down to as low as 28 or 29!,” said McLean. “It took a bit of getting used to, maybe four or five weeks before I got up and running – and managed to find my lungs.
“My family managed to come out with me, as well. When you train at night like that, you have the full day to yourself. We were on an island, so we would fly from Brunei to Singapore for every competition. We were going to Singapore for three or four days at a time. That place is just phenomenal – a warmer New York. The lifestyle was great and we were very well looked after.
“They give you accommodation, a car, expenses – flights for your other half if they can’t stay for the duration, so they can come out for a few months at a time.
“In my first season we won the S-League. That was the first time in our history that we’d won it. The last league game, when we won the title, was incredible. The Crown Prince, who is basically the owner of the club, just opened the doors and let everybody in free. He gave everybody raffle tickets to win things like a car, return flights to Jakarta, Bali, Kuala Lumpur, everywhere.
“Everything was free, so obviously the stadium was going to be rammed – everyone wanted a chance of winning those prizes. It was unbelievable for us, fantastic. It was a privilege to play for them, in front of a 30,000 sell-out.
“The Crown Prince went to training every day. Every single day. When it was his birthday party, we would all get invited to the celebrations. You would meet him, shake his hand – and he was fine, asking how you were, how the family were. My daughter was born in Portugal so I was a bit delayed in getting across for pre-season last year. But he was always asking me, every time we met: ‘How is your daughter, how are your family?’”
Steve Kean, the much-maligned former Blackburn Rovers boss, was McLean’s manager in Brunei. However, the former Motherwell, Falkirk, Dundee United and Ross County player enjoyed his time under his fellow Scot. “Steve was excellent,” said McLean. “That’s probably the main reason why I was so comfortable in going. Having another Glaswegian over there would help massively. I learned an awful lot, speaking to him and working alongside him. He gradually introduced different elements into the training sessions and he would involve you in his thought process, different things that would be a deciding factor in picking the team for the weekend. He was pretty much the main reason why I stayed out for the two years. He was great.”
McLean hasn’t played for more than four months but feels ready to make an impact if called upon for Hibs. “I’ve been keeping fit, training away and doing as much as I possibly can so that I was ready for the nod,” he said. “That’s basically what happened on Monday morning. I just got a phone call about coming through and having a look. It was signed and sealed pretty quickly. It’s a privilege to be here.”