Working in Brunei, Steve Kean made a point of flying his wife and children out from their Surrey home for a visit every six weeks. A long way from his boyhood home in the east end of Glasgow the former Blackburn manager never had to trouble himself with the cost of tickets.
‘It’s handy when the owner of the club owns the national airline as well…’ he admits.
DPMM FC were owned by a former goalkeeper who doubled as the heir to the throne. Every two weeks Crown Prince Al-Muhtadee Billah would summon his manager to his vast palace to discuss plans to turn the club into a major force in the Asian Champions League.
Steve Kean’s coaching career has taken him from Blackburn to Australia via Brunei
‘Working for a royal family who owned their own football club was a new one for me,’ Kean tells Sportsmail.
‘The Crown Prince owned the club and I would go to his palace every month to sit and talk about the team and the young players coming through. We would also talk about the foreign players I was trying to get in.
‘The whole of Brunei consists of Liverpool fans. Every one of them.
‘They are Liverpool fanatics and I had played against Liverpool and taken teams to Anfield and managed to get results – so that was always a talking point.
The 53-year-old managed DPMM FC for four years, who are owned by the Brunei royal family
‘Off the pitch they were such a happy respectful nation. The population is only 400,000, but just being able to have access to the Crown Prince and the Sultan was amazing.’
The official residence of the Sultan of Brunei is the Istana Nural Iman. Set on the leafy riverside sprawl of hills on the banks of the Brunel River the Light of Faith Palace is the world’s largest residential residence. Buckingham Palace doesn’t come close.
‘It was a bit different from Dalmarnock Road in Glasgow were I grew up,’ laughs Kean.
‘The whole team were actually invited to the second son’s wedding inside his palace, which is the biggest single residence in the world.
‘We were sitting inside this house and it was a strange old experience.
‘I saw it as something totally fresh. When I went they only had one team and they had never won anything. They didn’t have a reserve team, they didn’t have an academy. I didn’t see that as a negative, I saw it as a situation where I could go in and use my experience to set up an academy and reserve team to develop players who won trophies.
Kean is best remembered on these shores for his stint as boss of Blackburn Rovers
‘We won the Singapore cup. We won the league for the first time.
‘I initially went for a year and finished up staying for four. It was a great four years.’
Twelve months ago Kean dug the passport out once more, moving to Australia to work as an assistant to former Hibs midfielder Grant Brebner at Melbourne Victory before taking interim charge for the final games of the season. By a strange quirk he was there when Ange Postecoglou – an A-League title winner at Victory – landed the job of managing Celtic, the club where he started out as a teenage reserve player with the likes of Derek Whyte and Peter Grant.
‘Ange moving to Celtic might have surprised people in other parts of the world, but not so much at Melbourne Victory.
‘Ange is very, very well thought of in Australia and I had players I knew at Blackburn like Brett Emerton who spoke so highly of him. You have Craig Moore who has an Australian and Scottish connection who speak very highly of him.
Kean left Brunei in 2014 and most recently coached Australian side Melbourne Victory
The Scot says that current Celtic boss Ange Postecoglou is fondly thought of in Melbourne
‘I was at Victory last season and some of the staff Ange brought in are still there and still think the world of him. They’re not only at Victory, but all over Australia.
‘He is very well respected and a lot of people have followed his career and the way he coaches.’
While three defeats in six games have eroded much of the early goodwill shown towards the Parkhead boss, Kean hopes the new man is granted the one commodity Celtic managers rarely get. Time.
‘I think Ange will put his own identity on the club very soon.
‘You can clearly see the way he wants to play. I don’t think, even if teams press them high, it will stop Joe Hart throwing or passing the ball out from the back.
Keane believes the Australian needs time to implement his style of play at Parkhead
‘Even if they lose a goal – and it happened at Victory that they lost some early goals when team pressed them – he will continue to play that way.
‘I think that’s the way Celtic fans want to see the team play, so long as they win.
‘They want to see the team control possession and build from the back. But that takes time.’
When the A-League season ended so did Kean’s time at Melbourne Victory. After rebuilding DPMM and leading the club to the best season in their history, his time in Australia was overshadowed by some of the toughest covid restrictions on the planet.
‘I got out just in time. Melbourne is back into lockdown again. Sydney is in a long lockdown and I don’t even know if the A League will start again. And if it does it’s probably going to be hard.
Now, Kean says he is open to a return home to Scotland, where he has never coached before
‘I was there for 10 months and it was difficult because my wife couldn’t get in, my kids couldn’t get in. It’s so strict to travel in and out of the country and it was tough.
‘It’s hitting Australia hard and it’s in a bit of a mess unfortunately.
‘But when you get the opportunity – wherever it comes – you have to take it. I worked a long time in Spain with Real Sociedad, I worked a long time in the English Premier League and Championship.’
For the last four years Kean has worked with the SFA Coaching Education Department, helping players like Scott Brown to make the transition from playing to coaching. A graduate of the SFA course Kean went on to coach Reading, Fulham, Real Sociedad, Coventry and manage Blackburn before moving overseas. Oddly, he has never actually coached a Scottish club.
‘I would be open to it 100%,’ he admits. ‘You consider every one as they come up and it’s something I would certainly consider.’