Malaysian champions, AFC Cup holders ... where to next for JDT?

Winning the AFC Cup was never a target this year, but the Southern Tigers surprised all and sundry – including themselves – by putting their name in the history books anyway. With plans afoot to take the club to a higher level, FourFourTwo takes a look at the future of Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT)…

JDT – the first Southeast Asian side to win the AFC Cup – are leading the change in Malaysian football. The club is shaping itself into a role model for its competitors, many of whom still struggle with poor governance.

A stroke of luck thanks to a FIFA ruling allowed the club to qualify for the final and it then took full advantage, using some astute tactics and defensive nous to claim the major piece of silverware.

In an interview with FourFourTwo last week, Crown Prince of Johor Tunku Ismail said plans to transform the club into an even bigger identity in the region were already in place.

Vijhay Vick takes a look at where JDT could go from here.

AFC Champions League

The pinnacle of Asian club football, similar to the UEFA Champions League in Europe, it is the holy grail for clubs from Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia – the powerhouses of Asian football.

No automatic slot to the tournament is awarded to the AFC Cup winners, meaning JDT will have to endure the qualifying rounds once more.

It is a similar path the club unsuccessfully trod this year after winning the 2014 Malaysia Super League (MSL) title, a title they then managed to defend.

Playing in the Champions League will put the Southern Tigers under a much bigger spotlight. The more attention they get, the more money they can generate and that can then be re-invested to strengthen operations across the board.

They could face a baptism of fire if they can get through qualifying, but the exposure of playing with the best in the continent regularly is something money cannot buy.  What better way to prepare themselves for higher honours than playing on the biggest stage?

Should JDT qualify for the Champions League, Malaysian football will also benefit as a third MSL team (on top of the FA Cup winners) would then earn a spot in the AFC Cup.

Marco Antonio (left), Safiq Rahim and Luciano Figueroa

Dominate the MSL

Inconsistency had been proving an Achilles heel prior to winning back-to-back MSL titles in 2014 and 2015. Considering the array of stars in the team, many expected JDT to dominate the league last season, but they only sealed the championship over Pahang on the competition’s final day.

JDT have not had much Cup success either, falling short in the 2013 FA Cup final and 2014 Malaysia Cup final. While prestigious, the latter doesn’t offer qualification to AFC tournaments, and that’s really where the Southern Tigers need to be aiming.

JDT need consistent continental football and that comes via winning the MSL or the FA Cup year in, year out, although the latter only offers a direct slot to the AFC Cup.