Interviews

The Crown Prince of ... Asia? An insight into TMJ and his grand plans

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“How it started was I was representing my father at a hockey tournament,” the Crown Prince explains. “On the way back I heard a few fans shouting ‘please help Johor football’.

“People had tried to persuade me to help for five years before that, but I’d been in India doing my military training and I wasn’t interested because I was aware how corrupt football in Malaysia was at that time.

“But one day I thought maybe I’ll drop by and watch a game, because I remember watching games when I was a kid, when the stadium would be full. But this time there were only about 30 people.

“I thought wow, what the hell is going on? Johor was only fighting against relegation every year. No real targets, just participating. For me, you have to have a target and then work hard to meet those targets. So that’s when I decided to take over.

“It wasn’t an easy thing where we just throw in money and everything works. It was very tough. One whole year was spent just cleaning up all the things which weren’t done professionally.

An aerial view of the proposed new stadium

“I set up a Johor special task force from the police to monitor bookies, players, young players, coaches, staff – everything. Then we came up with an awareness programme around staying away from match fixing and started paying the players very well.

The success of the first team has been remarkable, but that is only the beginning for what the Crown Prince has in mind

“After that, when you do the right thing, everything falls into the right place. In 2014 we won our first trophy and things have built from there.”

Quite literally.

As he intimated, when the Crown Prince took over Johorean football was in a deep trough, beset by infighting and petty squabbles.

One of his first moves was to combine all of the football entities – which included Johor FC, Johor FA, Johor Bahru FC and Muar FC – under the state’s official name, Johor Darul Ta’zim.

He introduced the unifying moniker ‘Southern Tigers’ and adopted the colours of the state flag – navy blue, bright red and white.

A revolution had begun, one that would gather momentum at a terrific pace.

TMJ has been making some powerful friends in world football

In year one, JDT lost the FA Cup final to Kelantan and finished third in the Malaysia Super League (MSL), just goal difference behind runners-up Selangor and three points short of that year's winners, LionsXII.

The jewel in the Crown Prince’s eyes is his academy

Twelve months later they were MSL champions, a title they would defend in 2015 while also securing comfortably their biggest achievement to date, the continental AFC Cup – the first Southeast Asian club to do so.

The success of the first team in such a short space of time has been remarkable, but that is only the beginning for what the Crown Prince has in mind.

He is just as passionate and hands on when it comes to the running of the club’s development teams – namely JDT II, JDT III and JDT IV.

He is also the driving force behind the immense JDT Sports City project, which includes construction of a new RM200 million (S$67.7m) stadium.

A state-of-the-art training ground has already been completed and is being used by the JDT players.

But the jewel in the Crown Prince’s eyes – excuse the pun – is his academy, a project that may garner some additional heavyweight backing.