FFT's 20 Under-20: Dominic Tan, the Malaysian defender dreaming big

Young Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) centre-back Dominic Tan has been tipped for a bright future for some time now. Flattered to be part of FourFourTwo’s new series on the best under-20 players in the region, he spoke to Vijhay Vick about his rapid rise and his aspirations.

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Dominic Tan started the 2016 season with Johor Darul Ta'zim II in the second-tier Malaysia Premier League, following the abandonment of the Football Association of Malaysia’s Harimau Muda development programme.

He struck up a partnership with Singapore international Baihakki Khaizan, who has praised Tan for his composure at such a young age, and also caught the attention of then-Southern Tigers coach Mario Gomez, who wanted cover for Aidil Zafuan Abdul Radzak and Marcos Antonio in his top-flight side.

I want to fight for a place in the first 11 and win trophies here at JDT

- Dominic Tan

Midway through last season Tan was subsequently 'promoted' to JDT's senior side. While he is yet to taste much playing time with the Malaysia Super League champions, the 19-year-old still feels his career is advancing in the right direction.

“I think my career progression has been positive. I’ve been at a new level every year. I hope this continues and I eventually represent Malaysia at the highest level … perhaps one day even go abroad to gain more exposure,” Tan told FourFourTwo.

“I take it (the lack of chances at JDT) positively. It is a new challenge and I have to work hard to prove my worth for a place in the starting line-up.

“Being here at JDT has been good. I get to learn from the best players and coaches in training … some of whom have a lot of experience.

“I want to fight for a place in the first 11 and win trophies here at JDT.”

Tan is pleased with his progress to date

With the 2017 SEA Games being held on home soil, Tan knows there is no better way to launch his international career than providing the backbone to Malaysia’s gold medal aspirations in the under-22 competiton.

Some of his teammates at JDT such as Safiq Rahim, Aidil, S. Kunanlan and Amirul Hadi Zainal rose to prominence after winning the 2009 SEA Games. Malaysia also won gold two years later but finished empty handed in 2013 and 2015.

The former Malaysia under-19 captain, however, has not quite made the transition to Frank Bernhardt’s squad which has been preparing for the Games, battling Adib Zainuddin and Faris Shah Rosli for a starting role.

Faris, however, who captained the side last year, is now doubtful for the SEA Games as he recovers from knee surgery, paving the way for Tan to make a centre-back position his own.

“I’m not assured of a starting role yet … I want to start at the SEA Games and will do my best to prove my worth,” said Tan.

“There is not much time for us to get together with the domestic season underway, so we have to make the most of the call-ups.”

It turns out, Tan could easily have been turning out for Malaysia’s neighbours and arch-rivals Singapore at the SEA Games.

I want to start at the SEA Games and will do my best to prove my worth

The lanky defender grew up in Singapore and was a former student at the Singapore Sports School before deciding he wanted to represent the country of his birth, joining Harimau Muda in 2014.

Those who have followed Tan’s progress will agree he could lead Malaysia’s defence in years to come, but the defender isn’t looking too far ahead just yet.

“I’m not thinking about it much and have not set any target on when I want to make my international debut,” said Tan.

“I’m not a regular for the under-22s nor am I at JDT. I need to get into these line-ups first and then I will look at the next step, which will be the national team.

“I will step up when given the opportunity.”