Inside JDT: Alistair Edwards, from striker to sporting director

Alistair Edwards has a long affinity with football in Southeast Asia and particularly Malaysia, dating back to his playing days. In the latest episode in FourFourTwo's inside look at Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT), we spoke to their sporting director...

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Ever since Tunku Ismail Idris Ibni Sultan Ibrahim Ismail, the Crown Prince of Johor, took over the running of Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT), part of his strategy has been to bring back some of the people that played key roles in the long history of football in his state.

[The Crown Prince] asked if I’d like to come along as the sporting director. It took me about a split second to say yes.

Few people personify that more than Alistair Edwards.

An Australian-born striker, Edwards helped Johor to a famous league and Malaysia Cup double back in 1991, a feat for which he is still widely recognised in the country.

Edwards then continued his playing career in Singapore, England, Australia and elsewhere in Malaysia before moving into coaching at various levels back in his homeland.

He also enjoyed a successful political career in Western Australia, but it was a trip back to Johor while coaching A-League club Perth Glory that would alter the trajectory of his life.

As part of FourFourTwo’s inside look at JDT, we sat down with Edwards for a chat. He explains the back story that resulted in him becoming the Southern Tigers’ new Sporting Director and a key element in the Crown Prince’s new regime.

Both Edwards and JDT have lofty goals

FFT: Alistair, thank you for your time. Let’s start with how you ended up coming on board with this new JDT project?

AE: I brought Perth Glory here for a friendly game in Johor about three years ago.

I played for Johor in ‘91 and ’92 and when I came back with Perth Glory I spoke to His Royal Highness and he told me he’d been following my career in Australia when I was with the FFA (Football Federation of Australia) for a number of years – coaching, administration.

He also knew about my political career in Western Australia. So he’d been following what I had been up to.

Later when he found out I was back in Malaysia [in a new role as technical director at third-tier club Real Mulia 2015] he contacted me again and wanted to have a meeting.

He explained the project and what he was doing, which I knew about anyway, because everyone knows what’s happening with JDT.

He asked if I’d like to come along as the sporting director and work alongside him on all football-related matters with the club.

It took me about a split second to say yes.

Edwards during his coaching days at Perth Glory. Photo: Fairfax Media

Could you tell us some more in your words about the project that is taking place here at JDT?

When His Royal Highness got involved, Johor football was very factionalised. So he brought it all under one umbrella with the JDT brand. One team for the whole of Johor.

I just sit back in awe at how much he’s loved and how much he loves the Johorean people

Then he created JDT II, which is similar to a lot of the models they use in Europe – Barcelona, Bayern Munich for example. We’ve got teams all the way from under-12s through to the first team.

JDT II is there to develop the younger players coming through. We’ve got some wonderful talent in that squad and the hope is for them to one day progress to the first team.

Then you’ve got the academy underneath that. We’ve got 67 players at the moment at under-12s and under-15s. That’ll expand to 80 by the end of the year and they stay on site at apartments, we feed them, we look after them, they have English lessons – it’s a proper academy, teaching them to be good people, teaching them nutrition, all of that. That’s part of the business.

From there we’re also starting a regional programme. In Johor there are eight districts, but 10 in total because some of them have two.

We’re setting up academy programmes in each of those states because at the moment the structure isn’t there.

The Crown Prince is heavily involved in all aspects of the club

FFT: How have you found it being around royalty?

It’s a wonderful experience. It’s a privilege to be working within that environment, but it’s also challenging in a way. There are so many things going on – he is the Crown Prince of Johor, there are 3.4 million people that adore him.

When I’m working with him in public I just sit back in awe about the respect, how much he’s loved, how much he loves the Johorean people. It’s a learning experience for me because coming from Australia, we don’t see this kind of thing.

On a personal level getting to know him as I have the last few months, you can see a person who is very intelligent, has a clear vision, such a strong love for the state and someone who knows what he wants.

The last two years have been on the structural part of it to make sure the players have an ability to train together and play together. Now we’re trying to expand it so the whole state has a structure.

FFT: With your coaching background, is overall style and philosophy at all levels of JDT part of your job?

That’s the first thing. It’s a club philosophy. It’s a vision that is fully entrenched in the way JDT sees the game.

So anyone that comes into it is targeted so they follow through with that philosophy. That’s one of the first discussions that His Royal Highness and I had.

He saw when we brought Perth Glory here the way the team played. He studies a lot of football and had followed my career, same as with Mario, and that’s why he brought him here.

It matches precisely the way that he sees the game.