Johor Darul Ta'zim: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

AFC Cup finalists Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) have already etched their name in Malaysian football folklore. Here Vijhay Vick gives a low down on the club ahead of the decider against Istiklol on Saturday…

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Ever since they started their revolution at the end of the 2012 season, the Southern Tigers have been destined for success. Three seasons, two titles, plenty of new enemies and millions spent later, the club could become the first Southeast Asian side to win the AFC Cup – Asia’s version of the Europa League.

Back home, JDT are every other team’s public enemy No.1. Poaching of players is not uncommon, nor is taunting their detractors. But in Crown Prince of Johor Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, the club has the clout to scale these heights.

The Good

Their list is a long one – from good facilities to having a professional set-up and a sound plan for the future. In fact they are so far ahead, other Malaysia Super League (MSL) sides could find themselves playing catch-up for years.

It is safe to say, barring playing time, JDT is the best Malaysian club a player can ask for. In an interview with FourFourTwo, goalkeeper Izham Tarmizi Roslan said: “Everything at the club is positive … having good facilities motivates players. Whatever we need, we get. This helps us focus on just football.”

JDT have created a winning environment and the epitome of that could emerge at the Pamir Stadium in Tajikistan later this week. Knowing the Southern Tigers, however, they won’t be satisfied even with that breakthrough achievement. The AFC Champions League will surely be next on the agenda.

Ever since the Crown Prince became involved, JDT have become used to celebrating

Lady luck came to their rescue in the semi-final after their opponents Qadsia SC were disqualified from the competition following FIFA’s banning of the Kuwait Football Association for their level of governmental influence under new laws. You can find a summary of JDT’s road to the final here.

Coach Mario Gomez has also proven an astute signing. His arrival at the end of April was initially received with skepticism, but it didn’t take him long to prove himself. Under his tutelage, JDT defended their MSL title after a nervy start under Bojan Hodak. Players such as Safee Sali, Mahali Jasuli and S. Kunanlan flourished under the Argentine’s watch.

Safee and skipper Safiq Rahim enter the final with four goals each and their finishing ability will be crucial if JDT are to lift the trophy.  With Luciano Figueroa (hamstring) doubtful, Safiq and Safee have a chance to silence their critics once and for all.

The Bad

JDT are always in the news, thanks largely to the ever-vocal Tunku Ismail. However, does the team really need an additional spotlight?

There is no denying the Crown Prince has raised some good points on football management in Malaysia, but the constant criticism also draws attention to the team’s performances. JDT players could feel pressured to walk the talk of a man they refer to as “Boss”.

JDT’s task has also been made that much tougher as they wait to see Figueroa’s fitness levels.

Cleared to play after a suspension was deemed served in the cancelled semi-final second leg, he faces a late fitness test on the above mentioned hamstring injury. With five goals in the competition, he is often the man who makes the attack tick.

Regular duo Junior Eldstal and Fadhli Shas are still out, leaving a significant hole in defence. The experienced Aidil Zafuan Abdul Radzak is expected to partner reliable Marcos Antonio, but the Malaysian is far from consistent these days and could be JDT’s weak spot.

Their success has brought increased levels of attention and media coverage

The ugly

Taunting opposing teams and match officials, plus the poaching of players, are just a few of the reasons behind the hatred towards JDT.  As much as an AFC Cup trophy will increase the profile of Malaysian football, it wouldn’t hurt many to see the star-studded team be on the losing side on Saturday.

The club recently acquired a bus with grills protecting it, claiming it was for the team’s safety on its travels to places with uncivilised fans. This did not sit well with their competitors, who were quick to point out that crowd trouble was a problem at the Larkin Stadium too.

Tunku Ismail courted controversy after confronting match officials at half-time of JDT’s 2013 Malaysia Cup group stage match against Felda United at the Larkin Stadium. There were fears such behaviour would influence the referees.

As for signing players, the club has never been short of controversy. Poaching is a regular accusation thrown at JDT and the club was punished this year for the manner in which they signed Gary Steven Robbat, who in turn received a three-month ban and RM50,000 fine. JDT were fined RM100,000 for approaching Robbat without consent of his employers, who at that time were Harimau Muda.