TMJ Part II: The Crown Prince on match-fixing, Malaysia and making waves

FourFourTwo have been granted exclusive access to Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT). In part two of our in-depth interview with the Crown Prince of Johor, Tunku Ismail Idris Ibni Sultan Ibrahim Ismail, match-fixing, the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) and some of his rivals are in his sights…

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Match-fixing has long been a scourge on football across Southeast Asia and the sport in Malaysia is far from immune.

Just last year, Malaysia’s youth and sports minister Khairy Jamaluddin said the issue had been “shackling” the sport for years and there have been a number of suspensions and bans as officialdom tries to counter it.

This club belongs to the people of Johor. It doesn’t belong to me. I’m only the caretaker

The Crown Prince of Johor is another who refuses to shirk the issue, telling FourFourTwo in our first feature interview it was one of the first problems he had to eradicate when he took over JDT.

In the simplest and most direct terms, the Crown Prince – who is also known as TMJ – has zero tolerance when it comes to any form of tampering with the integrity of the sport he loves.

“Once you are caught for match fixing, in my mind, you’re banned for life,” he said, launching into an impassioned speech. “You’re a cheater.

“You cheat, you steal people’s money – it’s like you’re a thief. The scariest thing about match-fixing is that however much money is never enough for some people.

“Let’s say you pay someone RM100,000 a month. A guy comes with an offer of RM30,000 or RM40,000; it’s still money.

“At the end of the day, the platform is education. The foundation is you educate them that this is wrong. This is not what you do. Then obviously you have to have some fear factor as well.

Some of the royal family

“Here in Johor, I’ve said that if you get caught match-fixing, (you go to) jail. I’ll order the police to put you in jail, carry out an investigation in there and then we’ll see. So everybody is scared.

“But at the same time we try to educate them to think long-term, not short-term.

“If you do well in your (playing) career, you’ll do very, very well. Money comes and goes. You have to keep it balanced, the education part and the fear factor part.”

TMJ was prepared to go further on the topic when FFT asked a separate question about the state of the Malaysian national team, particularly during a galling, historically-bad stretch in 2015.

Under former coach and playing great Dollah Salleh, the Tigers suffered a record 10-0 annihilation against UAE and twin 6-0 defeats home and away to footballing minnows Palestine as the once-proud nation plunged to a record low ranking of 174th.

After the second round of combined World Cup/Asian Cup qualifying, Malaysia had scored three goals and conceded a whopping 30.

TMJ, who has had his differences with Dollah in the past and wanted him sacked last year prior to his eventual release by the FAM, intimated some of those results could have been manipulated.

“While we were getting those results when Dollah Salleh was the coach, I gave my point, but Dollah was very arrogant.

“He said ‘I’m not going to listen to you. I know football, I’ve been in the business for over 30 years’.

“Dollah wouldn’t answer me, obviously, but then you lost 6-0, you lost 10-0, whatever.

“I don’t know whether the match was fixed or not … but to me, once you’re caught with match fixing, you're out.“

Dollah Salleh during his time with the national team

Never afraid to speak his mind, TMJ’s approach since he took over has left anyone that could take exception to his methods eating their words.

In less than four years, the Crown Prince has revolutionised football in his state and set a new benchmark for others to try to match.

Considering the terrible condition Johorean football was in when he took over, it has been some achievement.

Yet it wasn’t simply a case of taking out the metaphorical garbage that remained from a barren period in the state’s footballing history and starting again.

Much of his philosophy has centred upon the people he wanted around as he rebuilt the club from the ground up.

The Crown Prince made a point of retaining some of those that knew the club in intimate detail, while bringing in others formerly associated with it, such as Alistair Edwards.

Edwards helped Johor FA to a league and Malaysia Cup double back in 1991 and was appointed JDT’s sporting director in January this year.

Others like JDT team coordinator Shaharuddin Sabran, development officer Sukumaran Kunjappan and stadium security officer Farouk Yahyah have either been retained or brought back into the fold.

I want Johor to be a club where ex-players and people that have contributed can be a part of this beautiful project

“There are people still here that have served the club for over 30 years,” TMJ explains. “These people felt they couldn’t really do anything before because the previous management didn’t want to listen to them.

“I’ve brought back ex-Johor players and given them an opportunity to be involved in the project.

“Obviously they’ve served the club before and they love the club.

“In the past it was people just handpicked by the president, the people he wants, so it might be his friends or something like that.

“But I want Johor to be a club that not only has high targets with everything that we do, but also is a base where ex-players and people that have contributed to the club can come back and contribute more and be a part of this beautiful project we’re doing.”

Continued over page with TMJ's thoughts on other MSL clubs