Interviews

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

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Reviving a tired Tiger

Heading into the 2013 season, TMJ’s first in charge, Johorean football was mired in mediocrity.

That famous double won 25 years ago by Johor FA, who are now JDT II, was a distant memory, while they also won a Malaysia FA Cup in 1998.

Johor FC, meanwhile, picked up consecutive Malaysia FAM Cup titles in 1994-95, a third-tier knockout competition at the time, while both teams picked up division two honours in 1999 and 2001 respectively.

It’s a record that pales in comparison to the likes of Kedah, Kelantan and particularly Selangor, who boast a staggering 33 Malaysia Cup titles alone among a veritable bounty of silverware.

It was offered for (other owners) to sit down at one table, but none of them really care

But the Southern Tigers are doing their best to make up ground while also establishing new benchmarks, such as their 2015 AFC Cup title, the first by a Southeast Asian club.

To date the record under TMJ reads two MSL titles, two Charity Shields, one FA Cup and that historic continental crown.

It is a stretch that has surely garnered the attention of the country’s other club owners, so have any of them engaged TMJ in an effort to learn his processes and potentially keep pace?

“No,” was the Crown Prince’s flat response. “It was offered for them to come and sit down at one table to discuss, but I believe that none of them are interested because none of them really care.

“They are there for a different reason. Obviously they don’t like me telling them what to do and I think there is also an insecurity complex.

“The only one I’ve helped before is Penang and Penang today is in the Super League. I’ve helped them by giving some donations, some funds, and also giving them advice.

Some of the JDT people helping TMJ on his journey

“From the Premier League they went to the Super League and they have a strong fanbase. They tried to learn from us.

“We are open to anyone that wants to come in to JDT and try to learn from us. At the end of the day, it’s for our nation’s football. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.

“But there are some trying to compete with me, instead of learning from me. It doesn’t work.”

Trying to match JDT's pace

Former frontrunners Kelantan have struggled in recent years, finishing sixth and ninth over the past two MSL seasons and currently sitting in eighth place, already a whopping 17 points behind leaders JDT.

That is success; consistency. Not when you’re the champion of the league and then tomorrow you’re fighting relegation

Yet it wasn’t long ago the Red Warriors were enjoying a run similar to the one the Southern Tigers are enjoying now, with Kelantan taking out two league titles, two FA Cups, two Malaysia Cups and a Charity Shield between 2010-2013.

“When I took over, there was Kelantan,” TMJ says. “Kelantan have always been the champion. But when I came over I think they felt quite threatened, so they tried to compete in terms of financial power.

“[It was a mentality of] ’JDT spend this much, so we have to spend this much’. But you have to understand, if you have RM50,000, you can’t then spend RM70,000.

“Kelantan tried to do that, they struggled, then they couldn’t pay their players’ salaries and problems started. That’s why Kelantan have gone from being top to where they are now.

“I have always said consistency is success. To me, Selangor is a success. People say ‘why, they haven’t won the league for so long?’

“But Selangor are virtually always in the top three. They never go below fifth and they’re nearly always in the quarter-finals or semi-finals of the Malaysia Cup.

Selangor winning last year's Malaysia Cup title. Photo: Selangor FA

“That is success; consistency. Not when you’re the champion of the league and then tomorrow you’re fighting relegation or at number six or out in the group stage of the FA Cup. I always look at consistency.

“ATM tried to do the same thing when they signed [Honduran Jerry] Palacios, an ex-World Cup player, and tried to make a lot of noise.

READ ALSO: JDT win first-ever FA Cup

“When you give priority to the foreign players to pay their salary, you are indirectly neglecting your local players. Then you struggle to pay their salaries and they’re not happy. That’s also where match fixing comes in.

“The difference between these other owners and me is I’m here to be successful, they’re here to be popular. That’s the difference.”

The youth are our future

Another difference the Crown Prince is implementing is his youth academy.

When completed, it will feature 13 football pitches, one indoor pitch, offices, apartments and training workshops.

We have a rich history. We are here before Malaysian independence. I like to see my people united

Designed to give Johor’s youth a potential pathway to the professional game, FFT asked TMJ what it will be like when an academy product dons the club’s first-team uniform for the first time.

“I think it will be an amazing feeling,” he said. “It will feel like all your hard work, your vision, your dreams are actually working. It’s a way of saying ‘alright, we’re here now’.

“I’m the Nelson Mandela of Johor. No, I always joke around with that, because when I first introduced the project I said ‘I’ll do this, I’ll do that, I’ll bring Johor back making history’.

“People asked me what do we have to do? I said ‘you guys don’t have to do anything, just be united as Johorean’.

“We have a rich history. We are here before Malaysian independence. That’s why Johor still has Johor military forces. It’s run like an independent state, like Barcelona in Spain.

“I like to see my people united.”

Concluded on page three with TMJ's thoughts on the national team