The Untouchables: JDT on the verge of football immortality
Twelve years ago, in September 2004, Arsenal had just commenced their English Premier League assault in a season that would ultimately end with them celebrating a glorious undefeated campaign.
It was a season for the ages and one that is now accompanied by the universally recognised moniker of ‘The Invincibles’.
We try not to mention it too much to the players, but the fact is that’s a goal
In Southeast Asian football, a similar feat is on the verge of being achieved, this time one being chased by Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT).
For a club that is becoming accustomed to setting benchmarks, it will add to their 2015 AFC Cup victory, the first continental title won by a Malaysian club.
But if they can then get past their final two fixtures without defeat – at home to T-Team on September 24 and then away to Selangor on October 22 – it would seal an unblemished season of their own.
The Gunners might be ‘The Invincibles’, but surely those combined feats would make this JDT team ‘The Untouchables’.
“His Royal Highness [Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim] actually mentioned it in his question and answer session with the fans just last week,” JDT’s sporting director Alistair Edwards told FourFourTwo.
“He always sets targets. You can’t be too comfortable at this club; whether you’re the head coach, the sporting director or a player with the academy, there are always new challenges.
“The overall one is to make sure we get into the Asian Champions League. That’s the biggest thing. But along the way there are always other targets.
“One of those has been to make sure we’re undefeated at home and also the possibility of remaining undefeated for the whole season.
“That’s a remarkable achievement in any league in the world. We try not to mention it too much to the players, but the fact is that’s a goal.”
JDT currently boast 15 wins and four draws from their 19 matches, but there have been a few scares along the way.
In JDT’s season-opening match against Selangor, the Red Giants cancelled out Hariss Harun’s 45th-minute strike with an equaliser on 60 minutes, but the teams would settle for a 1-1 draw.
The Southern Tigers then bounced back from a 1-0 halftime deficit to defeat Felda United 2-1 back in March, a feat they repeated against Perak the following month
A 2-2 draw with Kelantan, a 1-1 result against Kedah and another 1-1 draw with Penang were other fixtures that could have gone either way.
Potentially the biggest scare of all then occurred in their last league fixture, when their only title rivals Felda rallied from two goals down to lock it up at 2-2 at halftime, only for Aidil Zafuan to decide the match – and most likely the MSL crown – with his 60th-minute winner.
Whether club officials have been talking openly with the players about an undefeated league campaign, the players have certainly been discussing it among themselves.