The Crown Prince of ... Asia? An insight into TMJ and his grand plans

FourFourTwo has been granted exclusive access to Malaysian football club Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) and was very fortunate recently to spend a considerable amount of time with Tunku Ismail Idris Ibni Sultan Ibrahim Ismail, the Crown Prince of Johor. Over the coming months we'll be providing insights into one of Southeast Asia's most ambitious clubs. This is part one...

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Likeable, warm and very well educated, the Crown Prince of Johor has a clear vision for his insatiably ambitious club, a club that he has transformed from the ground up in just three short years.

I like to see my people united. Football is a unifying factor, regardless of race or religion

When he speaks there is an unmistakable air of royalty and you can’t help but sense you are fortunate to be allotted some of his valuable time.

But it quickly becomes obvious that discussing these Southern Tigers and his home state is his passion and he is happy to do it.

If you dared to cut him, it’s likely blood in the Johor colours of navy blue, bright red and white would seep from his veins, such is the depth of his affinity with his state.

The Crown Prince is direct, doesn’t waste words and conveys a mixture of pride in the path already navigated and supreme confidence in what lies ahead.

The notion that “success becomes an addiction” is a theme his Royal Highness raises twice during our hour-long interview and, considering the achievements to date, there can be little doubt he will keep getting his fix long into the future.

We open with a straightforward question about the genesis of his passion for football.

The Crown Prince takes in training alongside JDT head coach Mario Gomez

His response gives a momentary glimpse into his childhood, before the conversation is quickly directed towards his current project.

“I’ve always liked football, ever since I was young,” he begins. “My mates in school and I, we all loved football.

“In my house where I grew up I used to play football with the sons of the stable boys that took care of the polo horses and things like that. So I’ve always loved football.

“In terms of what we’re doing at JDT, I like to see my people united. Football is a unifying factor, regardless of race or religion.

“I think the academies we are establishing are so important because we want to have a good education base for the youth and encourage a healthy lifestyle, keeping the youth off the streets.

“At the same time we want to educate them. Of course not 100 per cent of them are going to grow up to be professional footballers. They might, they might not, but at least we allow them to excel through football and make them better human beings.

“That is one of the targets of the club. Other than that, we obviously want to dominate Malaysia and then do our best on the Asian stage.

Inside JDT's impressive new training facility

“Doing things the right way, no politics, just strictly a love for the game and having as many professionals as we can in our organisation – that’s always been our target.”

Just how the Crown Prince became involved in his hometown club has moved into the realm of legend.

The stories include people taking to the streets to beg for his help, while local crowds consisting of barely two men and a dog watch defeat after defeat as tumbleweeds gently roll by Larkin Stadium.

The truth, it turns out, is surprisingly close to the legend.