The expanding power of JDT
Tunku Ismail, better known as Tunku Mahkota Johor (TMJ), received the best 30th birthday present earlier this year when his team, JDT finally won the Malaysian Super League (MSL) title for the first time, just 18 months after rebranding the club from Johor FC. They did it in style too, as the title race was the closest that I can remember with Selangor having topped the league table for most of the year before dropping points towards the end.
Although JDT were always going to be among the favourites to win the league title, it was important for them to actually win it because it proved that they are indeed a force to be reckoned with, especially since they failed to win anything in their first year despite giving a good challenge in the league, FA Cup and Malaysia Cup.
Everyone could see that JDT had every necessary ingredient to be champions. Thanks to the millions ringgit of investment by TMJ, they have improved their training facilities and signed the best players in the country as well as world class players such as EURO 2012 winner Dani Guiza and Pablo Aimar. Although most of the international stars did not stay long, two lesser names from Argentina, Luciano Figueroa and Jorge Pereyra Diaz, have been fantastic for JDT.
It is truly sad that those big signings, such as Aimar who terminated his contract due to a niggling injury after being with the club for just four months, did not work out. But this is probably a good lesson for JDT that they do not need big names because they already have a good squad of talented players. On a related note, Hamka Hamzah, PKNS’ defender from Indonesia, once told me in an interview: “There is nothing special about Pablo Aimar. He is just one world class player playing among local players.” He had a point there.
Players aside, Bojan Hodak played a big part in their league title triumph. Everyone knows what the former Kelantan coach is capable of from his time with the Red Warriors where he achieved tremendous success including winning the treble in 2012. Under Spanish coach Cesar Ferrando Jimenez, JDT were going through a dismal run and sitting at the sixth spot in the league at one point, but once the Croatian took over in the second half of the season, the Southern Tigers improved drastically.
By winning the MSL title, TMJ has moved one step closer to achieving his dream – seeing his team play in the AFC Champions League. JDT have automatically qualified for the AFC Cup, the secondary club football tournament in Asia, for the first time, but depending on how things go, they actually have the possibility to play in the Champions League instead. It all used to be too ambitious to dream of that because Malaysian teams always did badly in the AFC Cup – treble winners Kelantan under the guidance of Hodak also struggled in the competition before – but with JDT, I think it is possible.
However, before they turn their attention to the AFC Cup, they have to show that they can sustain their league performance in the upcoming Malaysia Cup, which will kick off on August 13th. Being the newly crowned Super League champions, expectations will be higher for them. Their Group C rivals – Kelantan, ATM and Penang – by no means are pushovers, but I believe Hodak, who has been there and done that, will be the most important factor and help them pull through.
Last but not least, nobody deserved more credits and praises for JDT’s success than their very own group of fans. For being ever vocal and supportive, I think they were the best bunch of supporters throughout the league season.
When they sang ‘Luaskan Kuasamu’, clearly they meant it.