Interviews

JDT's Crown Prince has big plans for his Southern Tigers

In a warning to their rivals, Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) boss HRH Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim has declared their best days lie ahead as they prepare to face Tajikistan's FC Istiklol in this weekend's AFC Cup Final.

We are part of The Trust Project What is it?

Speaking exclusively to FourFourTwo from Argentina, where he is currently participating in a polo tournament, the Crown Prince of Johor was in a bullish mood about JDT's future.

“We’re not there yet,” he said. “We have great potential to go further and our main goals for the club are yet to be achieved.”

It’s been a rapid rise for the club since the Crown Prince took over control in 2012. Struggling on and off the pitch, it was the Johor fans that convinced the then 28-year-old to take over control of the club.

“I have always loved football since I was young (but) I was never interested to be involved in Malaysian football because of all the things I’ve heard before about match fixing and things like that,” he explained.

“One day I represented my father at a hockey match where I was supposed to give the trophy and on the way back I had a few Johor fans start shouting, ‘your Royal Highness please help football, please help Johor football’.

“So I went home and thought about it and I thought ‘OK, why not?’ But if I’m going to take over Johor football I’m going to go 150 per cent, I’m not going to be average.”

He quickly set about changing the environment at the club, removed a number of staff he felt were not contributing and worked on developing a new professional attitude.

If we win, that’s it, I’m going to swim all the way to Australia

“Any football club in the world has to be run as a professional football club, full of integrity and professionalism,” he said. “The intention was to run the football club as a professional club and with a target of developing youth, (a) professional attitude in the sport and at the same time to win titles.”

A key plank of the “project”, as he often refers to it, was an increased focus on youth development, something the Crown Prince is most passionate about.

“To me youth development is the most important [element] because it’s the future of the club,” he said.

“The biggest challenge for any club in Malaysia is to sustain it. I mean our shirt is not going to be sold all across the country or in Asia. So that’s why youth development for me is the future of the club, it’s how we’re going to sustain the club.”

To demonstrate his commitment to youth development, the Crown Prince – in partnership with good friend Peter Lim, owner of Spanish club Valencia – is in the process of building a brand new, state-of-the-art youth academy in Johor with up to 15 football pitches, modern facilities and designed in collaboration with German giants Borussia Dortmund, who have entered into a partnership with JDT.

And it’s not the only big development the club is undertaking. Having already upgraded facilities at their current 30,000-capacity Larkin Stadium, which is now regularly packed with their passionate supporters, the Crown Prince has committed to building a brand new football stadium.

“It’s going to be a proper football stadium, so obviously we won’t have a track,” he said, referencing Larkin Stadium, which contains an athletics track.

With an expected capacity of 40-45,000, and with building to commence next month, the project will involve more than just a stadium. The club is planning a number of developments for the surrounding areas to ensure it is used outside of match day.

“I want the stadium to be a tourist destination,” he explained. “Not just (used) for a football match but on an everyday basis, you come and visit the stadium and you have a theme park for families, a nice restaurant and a nice shopping mall next to it to sell JDT merchandise.

“It’s going to be one-of-a-kind in Southeast Asia.”

The club is becoming accustomed to success since 'TMJ' took over