Johore – This Saturday (November 1) will be the final of the 2014 Malaysia Cup. The 88th edition of the oldest tournament in Asia will display the most promising battle in the final as it will decide whether defending champions, Pahang or Super League champions Johor Darul Takzim (JDT) will lift the prestigious trophy after the final whistle at the Bukit Jalil National Stadium.
Pahang along with their Elephant Army supporters have been the powerhouse of the local scene for the past two years after they ended Kelantan’s domination several years earlier. They undisputedly lifted the Malaysia Cup last year along with this year’s FA Cup with their entertaining attacking style which captivated not only the Tok Gajah’s supporters but also the neutrals.
Generally, people agree that the masterminds to their current success within these two to three years are legends, Dollah Salleh(now national coach) and Zainal Abidin Hassan. The key for Pahang is the mix of home-grown players with high enthusiasts such as R.Gopinathan, Razman Roslan, Azamuddin Akil and Hafiz Kamal with top class import players such as Matias Conti and Dickson Nwakaeme.
How about JDT? For JDT, this is the first time that they have reached this far. Though they managed to play in last year’s FA Cup final against Kelantan, it is not the same. This will be the first time since early 90’s that the Johor supporters will watch their team play in the Malaysia Cup Final. Who started the Renaissance for Johor football? One clear answer is Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, more popularly known as TMJ, who despite all the controversies related to him is widely regarded as the catalyst for the resurrection of Johor football.
TMJ and Johor Football
It started when the Crown Prince of Johor, Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim or TMJ (Tengku Mahkota Johor) went to the stadium in 2012 where there were only 15 fans watching the Johor FA team. Right after the game, TMJ heard a loud voice saying ‘SAVE JOHOR FOOTBALL’ and that is simply the starting point of how Johor Football is rejuvenated.
Not long after that, he became the President of Johor Football Association (JFA), which oversees two football clubs, Johor Darul Takzim (formerly known as Johor FC) and Johor Darul Takzim II (formerly known as Johor FA). In ‘Dengan Izin’ which was hosted by Rizal Hashim, TMJ mentioned that he referred to Kelantan’s rebranding and revolution several years ago as an inspiration and as the model to change the landscape of Johor football. Bringing in big names such as Indra Putra Mahayuddin was really significant for The Red Warriors during that time.
Tunku Ismail started the revolution by attracting star players such as Aidil Zafuan, Nurul Azwan Roya and Nurshahrul Idlan Talaha. But the most significant moment was the signings of International stars such as Simone Del Nero from Italy and Spaniard Dani Guiza who won the 2008 EURO with Spain. This is proof that TMJ was serious about the revolution by spending big and making Johor’s dream of signing superstars come true.
TMJ has been praised by many for his involvement and initiatives in developing JDT’s reputation. Ever since his involvement, JDT have transformed into one of the top football clubs in the country with much improved stadium and facilities which includes the very first electronic advertisement board.
Soon, Johor fans started to fill the thirty thousand-seat Tan Sri Dato Haji Hassan Yunos Stadium in Larkin. With a full-house stadium, stable financial background and good facilities, no wonder JDT managed to attract International stars to play for them. For instance, the arrival of Argentinians Pablo Aimar, Luciano Figueroa and Leonel Nunez has much helped the improvement of JDT on and off the field.
TMJ and controversies are inseparable
The rise of JDT also brought out plenty of controversies involving the President of the association which is TMJ himself. From the ‘tunnel’ incident to other multiple outbursts, it raised the eyebrows of the Malaysian football followers. However, if we look at it from a different angle, some of his actions (among the controversies) were borne out of his passion and effort in improving football in this land.
In 2013, TMJ slammed the Malaysian League referees for their poor display in matches and branded them as not professional enough. Not long after that, he harshly criticized the FAM (Football Association of Malaysia) management of not being competent enough to manage and develop Malaysian football.
“Our referees are semi-pros, sometimes they are like amateurs.”
He was suspended for six months and fined because he was found guilty of violating FAM’s Article 88.
Another criticism that TMJ had thrown at FAM is related to the broadcasting revenue. FAM had announced that every home stadium should receive RM 15,000 for every game that they hosted for the live television coverage. However, TMJ claimed that PBNJ (Johor Football Association) did not receive any of it.
“Up till now, even a cent (from them) can’t be seen,” he said.
These abrasive observations and controversial public stance can hardly be seen in local football, which some Malaysians view this lack of passion and desire to excel as among the factors of the continuous failure of Malaysian football. TMJ is known for being vocal and lashes out criticisms unlike other presidents of football associations in Malaysia. When he was shortlisted as one of the candidates for FAM president earlier this year, he said,
“I’m competing does not mean I’m disrespecting FAM President Sultan Ahmad Shah or Tengku Abdullah, but I am disappointed with the current management of FAM.”
He said that he also believes that FAM has too many weaknesses and it is time for the governing body to be fixed. However, he did not manage to win the election despite illustrating his vision emphatically.
However, the latest controversy could be the most eye-catching. The incident which is dubbed as “TMJ’s kungfu kick” after JDT’s victory during the 2nd Leg Quarter-Final against Terengganu in Larkin attracted the media and public attention once again. He ran across the sidelines before kicking the corner kick flag aggressively while asking the crowd to be louder. Plenty of rumours and speculations started floating around after the video was posted online. Later he answered the speculations by saying that the kick was intended as a gesture of celebration.
“Before the game, my brother asked me on how am I going to celebrate if we win the game tonight, I said that I don’t know, but I might do what Ibrahimovic did by kicking the corner flag.”
He then added that it seems like he received more attention than Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden Striker) just because he did that.
The presence of TMJ is good for Johor and Malaysian Football
What Tunku Ismail has done so far goes a long way towards developing football in this country with his sometimes explosive combination of passion and responsibility. With those two elements and of course a strong financial background, it can rejuvenate any football club. Some football association Presidents in Malaysian football probably do not have the same passion as TMJ.
Football is not only about what takes place on the pitch. It involves the associations, the fans, the marketing, the money, the names and many other factors beyond the field. The very first intention of TMJ when he became Johor FA President is to awaken football in Johor for the unity of Johor people.
At the same time, bringing in world superstars will also improve the Malaysian League from multiple angles such as the game play, marketing and from the stadium attendance point of view. It is good for Malaysian football as it will increase the level of competitiveness.
TMJ is always associated with controversies and one of the strong reasons is because he is an outspoken person. It is not a surprise but if we look from a positive perspective, football is the perfect medium for the royals, such as a Crown Prince to reach out to people and vice versa. It is about doing the right thing and doing the best for the people especially football fanatics.
As TMJ said, in which he has the same motto as Tun Hussein Onn,
“I rather do the right thing and be cursed than do the wrong thing and be applauded.”