In professional sports, money and success are one thing. If you have a lot of money, you will win, and you need money to become strong. It is no coincidence that all of Europe’s Big 5 league champions are ranked in the top 10 in global sales. The power of money is so great that the side effects of misuse and abuse are severe. There are quite a few cases where the curse of money has been squarely hit, such as Malaga, Dortmund, Leeds United, and Valencia. Ultimately, how a lot of money is spent determines the success of a football club.
Johor Darul Takzim (JDT) is a club based in Johor Bahru, the second largest city in Malaysia. It would be a big mistake to think that this is just a club in Southeast Asia where money is spent. There are Starbucks and Subway stores at the home stadium, and European leaders work passionately at the training ground.
Sights that can only be seen in big European clubs, such as a stadium tour that is always in operation, Nike’s ‘Swoosh’ mark on the uniform chest, and collaboration marketing with ‘IKEA’, are realized as everyday life at JDT. How on earth is this possible? I took a first-hand look at the post-Southeast Asian club JDT in Malaysia.
Departing as a wealthy person, I
got off at Singapore Changi Airport and took the taxi I had booked. The Incheon-Johor Bahru direct route has not yet resumed before the COVID-19 pandemic. There were no major inconveniences during the trip. If the roads are quiet in the early morning, you can get from Changi Airport to anywhere in Johor Bahru in about an hour.
On the evening of November 2, the second leg of the Malaysia Cup semifinals was held at Sultan Ibrahim Stadium. The home team JDT has already won 4-1 in the first leg away to Perak. On this day, JDT defeated Perak 8-1 and advanced to the finals for the fourth consecutive year. Among the various unfamiliarities, my eyes were drawn to the state of management inside and outside the stadium. It was surprisingly clean. The cleanliness was honestly unrealistic. ‘Flashsukan’ reporter Mohd Firdaus Johari, whom we met before the game, revealed the secret.
“TMJ really hates mess. Even on days when there are no games, JDT’s home stadium and clubhouse are always kept spotless.”
TMJ are the initials of ‘Tunku Makota of Johor’. It means ‘Crown Prince of Johor’ and he is the owner of JDT. At the end of the 2013 season, TMJ attended a home match of Johor FC (as it was called at the time). At the time, the club was on the verge of bankruptcy. As is customary in the Malaysian soccer world, the owner at the time only maintained the title of owner and was indifferent to soccer. For the desperate home supporters, TMJ was the only hope. “TMJ, please help!”, “TMJ, please save us!”
That day, the supporters’ heartbreaking slogans finally reached the Sultan’s son. Shortly after, TMJ officially announced that it would acquire Johor FC. Shakir Sidan (31, aviation industry), a JDT fan, said, “After hearing the slogans that day, TMJ seemed to have made up his mind and said, ‘Now is the time for me to step forward.’ “We all cried when we heard the news of the acquisition decision,” he recalled.
TMJ began work on refurbishing the club. The club’s name was changed to ‘Johor Darul Takzim’ and the supporters’ name was changed to ‘Boys of Straits’. With its overwhelming financial power, JDT recruited the top stars of the Malaysian league. A year after the acquisition, JDT dominated the Malaysian league.
# Creating a ‘real’ club through personnel reform
The real secret to turning JDT into a swan was not money but insight into the soccer industry. TMJ knew how a football club should be run. Local European experts were invited to create a new club development roadmap. For the first time in Malaysia, a youth academy was established within the club. Currently, JDT operates in groups 1 to 4 for ages 12 to adults.
The training environment has also changed completely. TMJ imported Europe’s advanced coaching system intact through a business agreement with Valencia. Even after the expiration of the agreement, all personnel who flew in from Valencia remained at JDT and are still working there. As we entered the training center, public relations director B.J. Big told me, “You only hear Spanish and English here. “The coaches are all from Spain and Argentina,” he said with a laugh.
The training center is equipped with cutting-edge equipment such as hyperbaric oxygen therapy (oxygen chamber) and zero gravity treadmills. A sports nutritionist, as well as a resident physician, provides customized diets for each player. There were two sides of natural grass of the same type as the home stadium pitch, and a semi-indoor training ground was also installed in case of rain. Vick said, “We are currently building a new training ground across from our home stadium. There will be 10 sides of natural grass. “I think it will be the best facility in Asia,” he said.
JDT’s global workforce also includes general administrative positions. The current CEO, Alistair Edwards, is a former Australian national team sports administrator. After retiring from playing, he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Sports Management and a Master’s degree in Business Administration, and also went on to coach the Australian national team and A-League club. Thanks to the owner who studied abroad and the president who is Australian, all employees are fluent in English. Successful collaboration with global brands such as Nike, Hublot, UNICEF, and IKEA was possible because of this global culture.