Scott Ollerenshaw: Johor DT are ticking all the right boxes

Rolling the clock back a few years, the announcement by Your Royal Highness of Johor, affectionately known as TMJ, on him taking over Johor FA as President, was met with raised eyebrows and suspicious minds. The skeptics labeled the move a publicity stunt and many questioned if TMJ was in it for the long haul.

Moving forward to 2015, the skeptic’s are now in hibernation as JDT continues making waves both on and off the pitch.

On the pitch they signed Bojan Hodak as their head coach in mid 2014; who led them to their first trophy in the form of the Super League title. This was followed by an epic Malaysia Cup Final against arch rivals Pahang, where they lost on penalties. Hodak joined JDT with a trophy cabinet full of accolades that he had picked up over the last three years in Kelantan and he continued that success with JDT.

Photo Credits: Johor DT

Big name Malaysian players have flocked to JDT as well. Yes, they pay attractive salaries and it’s on-time every month. However, the added attractions of having the best training facilities in the country and an abundance of high quality staff covering matters like injury rehab, sports science, video analysis and diet planning, are allowing these players to live the life of a professional footballer in a manner that they could have only dreamed off. Ask yourself. As a professional footballer, would you rather train on a beautifully manicured level pitch that allows you to improve as a footballer or train on a goat track with holes everywhere ?

JDT’s training facilities are world-class. There’s two training pitches, side by side, whose surface is better than almost every football stadium in the country. Next to these training pitches, you have a building that houses a quality gym, a physio room offering state of the art rehab including hot & cold recovery baths, a meeting room for team briefings and video analysis, a changing room for players, a separate room for coaches and finally an eating area for players to consume their carefully planned meals after training.

Photo Credits: Johor DT
Photo Credits: Johor DT

With quality local players, the icing on the cake was obviously their four brilliant foreigners in Luciano Figueroa, Jorge Diaz (both Argentina), Marcos Antonio Santos (Brazil) and Hariss Harun (Singapore). These 4 players complete the jigsaw puzzle for a JDT team, that now has depth in every position and they are the obvious favourites for all competitions in 2015.

How Hodak handles the added privilege of playing in the AFC Cup qualifiers will be fascinating to watch and squad rotation will no doubt be pivotal as JDT take on 4 different competitions this year.

However, for all the positives that we’ve talked about the JDT I team, the work they’re doing behind the scenes is far more impressive for me.

Hodak, a Croatian, has brought in Croatian coaches in Ervin Boban & Goran Paulic to coach JDT IV & JDT II respectively and in integrating the squads, local coaches will develop the mandate to form a footballing philosophy and playing style that is synchronized throughout the whole club. What this means, is that a player starting off at JDT V before coming through the system, will comprehensively understand the club’s playing style and the exact job requirements for his position so when he breaks into the JDT I set-up, he will be able to fit into the team’s system with minimum issues.

Photo Credits: Ervin Boban
Photo Credits: Ervin Boban

From my perspective, the appointment of Shebby Singh to set-up and oversee the club’s youth development program is even more important than all the things I’ve mentioned so far. Shebby is in the process of setting up junior leagues all over the state of Johor and the best players from these leagues will be chosen to form an academy for each age group.

Yes, it’s not rocket science but as I have stated many times, no football club can claim to be serious about producing players and planning for the long-term without a simple, workable and manageable youth development program.

The standards have been raised and template has been set up for other teams to follow. The skeptics will argue that other teams do not have the same budget as JDT and that is true. However, it’s not expensive to set up junior leagues throughout a state and then select the best players to train under qualified coaches. Youth development can be done with cost efficiency and simplicity in mind. It’s about sincerely understanding how important youth development is to the future of your state and then acting on it rather than a President trying to raise his profile through the first team’s glory while the kids have no outlet to play football.

Photo Credit: Johor DT
Photo Credit: Johor DT

Harsh maybe, but I guess the truth hurts. The only way for other states to compete with JDT is by producing quality players. With TMJ committed to long-term sustainability, JDT will continue to grow from strength to strength. The question is, will the rest wave the white flag or hit back and raise their own bar? For if latter happens, the ultimate winner will be Malaysian football and that can only be a good thing.

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