Big-spending Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) are not under pressure to win trophies this season according to Tunku Mahkota of Johor, or the Johor Crown Prince, despite shelling out a small fortune since their rebranding.
Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, who is also the president of the Johor Football Association (PBNJ), rubbished such talk and insisted that the pressure should be instead on Malaysia Cup holders Pahang FA, FA Cup holders Kelantan FA and Malaysian Super League (MSL) champions LionsXII.
“All eyes should be on them; we have no pressure because our team and effort [to strengthen the team] is a five-year project," the Crown Prince stressed at a media conference in Johor Bahru on Sunday. “We are not hoping for instant success; what PBNJ is doing to JDT is a long- term investment."
Despite the comment, JDT opened their season strongly with a 2-0 victory against Perak FA through goals by Amri Yahyah and Luciano Figueroa. It was a game that featured the heavily-awaited competitive debut of Pablo Aimar, who is a staple of the project that the Tunku Ismail and JDT are building.
According to Tunku Ismail, JDT’s main goal for the season is to qualify for the AFC Cup, while secondary targets include qualification to the semi-finals of the FA Cup and Malaysia Cup.
As part of the lucrative project in Johor, the team brought in reinforcements for new coach Cesar Ferrando Jiminez in the form of Argentinian midfielder Aimar and goal-scorer Luciano Figueroa. Harimau Malaya stars Amri Yahyah, Mahali Jasuli and Asraruddin Putra Omar were added, along with former Harimau Muda players Fadhli Shas and Irfan Fazail, and Singaporean internationals Baihakki Khaizan and Hariss Harun.
Tunku Ismail also commended JDT for only having two players from outside Asia in the squad - Aimar and Figueroa - while other teams had three.
Despite the positive result in the season opener, Tunku Ismail noted that the team still had room for improvement.
“Although they were not playing well, they still recorded a 2-0 win," he observed. "Imagine if they played well following to their actual strength.”
The game unfortunately featured a scuffle outside the stadium that resulted in three individuals being banned from stadiums involving the Johor team after Tunku Ismail was informed of their involvement.
The sour occurrence was, however, overshadowed by Tunku Ismail’s statement revealing the plans to build a new Nusajaya stadium, which will host a training center as well as a football academy. Tunku Ismail revealed that the project was to commence early this year and envisions the stadium to be on par with Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena.