Recently, the Crown Prince of Johor and Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) owner Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim revealed that he is interested in sending their President Cup squad to play in the Singapore Premier League. If the move does materialise, it shares many similarities with the Harimau Muda B team [The Malaysia Under-21 National Football Team] that played in the S.League between 2013 and 2015.
For those unfamiliar with this period, Harimau Muda A [The Malaysia Under-23 National Football Team] initially played in the S.League as part of a bilateral agreement that saw the Singapore Lions XII team play in the Malaysia Super League. While Lions XII would feature in the MSL between 2012 and 2015, Harimau Muda A pulled out of the league after the 2012 season. Instead, the club headed to Central Europe for an 8-month long training stint to prepare for their title defence in the 2013 SEA Games. Harimau Muda B took up their place in the S.League instead.
Truth be told, Harimau Muda B did little to add value to the league. The club finished 9th out of 12 in 2013, last place in 2014 and 7th out of 10 in 2015. They simply made up the numbers. Given our past experience with Harimau Muda B, it is understandable why people have grievances with the proposed JDT III move. Why would another under-21 Malaysian team yield different results?
Some have also voiced concerns over the prestige and the status of the league should a ‘C’ team join. For a long time now, Singapore football has been dominated by foreign sides. My beloved Warriors FC were the last local side that clinched the league title back in 2014. Brunei DPMM [2015, 2019] and Albirex Niigata [2016, 2017, 2018, 2020] have gone on to win in the years since. Besides the humiliation that local sides have been unable to win their league, it makes little sense to bring in another foreign team to the league.
Or does it?
The recent discussion on the possible inclusion of JDT III into the SPL has got me thinking about SPL a bit deeper. Unlike other leagues in Southeast Asia, or even the world, the SPL and its former form, the S.League, has boasted many foreign teams since the early 2000s. While these teams have had mixed successes in the past, most local fans (except for the Swan Army – shoutout to the lads) have called for an end to foreign-based teams. The main grievances of fans are that such teams rob the prestige of Singapore’s professional football league and do not value add local players. I can’t help but agree. Before 2015, I questioned why such teams existed in the S.League, since they often ended in the bottom half of the table.
Yet, after consecutive league title victories by foreign-based clubs, why should we end their presence?
If anything, clubs and fans alike should look to end the Albirex dominance by developing their squads. Simply banning Albirex or removing them from the league is the easy way out for local sides to win the SPL title. Nothing is easy in football. To improve, we need to compete against the best, and right now, Albirex is one of the best teams in the league.
In that vein, let me address JDT III. If you’re a follower of Southeast Asian or Asian football, you know that JDT are one of the most professionally run Asian clubs. Their 7 consecutive titles exemplify their dominance of Malaysian football. The Southern Tigers should never be taken lightly. However, does the dominance of the first team trickle down to the other JDT squads? More importantly, has there been a clear progression for players from JDT III to JDT II to JDT?
Well, yes, but more could be done.
Recently, Malaysian wonderkid Arif Aiman made the jump from JDT II to the first team and had previously featured in the JDT III team. Only 19 years old, Arif became the youngest goalscorer in the Malaysia Super League when he scored against Uitm earlier this year. He later went on to score his second goal of the season against Sabah.
Feroz Baharudin has made the jump to the first team. Even though he has not started a game yet, he has featured on the bench in the Super League. Muhd Amirul Husaini Zamri is another player who has made the jump to the JDT II team.
Nevertheless, there is a gulf between the playing level of the President Cup team and JDT II. Thus, only the best players gain an opportunity to make that leap. However, by playing in the SPL, the JDT III team would be competing against other first teams that boast national team players and experienced foreign players.
It makes sense for JDT to send their U-21 team to the SPL. However, would it be pragmatic for the Football Association of Singapore to accept JDT III or any other foreign side’s inclusion?
I think yes, but only if certain conditions are imposed that would benefit Singapore football.
What are these conditions?
Stay tuned for part two to find out!
Featured Image Credits: JDT & Singapore Premier League
P.S. I urge you to wait till part 2 before you any hate comments
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