TMJ at FAM: The hard work begins now

Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim FA of Malaysia

It was as inevitable as Chelsea winning the English Premier League title but it is going to make a lot more people happier.

Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim (TMJ) is the new chairman of the Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) and fans around the country have high expectations. Now the hard work starts.

Criticising FAM is one of the country’s favourite sports and none have been bigger and more vocal in this regard than the prince of Johor. For that reason alone, it is commendable that he is stepping forward from the sidelines and he is now there to be shot at.

But this is no Gary Neville leaving the safety of Sky Sports to take over Spanish giants Valencia as a rookie coach. TMJ has been one of the most influential men in Malaysian football in recent years not through the things he has said – though they make for good headlines – but what he has done.

This is a man of action and that is something that has been lacking in Kelana Jaya for some time. After all, this is the man who took over as the president of Johor FA in 2012. At the time football in the state was in a mess just as the national scene is now.

Just like he did last weekend, he sat down five years ago and laid out what he was going to do in his new position. It sounded good but, went the reaction of many, doesn’t it always?

But the new chief embarked on a policy of consolidation and streamlining and it resulted in the creation of Johor Darul Ta’zim.

JDT, as they are known all across Asia, started playing football just four years ago. Yet it is hard to imagine Malaysian and even Southeast Asian football without them.

There have been three consecutive Malaysian Super League titles. The club has become dominant at home. And any loss that the Southern Tigers suffer is a big deal.

Not only that but the AFC Cup was brought back to the Larkin Stadium in 2015, the first time the trophy has resided in Southeast Asia, and the team made it to the semi-final of the 2016 version.

TMJ has worked wonders with JDT. He has a track record that no other can match. But it is not only about making the team a success on the pitch. It is not just about the three successive titles and the AFC Cup. It is not just about the stars, the football, the fans and the atmosphere but it is about what has happened off the pitch.

The club has the best facilities, the best staff, the best support and infrastructure in the whole of Malaysia. It is not even close.

The national team can wait. If there is a competent, clean and clear-eyed Football Association of Malaysia full of people who are working with passion and excitement, then the rest will follow. If the proper policies are put in place and the proper procedures are followed, then the rest will follow. The youth development will eventually happen, the coaches will be trained and the policy is kept for years and years, then the culture can change.

So the real challenge is not to turn the Malaysian team into a national version of JDT but to change FAM into a version of how JDT operate off the pitch. If TMJ can do that, then his time will be a success whatever happens in terms of Asian/Suzuki/World Cups.

Any club can put a good team together for a season or two. Any club can hire a great coach, sign a few good players and challenge. We have seen this in Malaysia but teams come and go. They do not have the foundation to challenge season after season – though there are some good signs coming out of Kedah – and just lack consistency.

But to build a proper professional club takes patience, vision and determination and this is what has happened at JDT. Even if the tigers have a bad season, and it has not happened yet, you know they will return next year because the foundations stay intact and the system is still working.

And this is what is needed at FAM.

Success on the pitch is nice but can’t happen consistently if other issues are not dealt with first. The new boss needs to turn FAM into an off the field version of JDT before the same has a chance of happening on the field.

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