Duerden: JDT are a big club – they should act like it

John Duerden John Duerden

John Duerden believes Tuesday’s humbling loss to Persija Jakarta was not good enough for a club of Johor Darul Ta’zim’s stature.

Tuesday evening was an embarrassment for Johor Darul Ta’zim. Over 60,000 fans turned out at the Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta to see the 2018 AFC Cup clash between Persija Jakarta and the Malaysian powerhouse. They came because there were two big clubs meeting in a big game and they saw the Indonesian team win 4-0.

This was not just a meeting of two regional giants, it was a clash between Indonesia and Malaysia. It was the penultimate game in the group stage of the AFC Cup. There are three teams fighting for the top two spots in the group that offer progression to the knockout stage. They are locked on seven points each. Whichever team loses was going to have a tough job getting through.

In short then, it’s a big deal. Persija obviously were aware of that fact, setting an AFC Cup record for attendance and providing an atmosphere that can’t be measured or counted but contributed to the team’s success and the prestige of the entire tournament. In short, Persija – the team and the fans – rose to the occasion and got their just reward.

JDT? Not so much. This is a team that has won the past four Malaysian Super League titles. This is a team that won the 2015 AFC Cup. JDT have success that Persija can only dream of. They have ambitions to become a continental force and if any Malaysian club can do that, it is Johor. They have set the standards for others to follow though as yet, at home, none have been consistently capable of doing so.

For a club with ambition, continental competition is crucial. Malaysian football is not followed too much outside the country. It is through exploits in Asia that the reputation of the club is built and spread throughout the region and then, hopefully, elsewhere.

With all that in mind, the tactics and selection of JDT coach Raul Longhi were bizarre. Big names and big talents such as Safiq Rahim, Fadhli Shas, Safawi Rasid and Ignacio ‘Natxo’ Insa all started on the bench. If that wasn’t enough, there was a three-man defence for the first time this season.

Coaches live or die by results but his selections and decisions obviously made what was going to be a tough game that much tougher. Forget that, they lost the game in the first 20 minutes as the hosts raced into a 3-0 lead. The fans who made the journey from Malaysia and supported their team throughout a tough evening will have been scratching their heads as to what the boss was trying to achieve.

Longhi, who took the job as caretaker in February, said it was all down to other commitments. “The most important competition is the league because it means the AFC Champions League,” he told reporters. “The FA Cup is also important to us. If possible, want to play all matches with the strongest players in each match, but our players will be exhausted.”

The coach said that the focus was on the weekend’s league clash with PKNS. It’s a big game for sure, first against third but the league season is just five games old. JDT are already two points clear. This is a club with resources that few in Malaysia can match. This is not a time to be prioritising tournaments. April is hectic month for sure but things will calm down. The league season lasts for just 22 games. Persija will play 34.

Even a loss against PKNS leaves Johor just a point off the lead with three quarters of the season still to go. The FA Cup is nice to win but for the coach to suggest it is more important than the AFC Cup shows a worrying lack of ambition and insight. This is not the way big clubs behave. Big clubs thrive off international competition and are not content to live off domestic triumphs.

Those fans that made the journey to Jakarta deserve better. JDT deserves better. The club has developed quickly and has come an awful long way but Tuesday fell far below standards set.

It is possible, of course, that a full-strength JDT at their best could have lost in front of a frenzied Jakarta crowd. There is no divine right to win but there has to be an effort to always compete as much as possible. The coach’s decisions meant this would not be the case.

JDT have set high standards in the past but did not meet them. They are a big club but didn’t act like it on Tuesday with much of Southeast Asia watching. It was not good enough. The fans deserve better.

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