But JDT chairman Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim (pic), the Tunku Mahkota Johor (Crown Prince of Johor), is also casting his sights further afield.
In an exclusive interview with The Straits Times, Tunku Ismail said he is looking to buy Italian club AC Milan.
Speaking at at his residence, the Istana Bukit Pelangi, last Wednesday, Tunku Ismail said: “I’m planning to buy AC Milan but we’ll see how it goes. I love Milan and I have always loved Italian clubs since I was young… The (focus) is always JDT but if I can buy a club in Europe it’ll be AC Milan.”
He added that they are in the “research and discussion” stage now.
Milan are owned by former Italy Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who has signalled his intention to sell the debt-laden club.
Tunku Ismail said both teams will work closely together if the deal goes through. He said: “Hopefully we (can) have the link with Milan and JDT in the future, who knows. And that will be direct collaboration, not just a very small collaboration. That will be very direct.”
While this deal will excite Johor fans, it remains to be seen if the deal represents value for money.
According to Forbes, the Rossoneri bled US$100 million last season. They also have the third-highest wage bill in the league despite not finishing in the top three since 2013.
That said, the 18-time Serie A winners are one of the most well-supported clubs in Italy, and is the Italian team with the most number of Champions League titles (seven).
The potential deal also means both Milan teams – the other being rivals Inter Milan – could be owned by South-east Asians. Indonesian businessman Erick Thohir is currently the president of Inter.
Besides Thohir at Inter Milan, Tunku Ismail will join a growing band of South-east Asians owning European football teams.
They include Spanish side Valencia, owned by the Tunku’s good friend Peter Lim, as well as British teams Leicester City, Queens Park Rangers and Cardiff City, owned by Thai Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and Malaysians Tony Fernandes and Vincent Tan respectively.
But, Tunku Ismail said, JDT will always be at the centre of what he does, and, should he be burdened by other commitments, there will be able people running the club.
Tunku Ismail said: “I’ve set the policy, and policies can never be changed – I learnt that from Mr Lee (Kuan Yew), by the way. He told me that policies have to be very consistent, it shouldn’t change with different leaders. That’s exactly what I set up here.”
To that end, he has hired Alistair Edwards, the former Australian striker who played for Singapore and Johor two decades ago, as his sports director.
JDT also have working relationships with German club Borussia Dortmund, Valencia and the Football Association of Singapore, while an agreement with the Japan Football Association is expected to be inked tomorrow.
These partnerships, said Tunku Ismail, allows exchange of expertise in several areas. For instance, Dortmund will work with JDT in areas such as coaching, tactics, as well as its youth development project.
The partnership with FAS could see JDT possibly fielding a team in a youth league here.
The club has already extended its reach into Johor’s 10 districts, improving the organisation of inter-school football tournaments and planting scouts state-wide to find the best young players.
The cream of the crop will be housed in the club’s academy where lodging, education and football coaching is provided.
Targeting the youth is a personal mission for Tunku Ismail, who said he sends players and officials to every district to give talks aimed at keeping youths off the streets.
“I want to see youth excel through sport and educate them as well. Whatever I do is never for me. It’s for the future,” he said, adding this is why he is considering channelling his focus on rugby and boxing as “it involves a lot of the youth”.
Edwards, who started work in January, said: “We have a vision that is driven by TMJ at the top, and that flows down to all aspects of the club.
“The aim is to start from the academies and push the players up to the senior team, national team, and if possible beyond Malaysia.” – The Straits Times/Asia News Network