JOHOR BARU, May 2 ― It has been an eventful week for the FA of Johor.
First came the assertion from supremo Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim that he would never be president of the national football body because he never had the desire to.
No matter how hard he tries, the odds will be stacked against him, he said over lunch.
But at only 31, time is on his side. It is his passion for the game which he is worried about and he wonders how long he will be able to sustain it.
There are other things on his mind, he says. Like the affairs of state and his responsibilities as the crown prince.
But there is no doubt now Johor football, and to a certain extent Malaysian football, is his undying passion.
In the three years since he became president, the face of football has changed for the better.
Picture Larkin Stadium, home of JDT in the Super League: Advertising LED signboards across the length and breadth of the pitch; a giant television screen costing RM1.2 million that shows instant replays to complement the giant electronic scoreboard.
A well-manicured pitch, tended to by Japanese consultant Hiroi Koichi, leather seats on the team dug outs and first class dressing rooms. Johor never had it so good.
Then, in a week when JDT lost its Super League match in Ipoh, going down 2-1 to Perak, the decision to “rest” Croatian-born coach Bojan Hodak was made.
He is the man who brought JDT the Super League title last season and won them the Charity Shield at the start of the current season. Hodak could do no wrong, many said.
But as the season got underway, things changed. Results varied from the expected to mediocre and then to humiliating defeats.
Suddenly JDT was no longer the dominant force which made it the envy of others.
The Crown Prince put it even more bluntly. “I want to take JDT to the next level but I don't think Bojan is the man to do it,” he said when announcing Argentinian Mario Gomez, once assistant coach to Hector Cuper at Valencia in the La Liga and Inter Milan at Serie A, would take charge.
Why not Hodak and his retinue of Croatians — the fitness coach, goalkeeping coach; assistant coach and technical director?
After all JDT is still in the fight to defend the league title and is in the last 16 of the AFC Cup. It's all about broken friendship. Insiders say dissatisfaction and jealousy led to the present situation.
True or not, that's another story. But the truth is the moment JDT lost its AFC Champions Cup qualifying match to Thailand's Bangkok Glass FC in January, going down 3-0, things changed. Opinions about Hodak also changed.
Bangkok Glass is not even a force in the Thai league. There are better teams like Muanthong United and Buriram and the loss didn't go down well in the corridors of power.
When JDT struggled to stay afloat in the early season, especially in away matches, questions arose. Being seventh in the league in early March and a second round defeat to Pahang in the FA Cup were unacceptable.
Players like Luciano Figuero, scorer of 19 goals last season, and fellow Argentinian Preya Diaz, were no longer committed and wanted out.
New foreigners came in. Alhaji Kamara from Sierra Leone is the man Hodak chose from the six strikers offered to JDT. But four matches later and one goal to his name, they are saying he’s a poor return on investment. A big money investment, that is.
Then, there’s Patricio Rodriguez, the Argentinian midfielder on loan from Brazilian club Santos. A nippy player, he was a delight with his darting runs but Hodak, schooled in the East European style of football where teamwork and collective responsibility is the way forward, said he wasn’t a team player.
Hodak chose to remain silent on why he was rested: “I’m still on contract. I'm enjoying my holiday and will speak when the time is right.”
Dan Guen Chin is senior correspondent of Malay Mail in Johor Baru. He can be reached at [email protected]