Former Johor star Alistair Edwards credits TMJ for JDT's AFC Cup success
Lifting the 2015 AFC Cup is a bigger deal for Johor football than the feats of the 1991 double-winning side, according to ex-Australia international Alistair Edwards.
Alongside other foreigners like Croatian Ervin Boban, Edwards was part of the beloved Johor team who were feted as heroes when they returned home after defeating Selangor in the Malaysia Cup final almost a quarter of a century ago.
But Edwards, now working as a Kuala Lumpur-based coach, says that JDT's 1-0 victory over Tajikistan's FC Istiklol in Saturday's AFC Cup final, is even more significant.
"It most definitely exceeds what we achieved in 1991 and is a bigger achievement because this was a continental tournament," Edwards told ESPN FC.
"To win such a prestigious competition is fantastic for the whole of Malaysia and show how the potential here can be turned into results if harnessed in the right way."
In 1991, Johor were already league champions when they beat arch rivals Selangor 3-1 in the Malaysia Cup final at the Merdeka Stadium. The 2015 side won the Malaysia Super League (MLS) in August and have a chance to make it a treble of trophies in the Malaysia Cup where they're already through to the quarterfinals.
The 47-year-old Edwards, a former Perth Glory head coach who's been working with Real Mulia in the Malaysian third tier, says that Johor football's benefactor -- Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, better known as TMJ -- deserves much of the credit for JDT's rise.
"He's helped put Malaysian football on the map by making JDT so professional in everything that they do and we're seeing results on the pitch," he said.
"TMJ is a 'change agent' and for a lot of people change is never easy, but what he's done in such a short period of time is amazing."
When Edwards was a player with Johor, TMJ was a young fan, who had a poster of the striker on his bedroom wall. A prolific forward for Johor, Singapore and Sarawak, Edwards would earn 19 full caps for Australia and play in England for Millwall and Brighton, having been a junior at Rangers in Scotland.
"TMJ was only seven years old in 1991 but already a big football fan," Edwards said. "I may have been one of his heroes then but he is the hero of Malaysian football today because he's helping everyone strive to become better.
"This is not just a success for Johor football, but for the entire country. And these kind of successes makes it easier to push more things through for the good of Malaysian football."
Edwards' 1991 side are the last Johor outfit to have lifted the Malaysia Cup. Having already qualified for the last eight of the 2015 competition, JDT will play their final Group B games against Perak on Thursday and Sarawak on Nov. 21, as they continue their quest for a treble of trophies.