Snoop Dogg and ex-Wolves midfielder – meet Malaysia’s ‘Invincible’ Johor Darul Tazim

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Malaysia’s Johor Darul Ta’zim is on the verge of completing a quadruple for the second consecutive season.

Arsenal’s 2003-04 ‘Invincibles’ team have gone down as football legends, and for good reason. A certain amount of effort is required for an undefeated league season.

However, it can be said that Malaysian wonders Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) have outperformed the Gunners. They went undefeated against their domestic rivals last season and this time they swept every competition in Malaysia and are closing in on a historic second straight quadruple.

They have been the sole champions of the Malaysian Super League, Southeast Asia’s top competition, for 10 consecutive years. What are the stats for the remaining games? Played in 25 games, won 24 and drew one, with a goal difference of +85.

Friday’s Malaysia Cup final against Terengganu and the final league match against Penang are on the way to achieving the domestic double quadruple.

One of the cornerstones of this international, all-conquering team grew up in Croydon. “It’s been a pretty crazy journey,” said 23-year-old defensive midfielder Hong Wang.

Hong was born in south London to a soccer-mad Chinese father and Malaysian mother and spent his youth spells at Charlton Athletic and Yeovil Town before turning professional with Wolves in 2019. However, apart from one appearance in the EFL Trophy, he never received a first-team opportunity at Wolves.

In the winter of 2020, an email slipped into my JDT inbox asking if I was interested in visiting. “I didn’t know much about Malaysian football. All I knew was that Johor is the team that wins everything,” Hong said.

The different experience on offer was more appealing to the youngster than the possibility of dropping into the English league on loan. “Soccer is a funny game. You never know what’s going to happen around the corner. This is probably the best decision I made,” he says.

“State-of-the-art equipment and Snoop Dogg rap theme song”

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Hongwan failed to make a sustained breakthrough with Wolves

When I arrived in Johor Bahru, a city in southern Malaysia, in the summer of 2021, I was shocked by the high humidity. “It’s uncomfortable to play soccer there,” Hong said. “But you get used to it. I really miss the cold weather in England. I can’t wait to get home in the off-season and enjoy it.”

There is a monsoon period from November to March that can lead to match cancellations. There are also stray monkeys and “the odd snake here and there”, which Hong did not encounter when he was in Wolverhampton.

Hong was immediately impressed by the abilities he displayed at JDT.

“Being in England, I feel like I’m completely ignorant about the quality of other places. I couldn’t just go in and waltz because I had to adapt quickly,” he said. Ta. “Malaysian football is really good, especially in Johor. The quality of these players is amazing and the national team is moving up the rankings. It’s a good time for Malaysian football.”

These are unusual times for JDT. Since taking over as owner in 2016, Johor Crown Prince Tunku Ismail Ibni Sultan Ibrahim has helped revolutionize the team, its finances, facilities and its fortunes. With a state-of-the-art 40,000-capacity stadium and the club’s theme song rapped by Snoop His Dog, it’s attracting attention both on and off the pitch.

Owner input was key.

“He gives us everything we need and has our backs,” Hong said. “He forces us to never be satisfied with one or two wins. We beat just about every team this year, but he will continue to demand more. .I think the culture of the club comes through from the owners.”

The Crown Prince watches all home matches, and before the Malaysian FA Cup final, he made an impassioned speech in the locker room saying, “We’re sending us off to war,” a speech that still gives Mr. Hong goosebumps. It trembled.

It paid off, and Hong scored his first goal in senior competitive soccer with a powerful 25-yard shot into the top right corner. “I never shoot. When I got the ball, I think my teammates were like, ‘What are you doing?’

As a teenager, Hong admired Sergio Busquets, the long-time star of Barcelona’s midfield. “He doesn’t necessarily need to run a lot,” Hong said. “Just being in the right place at the right time engages your brain more than your entire body. That helps decide everything.”

At JDT, Hong has a Premiership and Championship pedigree, including former Swansea defender Jordi Amato, former Millwall player Shane Lowry and Fernando Forestieri, Watford’s cult hero and one of the Malaysian Super League’s top scorers. I’m also learning from the players I have.

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Fernando Forestieri was a popular player at Watford.

Hong is a key player on a team that always wins games by four or five goals.

He said: “It’s great to be part of creating more history. This year is our 10th consecutive title win, which is almost unprecedented in football.”

However, the downside is that Malaysia lacks a credible opposition.

“Nobody likes watching one-team leagues,” Hong added. “It’s a bit frustrating because I feel like a lot of teams give up before they play us, because as the standard in the league improves, we improve too and we prepare ourselves for some tough games in the league. This is because it is useful for [AFC] Champions League. “

Asia’s leading continental club competition is the next frontier for JDT. In 2022, they advanced to the Round of 16 for the first time. “It is unheard of for a small club from Malaysia to achieve that against strong teams from Japan and South Korea.The goal every year now is to step up and continue to progress,” Hong said.

Few British players have followed the same path as Hong, who acquired Malaysian citizenship to play for JDT. The most famous is England striker Tony Cottee, who won the Malaysian FA Cup in 1997 during his season with Selangor. Hong believes more people should consider making the transition.

“I feel like a lot of English players only think about England. There are so many opportunities around the world, in Europe, Asia and America,” Hong said. “I can have a different lifestyle and it might be good for my professional career. I’m really happy to have made the transition.”

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