Johor Crown Prince Tunku Ismail honoured at new football awards ceremony
Johor's Tunku Ismail honoured as he reveals ambitious plan for MSL champions JDT
His team made history last year when they won the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Cup and Johor Crown Prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim has virtually shoved his Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) side out of their comfort zone to set their sights on an even loftier goal - to mix it up with Asia's best in the AFC Champions League (ACL).
The goal to break the shackles of convention and to think big also best describes the inaugural Pentagon Awards - the brainchild of newly minted Tampines Rovers chairman Krishna Ramachandra - held at The Fullerton Bay Hotel last night.
The glamorous event saw Tunku Ismail presented with The Leader's Leader award in a nod to his vision and determination to turn JDT into an all-conquering side in the Malaysian Super League (MSL) and make them a force on the continent.
That drive to lift JDT is perhaps also why he asserts that the proposed Asean Super League (ASL), a cross-nation club league for South-east Asia made up of new franchises, is not the way to go.
"I don't agree with the ASL. We (South-east Asian football) are still young, we've just got to focus on how to it is in Europe - the ACL is the highest target," he said last night, comparing the ACL to Europe's Uefa Champions League.
The AFC Cup is the second-tier tournament to the ACL.
"The target has always been the ACL, it is very prestigious… the ASL isn't my cup of tea. You have to also give recognition to small clubs doing their best," he asserted, adding that he hopes to see his team at the ACL within three years.
The ASL has been pencilled in to launch next year, with Singapore playing a large role in taking the competition from conception to fruition.
But Singapore could well still be in Tunku Ismail's plans, albeit with the overarching ACL goal still taking precedence.
He had previously said that he hoped to play his second-string side JDT II in the S.League, but Tunku Ismail revealed last night that the option has been shelved.
"The only problem with (playing in) the S.League is that it will not allow us into AFC (competitions)," he said, pointing to the rules stipulating that foreign teams that compete in a domestic league of a country will not be able to represent that country even if they win the league.
"So right now, no. But perhaps we can play an Under-19 side for exposure in the S.League, which is a good league," he said, on the sidelines of the glitzy black-tie event attended by the likes of Minister of State for Manpower Teo Ser Luck, Football Association of Singapore (FAS) adviser Mah Bow Tan and footballers past and present.
The awards ceremony, attended by some 200 people, also doubled up as a fundraiser and proceeds from its sports memorabilia charity auction were donated to Beyond Social Services, an organisation that works with disadvantaged youths.
The winner of The Entrepreneurial Footballer award, R Sasikumar, managing director of sports marketing agency Red Card Group, believes this is the way to go.
"It's time football here moved past being restricted to stadiums, and bring in non-football folks because they could be investors, sponsors or even fans," said the former national defender.
"Tonight was about showing respect and recognition to the secondary group of stakeholders in football, and I don't think there's anything else around the world like this - it's a nice evolution, nice for football to try something different."
Krishna had earlier said that the awards were about "values, initiatives and stakeholders which contribute to the game and the fraternity", and bringing his words to life was Tunku Ismail, who addressed the crowd after receiving his award from FAS president Zainudin Nordin.
"With the right energy and passion, anything is possible," he said.
"This is only the beginning for JDT."
THE PENTAGON AWARDS WINNERS
- The Leader's Leader: Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim
- The Entrepreneurial Footballer: R Sasikumar
- Health and Fitness: Aleksandar Duric
- The Inspiring Referee: Muhammad Taqi Aljaafar
- The Up and Coming Footballer: Hami Syahin (Garena Young Lions)