And the team is hoping to achieve that goal by leveraging on the strengths of the side’s experienced campaigners as well as an exciting clutch of young players.
Youth development has, of course, always been a key focus area for QNET’s very own PJ City. But this year, the objective will be to help the club’s starlets soar even higher.
“There are many young players in the team, and we can see that there’s a lot of potential. So the target for the young players in the squad is to raise their game,” head coach P. Maniam says.
“The management made a great decision last year when they decided to field only local players, which made it easier for the young players to get into the starting XI. So this year, we hope they do better.”
Maniam’s side turned in extraordinary displays in the Super League last season, winning many admirers. And what’s particularly gratifying is that every single milestone was achieved with zero imported foreign players and an abundance of young, homegrown talent.
A chance to grow
But Maniam knows that to make a star team, you have to let the old guard light the way.
“In football, you can’t concentrate only on young players because you need the experienced players to handle some situations on the field,” the PJ City gaffer concedes. Nevertheless, what’s clear is that having an experienced core group of players has been crucial to developing the side’s young footballers.
The coach explains that veterans like Mahali Jasuli, Rajes Perumal, Khyril Muhymeen and skipper K. Gurusamy always lead by example. And this has helped the club’s starlets immensely.
Still, most important at PJ City is the club’s ethos, which has always emphasised positivity and community empowerment.
Maniam notes that youth development at PJ City isn’t just about nurturing stars for tomorrow, but also about ensuring that young players blossom in terms of character and attitude, and become well-rounded individuals.
He points specifically to Jaguh RF, a social programme that uses football to help less academically-inclined teens from low-income families fulfil their potential.
The programme — led by RYTHM Foundation and which also involves MySkills Foundation, MyPJ and PJ City — uses football as a medium. And the objective is to give boys not born into privilege a platform to develop skills and grow both as footballers and persons.
“We believe the programme will give the boys an opportunity to reach their potential, and we are looking forward to seeing the progress that can be made from the participants,” he says.
Meanwhile, technical director Steven Jackson is closely monitoring the club’s exciting prospects.
“In 2020, we had J. Leslee coming through from the youth team to the senior squad. We saw his talent, and now he is with the senior team.
“As for other exciting young players currently with the Super League squad, we have V. Ruventhiran, Aqil Razak, Zainal Abidin Jamil, Jeremy Lim and Syahmi Zamri,” Maniam says.
Additionally, this season, there is new recruit A. Shivan Pillay; a defender who recently joined The Phoenix from crosstown rivals Selangor II and is looking to make a big impression this season. Indeed, he’s already been called up to the national Under-23 team.
“Shivan plays at centre-back. But he has the ability, aggression and aerial ball skills to play as a defensive midfielder and in various other positions. He still needs to improve on his technique and passing, but we believe he will go far,” says the coach.
From seven to five
But, of course, the first mission for Shivan and all the other young players will be to help The Phoenix hit the targets set for this year.
In 2021, PJ City ended the season superbly, in 7th position. And Maniam says even though the competition is more challenging now, the goal of breaking into the Top 5 this time is in everyone’s sights.
“We will stick to our playing style from last year. The philosophy is the same.
“As for the young players, we want them to play at a higher level and to get into the national team. We hope to be able to produce more quality players to represent the national team.”
Soaring higher. That’s what it’s all about.
And PJ City’s head coach believes his charges have what it takes to do just that.