Malaysian Super League - Season Preview

Malaysian Super League - Season Preview

By Keeshaanan Sundaresan - AFF Malaysian correspondent

After a topsy turvy 2012, the upcoming season of the Malaysian Super League is set to enthrall.

Dani Guiza has joined the revolution in Johor

So much took place throughout the course of last year, with Kelantan achieving the treble feat for the first time in their history and Malaysia failing to retain their AFF Suzuki Cup final. However, there has been a slight change in the scene and a new revolution could be set to add more excitement into the domestic football scene.

Johor Darul Takzim have been revamped during the off-season and the rebranding process has seen them acquire names like former Spanish star Dani Guiza, Simone Del Nero and of course Safee Sali.

Not to forget that the Southern Tigers also have national team skipper Safiq Rahim and Norshahrul Idlan Talaha as well.

The Crown Prince of Johor has pumped millions into the team, and will be expecting results as well. Singapore legend Fandi Ahmad has been appointed as the head coach and will be under immense pressure to deliver.

But besides them, you also have ATM and LionsXII - two sides that impressed throughout 2012 and two sides that lost several key players during the off-season.

ATM won the Premier League title last year, thus securing promotion into the Super League, before going all the way to the Malaysia Cup final in October. Names like Aidil Zafuan, Zaquan Adha and Azmi Muslim departed to join the Southern revolution and their absence will hurt ATM. However, the Forces have beefed up their squad with the likes of R. Surendran and Shukor Adan and B. Sathianathan insisted that his side is still capable of scaling bigger heights next year.

As for LionsXII, they finished second in their maiden Super League appearance last year, but things have changed though. Sundramoorthy has selected a rather youthful squad with only five major senior players. However among that five, LionsXII have Shahril Ishak, who was so often the inspiring figure in 2012. He even played a pivotal role in Singapore AFF Suzuki Cup triumph as well.

Expect Selangor FA to be in the mix as well, as they have always been over the years. The Klang Valley giants have not had a taste of silverware for two years now, but decisions from the management seem to be headed in the right direction.

Mahali Jasuli and S. Kunanlan will be essential for them, just like they have been for the national team. Francis Forkey Doe is determined to shine upfront and the pressure to deliver will be on Irfan Bakti. It’s either make or break for them, especially with the AFC Cup in the beckoning as well.

Pahang FA is another promoted side and Dollah Salleh’s men will be keen to hit the ground running. Consistency was what aided them in the Premier League last year, but finding that element in the Super League battle ground will be tricky. The Tok Gajahs have secured the signature of Amirulhadi Zainal from Selangor as well as Nasril Nourdin from Perak. But I reckon fifth place could be the best they can achieve.

Then we have Perak and T-Team, two teams that I consider to be darkhorses. Perak have been in the shadows for way too long now and the management responded to calls from the fans by drafting in experienced head coach Azraai Khor Abdullah to lead the team.

He previously won the treble twice with Kedah in 2007 and 2008 before guiding Negeri Sembilan to Malaysia Cup glory in 2011. Perak fans will be expecting him to have a similar impact on the team and to aid their mission, Perak have also signed names like Farizal Marlias and Abdul Hadi Yahya.

T-Team will be the team to watch in 2013. Don’t get the wrong impression just because it’s not a team that is filled with stars. It is a team that could cause shocks this year.

Peter Butler is the man in charge and he will have a point to prove, after a 2012 that was filled with turmoil, which saw him lose his job with Kelantan and Terengganu. The Titans have a decent squad as well, having brought in former Hull City duo George Boateng and Caleb Folan. Most of the team is made up of youngsters though, and it will be interesting to see if Peter finds the right balance within the dressing room.

The rest of the sides are likely to be contesting for mid table spots and of course survival. Negeri Sembilan and Terengganu are two sides that look to have lost their magic touch, with departure of several key players. They were both huge sides back in 2011, but the decaying process has been going on for some time and it’s going to be interesting to see how they match up.

Portoguese coach Divaldo Alves will in charge of Negeri and he will be banking on his Argentinian forward Emmanuel De Porras to spur them on. As for Terengganu, E. Elevarasan will be hoping that Jean Emmanuel Effa Owona can replicate his 2012 form once again.

And then we have Felda United, who could be in for a respite. The Settlers have struggled for consistency over the years, but K. Devan is likely to solve that issue. Problem is they have got Mohammed Ghaddar and Razali Umar Kandasamy within their ranks.

Both men are known to be temperamental and it will be interesting to see how Devan maintains the harmony within the squad. On his day, Ghaddar can be deadly, as he proved with Kelantan last year, but too often has he failed to keep the tempo running for long.

PKNS FC might have Patrick Ronaldhino but I believe that the quality within their squad is too thin to sustain survival. Of course, they are always welcomed to prove me wrong but on paper it looks likely.

Once a side that boasted the likes of Mokhtar Dahari and Santokh Singh, Abdul Rahman Ibrahim currently does not possess enough quality in the middle of the park. French midfielder Helmi Loussaief will be their main hope in building up attacks this season, but if they can spark Ronaldhino’s form upfront, things will be different.

Can Kelantan repeat last year’s form?

But besides all these names, defending champions Kelantan are still in the picture as well. Tan Sri Annuar Musa has continued to impress on the management side, but the team itself could be in for a shock in 2013.

They were treble winners last year, but losing Norshahrul and the revolution in Johor means that there will be a significant challenge to their dominance. They had to release Ghaddar due to his unrealistic wage demands but in Keita Mandjou, they have an experienced forward.

For now, it depends on how far they can click because if pre-season performances are to be taken into consideration, Kelantan could be set for a tough year.

The new season will be kicking off with the Charity Shield match between ATM and Kelantan on Saturday before the league matches begin next Tuesday. The Charity Shield itself will be interesting to watch with the Forces keen to avenge their Malaysia Cup defeat to the Red Warriors last season. But there are already several other round one ties that will no doubt entertain the fans.

Gear up folks, the 2013 Malaysian Super League ride is about to begin!

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