Friday, January 17, 2014


Malaysia Season Promises Goals

It's a funny thing but just as Malaysian football seems to be coming off the rails at international level after some of the most successful years in their history, two SEA Games and one ASEAN Cup, the domestic game is cranking up a notch.

Traditional powers like Selangor and Kedah have gone off the boil somewhat and while it is the north eastern clubs like Kelantan that have been top dogs in recent years, new money has created new powerhouses with previously unfancied clubs like ATM, Johor Darul Takzim and PKNS flushed with cash and looking to challenge the big boys. Or indeed become the big boys.

Champions LionsXII have had a clear out with a number of high profile players leaving and a new coach, Fandi Ahmad, coming in and charged with defending the title.

The Lions went on a pre season tour to Indonesia where they played against some of the lesser teams in their second tier but with the hottest atmosphere; an excellent team building trip for the lads as they look to bring on a number of new faces from last season's less than successful Young Lions.

The Champions could be hamstrung though. Their opening games will be played at Bishan Stadium because some wally forget to lay a new turf at Jalan Besar in the period between December and January when there was no football going on.

Some bod there did suggest the Lions could play a game at the new stadium later in the year...if they were doing well enough to get a good crowd! Gee, thanks for the praise boss.

All eyes though will be on the team directly across the narrow strip of water that separates Singapore and Malaysia.

I've seen Johor a couple of times at their Larkin Stadium in Johore Bahru. It is one of the easiest grounds to get to in the region and also one of the nicest. The times I went though there was  no bugger there. Seriously, there were more players, coaches and officials than spectators it was that bad.

No more it ain't. Now the sultan of Johor has come along and geed things up, signing some of the best local players like Safee Sali and Norshahrul Idlan Talaha and Amri Yahya. They have also brought in the Jakarta Casual Player of the Year 2013, Baihakki Khaizan and Hariss Harun from LionsXII and new coach Ceaser Fernando Jiminez. Oh, and some guy called Pablo Aimar?

With all that investment, the fans who discovered the team on their doorstep last season will be expecting great things. Not good, but great. Expectations will be stratospheric and after last season's disappointment finishing 3rd they will want an improvement.

(Explanation - the current Johor Darul Takzim were known as Johor FC while good old fashioned Johor are now Johor Darul Takzim II)

Another team that will be expecting big things are Malaysia Cup winners Pahang. They too have a new coach with Ron Smith coming in. Smith is no stranger to football in Malaysia having previously worked with Sabah and Johor FC, forerunners of JDT.

He has brought in Zesh Rehman to partner Damion Stewart at the back...a couple of former Queens Park Rangers lads reuniting on the east coast of Malaysia. Football, eh?

Their Argentine striker Matias Conti celebrates his 24th birthday today and as I type this will be getting a last rub down ahead of the season opening clash with LionsXII. In his first season in Malaysia he hit an impressive 16 goals in 22 games and Pahang will be looking to Conti and new signing Dickson Nwakaeme, recruited from Kelantan, to provide a strike partnership to challenge for honours this season.

Talking of strike partnerships, one to savour could well be PKNS who have teamed Patrick Wleh with Karlo Primorac. Liberian Wleh hit 21 goals in 31 games last season while his first season in Malaysia with Sime Darby saw an even more impressive 19 in 20 games. In has come Primorac, ironically from Sime Darby, where he scored 28 goals in 31. 

There is also an Indonesian flavour to PKNS with Hamkah Hamza coming in to try his luck overseas.

ATM are one other team who will fancy their chances in the new season. Only the reflexes of Kelantan's Khairul Fahmie kept the armed forces team, along with their all singing, all dancing cheerleaders, from reaching the Malaysia Cup final last time out and they have invested heavily for the new campaign.

They have kept hold of the ageless Marlon Alex James, a 37 year old former Saint Vincent and the Grenadines international whose goal scoring achievements in Malaysia have been nothing short of phenomenal.

MK Land 41 goals in 39 games
Kedah 44 goals in 44 games
ATM 46 goals in 54

If Melchester Rovers were still going, even Roy Race and Blackie Gray wouldn't get a start.

Coached by former national team helmsman Sathianathan, ATM have added Juan Manuel Arostegui, a 33 year old Argentine striker who once played for Boca Juniors and indeed has made his own impression in Malaysia in previous spells with 50 goals in 56 games for MPPJ.

Another former MPPJ player donning an ATM shirt this campaign is Bruno Martelotto who for some strange reason, at least according to wikipedia, started his career with Penang before having a spell with MPPJ.

With the spotlight on clubs like PKNS, ATM and JDT it remains to be seen how the big clubs manage. Selangor's signing of Andik Vermansyah from Persebaya 1927 promises to be one of the most interesting of the campaign while Steve Darby returns to Malaysia to take charge of Kelantan. And more Indonesian interest comes in the form of Patrich Wanggai who will be doing his bit for T Team this season.

With some big names carrying big reputations and strikers with goals aplenty on their resume, this coming Malaysia Super League promises to be an exciting one on the pitch.

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