Saturday, January 09, 2010



In a funny mirror image of Italy's World Cup triumph in 2006 in the aftermath of their Calciopoli scandal, Malaysia, following their famous South East Games (SEA) Games victory, can also lay the same claim.

Domestically, 2009 was not a good time to be a Malaysian League follower. The no foreign player ruling introduced at the season's start, ripped out the wow factor from the teams early on. Not surprisingly, it resulted in the lowest total gate collection ever since the M-League went fully professional in 2003. The ones who did go also, well, they were not exactly saints either with a disturbing level of crowd trouble incidents recorded, especially those involving Kelantan, whose fans marred even the Malaysia Cup final showpiece with damages to the National Stadium amounting to a few hundred thousands Ringgit. The tale of the man in black, the referees, was another disappointing story, their inability to control proceedings resulting in yet another pitch invasion during the hotly contested Sultan's Gold Cup final between Kedah and Perlis, a recent pre-season tournament, which goes to show all is not well in the officiating of the game here.

The powers that be also continued to be tainted with the bad stench of favouritism, as Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) decided to reinstate the then already relegated blue-eyed boys of theirs, Pahang, who finished in the mandatory last two relegated spots, instead of a promised spot for U-21 Young Tigers, who were set to play in the Super League at Pahang's expense. The nadir was probably reached in January 2009, as Malaysia's Asian Cup qualifying adventure began with a 5-0 drubbing at home to United Arab Emirates (UAE) in another match where the referees as well as the UAE team were pelted with missiles by the unhappy fans. Then B.Sathianathan's parting words in his last press conference as a national coach, when pressed for reasons of the whitewash, was to simply state that “M-League is not football”.

However out of the dark of the night, came the first rays of dawn. A 20 year wait for the football SEA games gold medal ended in Laos, a record thrashing of Timor Leste opened Malaysia's proceedings before defending champions Thailand were dispatched in an injury time comeback win. In between Malaysia also managed to hammer Cambodia, but lost badly to Vietnam in a fixture that got tempers reaching boiling point. Hosts Laos were put to the sword by goals in the last 10 minutes during the semifinals, before another goal in the closing stages avenged the group defeat in the final against Vietnam.

In the midst of the euphoria surrounding that success, the Ministry of Sports immediately announced a RM50 million (USD$15 Million) National Football Development Fund, and is proposing for FAM to consider the idea of creating a full time squad out of the victorious Under-23's who triumphed in Laos, a suggestion that is being widely debated amongst those in the footballing circles.

A few days ago, coach K.Rajagopal continued his upward curve by bidding adieu to the Asian Cup qualifiers with a narrow 1-0 loss in the return leg against United Arab Emirates (UAE) in Dubai, the Tigers only conceding the goal in the 93rd minute of the game, a result that saw many sitting up to take notice of the potential in his side, despite fielding only one player above the age of 23.

And so, against this backdrop of a not before time optimism, the curtains open for the 2010 Malaysian Super League today (Saturday, January 9). This year's roster sees some notable absentees, the sad liquidation of clubsides Naza FC & MyTeam FC, seeing three new faces present at the Super League dining table.

GOAL.COM presents their outlook on the possible fortunes of the teams plying the new Super League season, below. Meanwhile, the second level, Premier League, kicks off of on January 11 with 12 teams competing and the third level, FAM Cup, is scheduled to begin in March 2010.
(in alphabetical order).

JOHOR : Back in the big boy's room after years of self searching, and with former legend Nasir Yusof at the helm, envious glances to local rivals Johor FC could soon be a thing of the past. First things first, their virgin Super League season has to be negotiated and surviving it will take The Professor, as he was known during his playing days, all of his chemistry skills to succeed, management and financial problems notwithstanding
Last season 2009 : 3rd place in the Premier League

JOHOR FC : The model of club management efficiency rumbles on to another Super League season, this time with 9 new purchases, most notably Zulhisyam Jamaludin from defunct Naza FC. Add that to the head spinning concoction readily promised in the form of Eddy Helmi and Nurul Azwan, there is plenty to look forward to for the Bees. Once they leave Pasir Gudang, however, there is still a lot to be learned by them about the art of playing away. Ramlan Rashid has been told by his bosses that last season was a disappointment after their exploits in 2008, and pressure will be on him to end their wait for some silverware.
Last season 2009 : 4th place

KEDAH : It will happen even to Manchester United one day, who is to say that it will not happen to the Canaries. The legendary Azraai Khor is no more, and inexperienced coach Ahmad Yusof, as if he needs to be told, has very big shoes to fill. Azmi Muslim and Azlan Ismail are added to the pot, but with even Fadly Baharom and Khyril Muhymeen in the equation, it looks like a complete end of the Northeners cycle as a powerhouse in Malaysian football.
Last season 2009 : 3rd place

PERLIS : To lose first four first-teamers, your top scorer and your head coach for the new season is enough to make anyone cringe, but it is the stark reality facing the Northern Lions. Oh, and there is also the not so inconsequential matter of unpaid wages to worry about. Greenhorn coach Nidzam Adha will have to ask a lot from Fauzie Nan, Amar Rohidan and Fakri Saarani on the rocky road up ahead.
Last season 2009 : 2nd place

KELANTAN: If losing two finals in a season is not enough motivation for the Red Warriors to finally succeed this season, not even coach B.Sathiananthan knows what will. The only team with celebrity status guaranteed for their players, and his red traveling army of fans, love them or hate them will have much to cheer this season. Sathiananthan came on deck following the shock resignation of Peter Butler just before the beginning of the Malaysia Cup campaign last season, but showed his prowess in lifting the morale of the players and moulding them into a destructive force. With Indra Putra, the 2009 Player Of The Year, given new playmates in shape of Norshahrul Idlan and Akmal Rizal among many others, they will be challenging for the title all the way to the finish line.
Last season 2009 : 6th place

KUALA LUMPUR : The Hawks will need to call upon all of the experience gathered by coach Razip Ismail during his playing days as they face a baptism of fire in their first year of Super League action. Notable additions to the squad include Raimi Nor from crosstown rivals PLUS FC and See Kok Luen from Johor FC, and their presence will paramount in steadying this young side through a long season.
Last season 2009 : 4th in Premier League

NEGERI SEMBILAN: The party is probably still going on after a 61 year wait for the Malaysia Cup finally ended last season, as the Deer's activity in the transfer market was limited to only a single acquisition, unproven striker Norizam Salaman from Johor. Why change a good thing?, Wan Jamak may argue with stars such as Aidil Zafuan, Zaquan Adha and S.Kunalan on board to provide the fireworks, but with an aging midfield, some hard questions could be heading his way in the Super League marathon. He though, will be gutted on their failure to sign Hairuddin Omar, who in his own words, gave Negeri a different dimension in their play during the striker’s successful loan period in their victorious Malaysia Cup outing.
Last season 2009 : 7th place

PAHANG: Not likely to make good on their second lease at the Super League life, and coach Dollah Salleh, into his second season with them, will have his hands full in whipping his Elephants into a respectable herd. No names to strike terror into the opponents hearts, let alone lead on the field, and with poor administration shackling them, this is going to be a long, hard year. Survival remains their only target, unless of course if FAM intervenes with yet another helping hand.
Last season 2009 : 13th place

PENANG: Nothing much looks to have changed for the Panthers, already hemorrhaged this season of captain Rafiuddin Roddin to the Harimau Muda and S.Chanturu to Kelantan, with only the acquisition of Perak's Chan Kung Hung in defence to answer their shortcomings. Even if the return of coach Mohammad Bakar gets it right on the field, the admistrative woes within the team dangles a heavy chain surely around their feet. As with Pahang, escaping the fall is their objective.
Last season 2009 : 12th place

PERAK: Political bickerings slammed the door shut on M. Karathu's tenure with the team, and Raja Azlan Shah, who was promoted from assistant coach, first task will be to stabilise a young team minus their international S.Subramaniam. K.Nanthakumar's return is a gamble that hopefully will turn the ship around for them, but aside from Razali Kandasamy, this looks a very ordinary team indeed that is bound to be stucked in the lower reaches of the standings week in and week out.
Last season 2009 : 10th place

PLUS FC : The busiest shopper in the transfer market with up to 11 new faces brought on deck, most notably last season's Golden Boot (Super League Top Scorer) winner, top scorer Nizaruddin Yusop and Azi Sharil from Perlis. Top it all off with a defence comprising of Norhafiz Zamani and Irwan Fadzli and with Sanjos Sundawat on board, 2010 could be a very special year for the Highway Warriors. Coach Mat Zan has to deliver this season.
Last Season 2009 : 8th place

SELANGOR : The treble winners (Charity Shield, League, FA Cup) only missed out on the Malaysia Cup last season and it would take a very brave man to say that it would not be rectified this year. Liew Kit Kong, Safiq Rahim, Bunyamin Omar and Faderin Kadir are balanced additions to what is already an impressive arsenal. As Malaysia’s sole representative in the AFC Cup (Note : Perlis declined due to lack of finances), the Red Giants face a mammoth 60 match schedule this season, but it does not look beyond coach K.Devan's ability to juggle his charges and retain the Super League title he won so handsomely in his first year in charge. The most successful team in Malaysian football is set for another year of dominance.
Last season 2009 : Champions

TERENGGANU : Old warhorses K.Rajan and Tengku Hasbullah are notable additions to the Turtles, whose biggest asset however, could be their new coach Irfan Bakti, who did so well at Perlis last season, despite the financial malaise that rocked his time there. Sparks will surely come from Ashaari Samsudin, Manaf Mamat and also Sharbinee Alawee, but their questionable defence will surely unravel them to match last season's fifth place finish.
Last season 2009 : 5th place

T-TEAM FC : No Hairudin Omar now for them as they try to translate the fluidity of their second place finish in the Premier League finish onto the Super League. A lot will inevitably depend on Che Ku Marzuki utilizing the senior figures in the team such as Haris Safwan and Syamsuri Mustafa to their maximum potential, but with a little luck, a respectable mid-table finish is not out of reach.