FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan looks back at another eventful season in the Malaysia Super League which culminated in a fairly familiar ending.
“Football is a simple game. 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and, at the end, the Germans always win.”
Heard of this quote before?
Well, there should a new one which states: “Malaysian football is a simple game. 12 clubs each play 22 games across the span of an entire season and, at the end, Johor Darul Ta’zim are always the champions”.
RECORDS BROKEN BY JOHOR DARUL TA’ZIM IN THE MSL COMPETITION
• Overall points collected stands at 59 points, the highest points collected since the inception of the 12 team league where the record points collected was 58 points, also set by JDT back in 2016.
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— JOHORSouthernTigers (@OfficialJohor) July 29, 2018
That is certainly starting to seem like the case as Harimau Selatan stormed to a fifth consecutive MSL title, finishing a whopping 23 points ahead of their closest challengers.
So, rather than wax lyrical once again about just how dominant JDT were (they were indeed), FOX Sports Asia reviews the recently-concluded top-flight campaign in Malaysia by taking a look at the best of the rest.
FEEL-GOOD STORY OF THE YEAR
In their first year back in the big time, Terengganu gave an excellent account of themselves as they spent most of the campaign sitting pretty near the top before finishing a commendable fifth.
The likes of Faiz Nasir, Abdul Malik Ariff and Shahrul Aizad all took turns to shine for the Turtles, while foreign signings Kipre Tchetche, Lee Tuck and Thierry Chantha were valuable contributors throughout.
Their highlight of 2018 arguably came as early as February, when they issued a statement of intent with a resounding 4-1 triumph over Selangor.
CAN BE PROUD OF THEMSELVES
Basically, all the sides that finished inside the top five deserve a warm round of applause at the very least and, sandwiched between champions JDT and fifth-placed Terengganu were Perak TBG, PKNS FC and Pahang.
Few would argue against Perak being deserved runners-up as they regularly looked the league’s second-best team throughout the campaign, and are a side making steady improvement following a fifth-place finish in 2017.
Likewise, PKNS benefitted from some excellent recruiting in the off-season to assemble a squad that boasted established Malaysian names like Safee Sali and Mahali Jasuli, as well as foreign talent in Rafael Ramazotti and Faris Ramli.
PKNS may have come up slightly short in terms of consistency but, on their day when they got into their groove, they were easily one of the MSL’s most-entertaining sides to watch.
And, while fourth spot is nothing to be ashamed about, Pahang will be slightly disappointed that they did not finish second as a bonus to their FA Cup triumph, as they failed to beat already-relegated Kelantan on the final day of the season.
— Pahang FA (@MediaPhgFA) July 7, 2018
PROBABLY SHOULD HAVE DONE BETTER
After two stellar seasons which saw them win both the Malaysia Cup and FA Cup, as well as finish inside the top four of the league, Kedah were expected to be one of JDT’s main challengers but flattered to deceive in the end.
Losing 25-goal hitman Ken Ilso was obviously a big blow, especially when his replacement Pablo Pallares proved to be a flop and was promptly replaced by Paulo Rangel.
Still, with the likes of Liridon Krasniqi, Baddrol Bakhtiar and Sandro to call upon, the Kedah faithful would have been entitled to expect more than a 6th-place finish.
Likewise, Selangor were equally disappointed as they spent the first half of the campaign battling relegation before ultimately steadying the ship to finish 8th.
With plenty of experience and talent in their team – Amri Yahyah, Razman Roslan, Rufino Segovia and Evan Dimas to name but a few – the Red Giants should have been doing battle at the other end of the table.
ASEAN IMPORT OF THE SEASON
Was the ASEAN import quota a success in its first season? The jury is still out and there were certainly plenty of misses, although there were also a few real hits.
Terengganu anchorman Chantha Bin was one of them as he quietly went about his business in the heart of midfield, but the one that really caught the eye was PKNS’ flying winger Faris Ramli.
In his first year as a foreign player, the Singapore international really showed he has plenty to offer with some scintillating displays in the attacking third.
With six league goals to his name, Faris was PKNS’ joint-second top scorer behind only Rafael Ramazotti, but it was his pace, skill and desire to take on defenders that had fans on the edge of their seats.
Photo credit: PKNS FC