The candidates for the 2015 Malaysian Football Awards have been submitted for vote counting. FourFourTwo’s Vijhay Vick was asked to take part, and here he explains the reasons behind his nominees for the year-end gala…
The 2015 football season draws to a close with the Malaysia Cup final between Selangor and Kedah on Saturday. Many players have had a season to remember, while some mid-season transfer signings like Matthew Davies and Issey Nakajima-Farran stamped their mark.
The winners – voted by coaches, captains and a panel of football writers before the Malaysia Cup knockout stages – will be announced at a gala ceremony expected to be held sometime next week.
Many difficult choices had to be made as there were a number of players who impressed over the course of the season. In the end those presented below – three nominations for each category – were picked on performance, team contribution and the writer’s personal preference (so yes, some bias can’t be denied).
The saves-per-match ratio was put aside for this because some goalkeepers are tested way more often than others.
Farizal Harun earned the first nomination for his solid form in Felda United’s Malaysia Super League (MSL) season. The 29-year-old Negri Sembilan product built on his fine Malaysia Premier League (MPL) campaign in 2014 with another good year. Felda boasted the league’s second best defence, conceding just 26 goals.
Pahang did not have a great season, wasting opportunities to win the MSL with a weak defence and lack of creativity up front. But in Khairul Azhan Khalid, the Elephants at least had a reliable man between the sticks.
Khairul Azhan played in all 22 MSL matches as Pahang conceded just 29 goals. Only Johor Darul Ta’zim (18) and Felda surpassed that total.
Farizal Marlias was came in as a third and final pick, simply because he was part of the best defence around. While he had the ever-solid Marcos Antonio providing cover in front of him, Farizal ensured he did his own part in the 18 games he played. Farizal was also key in JDT’s AFC Cup final heroics against Tajikistan side Istiklol.
Felda skipper Shukor Adan continues to defy age with a committed showing each time he steps onto the field. At 36, he still matches the big boys with his aggression, ability to cut out attacking moves and leadership qualities that are second to none.
He featured in 20 MSL matches and partnered Bojan Miladinovic in the heart of their defence. He was also occasionally deployed in the holding midfield role, though the emergence of former Harimau Muda graduate Shahrul Saad meant he could largely concentrate on his natural position on the field.
Matthew Davies was virtually unheard of in Malaysia before he signed for Pahang in April this year. He went on to establish himself as among the first names in the Pahang side – some feat considering Zainal Abidin Hassan’s infamous reluctance to tweak his line-up – and represent Malaysia at both the 2015 SEA Games and in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
Many felt talented young centre-backs at JDT such as Fadhli Shas, Amer Saidin and even Junior Eldstal were going to give Aidil Zafuan Abdul Radzak a run for his money at the beginning of the season. But the latter shrugged off the injuries that have plagued him, including the one which ruled him out of the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup, to seal a starting place alongside Marcos Antonio. The pair formed a solid understanding that became crucial to JDT’s successful title defence and AFC Cup win.
Aidil was fit enough to make 15 appearances in the MSL by the end. And while he still occasionally rushes into challenges, his influence on his teammates has been praised by his peers and coaches, marking him out as another standout performer of the season.
Baddrol Bakhtiar has been a revelation this season despite being played out of position in Kedah’s MPL title winning campaign and march to the Malaysia Cup final.
The 27-year-old sacrificed by dropping to a more holding role to cater for the inclusions of attack-minded Liridon Krasniqi and Sandro da Silva Mendonca. Making the switch seamlessly, Baddrol missed only two of the Red Eagles’ league matches, and even found the back of the net five times. Baddrol was crucial to Kedah’s trademark counter-attacking style. His ability to split defences with long passes to his fast teammates on the wing allowing the side to push up the pitch quickly.
Fast wingers are what most teams would want wide, and Pahang’s left-flank is the envy of many - even star-studded JDT. R Gopinathan may not have impressed in a national jersey yet, but the 25-year-old was integral in Pahang’s attack as the Elephants were joint-highest scorers of the MSL with 43 goals.
Gopinathan – who climbed the ranks at the club – constantly breaks away at lightning speed, often leaving defenders for dead. The talent has earned the interest of Felda and Selangor ahead of the 2016 season.
Safiq Rahim has endured his critics in the past (and still does, while in a national jersey). But the Malaysia skipper has been splendid for JDT, where he and central midfield partner Hariss Harun can claim to be the most dominant midfield pairing around.
The 28-year-old made 20 appearances for the Southern Tigers and his seven goals were crucial the outfit retaining their MSL title. Safiq’s goal count is impressive, considering he plays in midfield.
Local candidates upfront were hard to come by because most teams opted for foreigners to lead the attack. Yet Afiq Azmi can hold his head high after making 20 appearances with a return of eight goals – the best haul for a local striker.
Afiq has the physical presence necessary to excel in the box, and struck a decent partnership with Brazilian Guilherme de Paula as the pair netted 16 times between themelves in the league. Another Selangor striker, Ahmad Hazwan Bakri, was also considered after he recorded seven strikes in 22 matches, but the former Harimau Muda star falls out of contention given he was deployed as a makeshift winger for most of the season.
Amri Yahyah is Malaysia’s version of Benjamin Button. The 34-year-old’s form and liveliness on the pitch has had many asking if he is indeed aging backwards. Amri is still Malaysia’s most consistent player in international matches, and simply never stops running for country or club until the final whistle.
The veteran made 16 appearances for JDT in various attacking positions and found the back of the net five times.
2014’s Best Striker Nor Farhan Muhammad did not have a season to remember as he struggled to hold down a regular starting place at Kelantan this time around.
Yet the 30-year-old still managed to rake in a respectable return of six goals in what is best described as a disastrous season for the Red Warriors. They limped into ninth place in the 12-team league after winning only eight times in 22 league matches, and Farhan’s contributions proved to really be the only bright spark in a campaign to forget.
Luciano Figueroa and Marcos Antonio usually take up the limelight at JDT but Singapore international Hariss Harun is just as crucial, if not integral, to all the success the club have enjoyed since 2014.
Hariss is JDT’s midfield enforcer and the first line of defence in his holding role. His defensive qualities are unquestionable and the 25-year-old’s ability at blocking off opponents’ attacking moves is what allows Safiq to roam forward freely. His contributions to the team have not gone unnoticed after the Southern Tigers made him Singaporean football’s highest earner in a US$30,000 (RM130,000) per month two-year contract extension deal in November.
Dickson Nwakaeme is every team’s dream striker. He is fast, strong, unselfish, difficult to mark and lethal up front. He found the back of the net nine times while playing in Pahang’s No.10 role behind Matias Conti.
Nwakaeme is who makes their attack tick as he is almost always at the centre of every move into the final third. He often draws more than one defender (sometimes up to four) when he is on the ball, and this gives his teammates ample space.
Issey Nakajima-Farran was given the nod ahead of Terengganu teammate Gustavo Lopez and Figueroa simply because of the impact the Canada international has made since arriving in the April transfer window.
The 31-year-old went on to make the list of top 10 leading goal scorers in the MSL after scoring nine goals in just 12 appearances. He was also named the Professional Footballer’s Association of Malaysia Player of the Month in August and October.
Most Promising Youngster (Aged 21 years and below)
If Matthew Davies was good enough to be among the best defenders in the country, surely he is a front runner for this award.
Another young player to impress was Shahrin Sapien, who Terengganu snapped up from sister side T-Team in November 2014 after impressing then-coach Abdul Rahman Ibrahim.
Today, the starlet is among the first names in Ahmad Yusof’s line-up since the latter took over in June. He has performed admirably throughout the season, operating on the flanks while occasionally being deployed in central midfield.
Shahrin made 18 appearances and scored once as Terengganu finished fifth in the MSL standings.
Nor Azam Azih was expected to play second fiddle to Azidan Sarudin and Hafiz Kamal when he signed for Pahang from Harimau Muda at the start of the season. Instead, he dislodged Azidan almost immediately and displayed surprising maturity and composure all season, more than holding his own against more established opponents.
Azam made 12 league appearances and would have offered Davies genuine competition, but an anterior cruciate ligament injury in July ruled him out for the rest of the season.
Kedah had a remarkable season and it is all due to the tactical prowess of former Malaysia assistant coach Tan Cheng Hoe.
Tan has got the best out of the team, winning the MPL and earning promotion to the Super League after a three-year absence since being demoted at the end of the 2012 season. Tan’s Kedah also took the Malaysia Cup group stage by storm, defeating FA Cup winners LionsXII and Terengganu at Darul Aman Stadium. It is an ominous sign to rivals of what could come from them next season.
It is impossible not to include Argentine Mario Gomez, who has transformed JDT into an AFC Cup-winning side.
When Gomez took charge at the end of April, JDT had won only four out of nine MSL matches and had been knocked out of the FA Cup. Gomez steadied the ship and guided the club to 10 wins in 13 subsequent matches to lift the title.
It was a straight toss between Selangor’s Mehmet Durakovic (remember, nominations were made before the Malaysia Cup quarter-final) and Fandi Ahmad of LionsXII. The former Singapore playing icon got the nod after winning the FA Cup without counting on the services of foreign players throughout the season.
Their path up to the semi-final may have been relatively easy, but LionsXII displayed their true mettle against Terengganu in the final four. The Singaporean played a very tactical game to prevail on away goals in a 4-4 result on aggregate, ensuring they ended their final season in Malaysian competition with silverware.