Virtually everybody associated with Kedah was pleasantly surprised by their progress last season. Can they keep the momentum going now that they're back in the top flight?
If you had told Kedah fans a year ago that they would be preparing for a season back in the top tier after finishing first in the Malaysia Premier League and a final spot in the Malaysia Cup, then the shouts of delight would have been heard all the way to Thailand.
Kedah's 2016 Transfers
- Farhan Abu Bakar (Harimau Muda)
- Syawal Nordin (Harimau Muda)
- Ariff Farhan Isa (Harimau Muda)
- Amirul Hisyam Awang Kechik (Harimau Muda)
- Azmeer Yusof (ATM)
- Carlos Kahe (Oeste)
- S. Cheevanesvaran (Penang)
- P. Som Keat (Penang)
- Norhamizikri Hamid (Perlis)
- Firdaus Muhama
- Chidi Edeh
- Lew Han Hung
- P. Rajesh
- Fiqkry Mat Isa
- Solehin Kanasian Abdullah
- Akmal Chin
It really was a season to remember. If the final with Selangor in December, just a few weeks ago, had ended differently, it would almost have rivalled those double treble-winning seasons of 2007 and 2008.
That's the problem for Kedah, who boast a glorious past so fresh in the memory that merely surviving in the top tier is not going to be enough – not for long, anyway. It wasn't just that they were good less than a decade ago, but that they won everything.
One thing that can be said for sure is that Kedah are not going to win the treble in 2016. After relegation, there were three seasons in the Premier League with two fourth-place finishes before coach Tan Cheong Hoe guided them to top spot.
Well, he wasn't there for the whole time. Towards the end, he was in China taking a coaching qualification and missed much of the Malaysia Cup run, returning home for a flying visit for the final.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Promotion happened at the third attempt and it looked likely from the opening game and a fine 5-1 thrashing of Kuala Lumpur. Then just three points from the next four games suggested that it may be not quite a foregone conclusion.
But KL came to the rescue once again and a 1-0 win in the capital in April set Kedah on their way and started a run of 31 points from the next 33 available.
Then attention turned to the Malaysia Cup which started in November. The group stage was negotiated successfully and then came a 4-2 aggregate win over PKNS and a 3-2 semi-final triumph over Felda United, conquerors of Johor Darul Ta'zim. The excitement grew to incredible levels in the days leading up to the big game, but in the end it was Selangor who triumphed. Still, it was a season to remember for Kedah.
The major foreign addition to the squad is Carlos Kahe, who replaces the departed Chidi Edeh. There are hopes at the club that the Brazilian is a step up from the Nigerian. He has extensive experience in Germany with Borussia Monchengladbach and with various Turkish teams. The 33-year-old still has the potential to cause problems for Malaysian defences.
Ahmad Fakri Saarani also strengthens the attack while much depends on the stalwarts such as Khairul Helmi in defence and Malaysian international midfielder Baddrol Bakhtiar.
The team should be roared on at home by the passionate locals and should pick up the points to survive, though injuries to star players will have to be avoided.
FFT's MSL PREDICTION: 6th
Reaching the Malaysia Cup final was no fluke for a side that plays an exciting brand of football.
COACH CORNER – Tan Cheng Hoe
As a former star player and now a coach, Tan is revered at Kedah. But having led the club back to the top flight, he knows the hard work starts now. Click here to read his thoughts on 2016
STAR MAN – Khairul Helmi
One of the more experienced players in the Red Hawks' line-up, plenty of responsibility will fall on the captain's shoulders this season.
Is he up to the task of helping the promoted team stay in the top flight? Click here to find out.
VIEW FROM THE FANS
The 2015 season was one to saviour for Kedah fans and they are now back in the big time. Find out here if their fans think 2016 will also be a success.
YOUNG GUN – Abdul Halim Saari
Kedah will be taking a mostly young squad into the new campaign. One such youngster still feels they can be competitive this season.