ATM vs T-Team: Can an all-army personnel squad secure MSL place?
Back door entry to the Malaysian top flight
This is a match that was never meant to be as both teams were slated to play in the 2016 Malaysia Premier League (MPL). ATM were demoted from the Malaysia Super League (MSL) and the Titans finished third in the second tier.
Both teams were handed a lifeline one late November evening, however, following the Football Association of Malaysia’s (FAM) decision to close its door to Singaporean development squad LionsXII, four years after welcoming them back.
The timing of the announcement could not have been worse as both teams had already gone on their end of season break and were in the midst of identifying players for the 2016 campaign.
On paper the match appears to be a one-sided affair following a decision by ATM – the Malaysian Armed Forces Football Association – to utilise only army personnel this year. The move was a drastic departure from their big-spending approach since 2012.
The only recognisable players in the ATM ranks are skipper Badrul Hisham Sufian and pacy winger Venice Elphi, both of whom have been excused from the line of duty to play for the team.
T-Team have strengthened their line-up with three new imports – defender Abdoulaye Maiga, former Persib Bandung star Makan Konate (both Malian) and Nepali Rohit Chand – and retained Croatian striker Tomislav Busic.
The Titans can also count on the experience of Marzuki Yusof, Ramzul Zahini Adenan and Izzaq Faris Ramlan.
It is difficult to predict who ATM may field when the only recognisable footballers are Venice and Badrul. Many who take to the pitch on Saturday will be playing their first competitive match in Malaysian football.
Head coach Azhar Abdullah has already left it to fate, telling local newspapers that while his players can give their full commitment, they also need Lady Luck to be on their side. Even Badrul has openly pleaded to the management to sign import players at the very least in order to strengthen the squad.
T-Team have looked good in pre-season, notching three wins in four matches – including defeating MSL side PDRM 3-1. T-Team also defeated UiTM 1-0 and Sime Darby 4-0 but suffered a 2-1 loss to Negri Sembilan.
Trainer Rahmad Darmawan had, last week, said his side were ready to face ATM, confirming also that the new imports have settled in quickly.
Player to watch: Makan Konate
All eyes will be on this former Indonesian Super League (ISL) star in 2016. He was adored at Persib Bandung and his every move at T-Team has been widely publicised in Indonesia.
Konate, an attacking midfielder, scored 14 goals to help Persib win the ISL title in 2014.
He has been impressive at his new team thus far and was the talk of the club after scoring a hattrick in the win over Sime Darby this month.
Konate had signed a two-year deal with Persib in November 2014 but was forced to find a new club after FIFA handed Indonesia a blanket ban in May last year. The suspension due to Governmental interference has yet to be lifted.
Fact and figures
- ATM released 18 professional players at the end of the 2015 season. Among them include Hairuddin Omar, K. Reuben, Nor Fazly Alias, Jerry Palacious, Mario Karlovic and Abdul Shukor Jusoh.
- ATM won five times in 29 outings last year while T-Team had a win in every two games ratio with 15 wins out of 30 games.
- T-Team knocked ATM out of the FA Cup first round (3-0) last year after scoring three times in extra time as the match finished a stalemate in stipulated time.
- Both teams have three wins each in seven appearances against each other since 2009.
ATM 0 T-Team 3: The Terengganu club are poised to demonstrate to ATM the misery of life without professional players.