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FFT’s 2017 MSL mid-season awards

It has been an exciting half to the 2017 Malaysia Super League (MSL) campaign, with plenty of standouts all over. FourFourTwo picks out the best performing players so far…

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Best Goalkeeper: Farizal Harun

Felda United have struggled to hit the heights they reached in 2016, where they challenged eventual champions Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) until the final weeks of the season.

But their backline is something they can surprisingly count on despite having two defenders – Shukor Adan and Nor Fazly Alias – that are on the wrong side of their 30s.

Custodian Farizal has been instrumental, making saves to keep his goal intact. The 31-year-old also reunited with B. Satiananthan, who took over from Azmi Mohamed several games into the season. The pair were at ATM when the Gladiators won the 2012 Malaysia Premier League (MPL) and reached the Malaysia Cup final, where they lost to Kelantan.

Only JDT have conceded less than the Fighters’ 15, but the Southern Tigers have been rotating between Izham Tarmizi Roslan and Farizal Marlias.

The duo would have been strong contenders for this award had they started more games. Selangor’s Khairul Azhan Khalid and Kedah youngster Ifwat Akmal were also considered, but Farizal stands tall.

Best Defender: Marcos Antonio

The best defender has been an easy pick (if imports were also considered) for the past three seasons despite the rejuvenation of veteran Shukor, rise of Kedah’s Rizal Ghazali and JDT’s Fazly Mazlan.

Antonio has stood above them all as the Southern Tigers swept three back-to-back MSL titles.

By the looks of it, JDT are set for a fourth title and will have to thank the Brazilian centre-back once again, perhaps more now than ever.

Antonio (In blue)

JDT have looked shaky in 2017 but they have only conceded 11 goals. This comes despite Antonio not having a regular partner.

He has been paired with Aidil Zafuan Abdul Radzak, Fadhli Shas, Junior Eldstal, Dominic Tan and even midfielder Amirulhadi Zainal across all competitions.

Among the other notable names that have done well include Selangor’s Razman Roslan, Pahang’s Faisal Rosli, Kedah skipper Khairul Helmi Johari.

Best Midfielder: Safiq Rahim

He was surprisingly stripped of the captaincy in April for no apparent reason, apart from the “club having many leaders”, but the central midfielder has not let that affect his performance one bit.

There is a long list of contenders here as the likes of Liridon Krasniqi, Baddrol Bakhtiar, Mohamadou Summareh and Ahmad Syamim Yahya have all done well too, but Safiq prevails.

Safiq (In blue)

Safiq is the highest scoring Malaysian player in 2017 with eight league goals, which also makes him the club’s MSL top scorer. He has also made 11 assists in all competitions and is seen as an integral figure to the line-up.

When he is not on the pitch, JDT seem to run out of ideas, as evident in the boring 1-0 win over PKNS a fortnight ago.

His return to the national team in July, after a self-imposed exile for a year, is only fitting of the talent he has, but the former Harimau Malaya skipper will have to earn the trust of the fans again.

Best Striker: Mohammed Ghaddar

With a goal scoring record like his, Ghaddar is a clear winner here.

There were doubts when he arrived at Kelantan for a third stint. He was already 33 and appeared to be a panic buy as much of the Red Warriors’ pre-season preparation was bogged with talks whether they would pull out of the 2017 season due to financial reasons.

It was a rather weak looking Kelantan side on paper but the Lebanese international has pushed the East Coast side on, singlehandedly keeping them at a respectable position.

Ghaddar scored as many goals (18) as 2016 MSL top scorer Jorge Pererya Diaz did in just half the campaign, prompting moneybags JDT to splash the cash to lure him down South the moment the transfer window opened on May 22.

Ghaddar made his debut against PKNS on May 24 and is expected to fire in plenty more goals with better service at JDT.

Best Coach: P. Maniam

Perhaps the most controversial choice considering Benjamin Mora leads the MSL, Tan Cheng Hoe left a legacy in April and Dollah Salleh rejuvenated Pahang.

But Maniam deserves all the plaudits despite being fifth in the standings.

Having finally got his break to manage the Red Giants, Maniam may be forgiven for wishing he had taken charge during a better time. A management standstill saw season preparations come under fire as the Selangor government, the club’s biggest coffers providers, refused to grant funds.

P. Maniam (second from left)

A new Selangor FA president in Datuk Seri Subahan Kamal was elected and 2017 was going to be a transition year due to the lack of funds.

A host of big name players such as skipper Shahrom Kamal, Nazmi Faiz Mansor, Hafiz Kamal, Ahmad Hazwan Bakri and R. Gopinathan left, forcing Selangor to promote many youngsters.

Realising his team was under strength, with some even predicting Selangor to be sucked into the relegation battle, Maniam switched from a back-four to a back-three, which essentially became a back-five when defending, and this made them tough to beat.

Consistency has not been their best friend but Selangor held their own with respectable results against JDT, Felda United, Kelantan and Kedah.

The top three-teams – JDT, Pahang and Kedah – are in a league of their own, but a fourth-place finish come the end of the season will be commendable for Selangor.