Analysis

Pahang, Kedah, those ambitious Turtles: In 2018 can anyone stop JDT?

The Malaysia Super League (MSL) seems to have just one club capable of winning the title from one season to the next. That club, of course, is Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT).

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No one else has the players, the coach or the budget to match the Johor side, owned by Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, so a fifth straight league title is surely theirs for the taking next season.

But is it really as simple as that? 

I want to challenge JDT for the MSL crown. It is going to happen as I have the players who can turn dreams into reality

- Irfan Bakti

Nobody can deny JDT make more money, pays more in salaries and has some of the best players in the league, but does that mean there are no genuine challengers in the top-tier competition?

Let's take a closer look, starting with a club that seems to have adopted the ‘if we can’t beat them, join them’ mentality, Terengganu.

Back in the MSL after taking second spot in the recent Malaysia Premier League (MPL) campaign, Terengganu FC I (TFC I) could swiftly emerge as JDT's main contender in 2018.

The Football Association of Terengganu (FAT) has put aside a bulk of its budget for TFC I following the decision to adopt the JDT model and turn Terengganu FC II (TFC II), formerly known as T-Team, into a feeder club to the state team.

Irfan Bakti has made his ambition clear

TFC II, who took ninth spot in the MSL last season, were granted approval to become a feeder club by Football Malaysia Limited Liability Partnership (FMLLP) and will play in the MPL in 2018.

Recently, TFC I coach Irfan Bakti fired the first salvo against JDT by branding their MSL dominance “ridiculous” and pledged to challenge the reigning champions in 2018.

It is a known fact that JDT and Pahang do not see eye-to-eye ... so it could make for a fascinating battle

TFC I definitely look impressive as Irfan has managed to sign several respectable local and foreign players.

Striker Abdul Malik Mat Ariff, who netted 18 goals for Kuantan FA in all competitions last season, plus Wan Mohd Azraei Wan The, Fauzi Abdul Kadar and Fitri Omar are among the new local signings.

Ivory Coast striker Tchetche Kipre was retained from last season, with English forward Lee Tuck from Negeri Sembilan and South Korean Kim Hyeon Woo from PKNP FC among the new foreign inclusions.

Serbian Igor Zonjic and French-born Cambodian Thierry Chantha Bin complete TFC I’s foreign quota.

Tuck will be in Terengganu colours in 2018

“Our targets are top three in the MSL and also winning either the FA Cup or the Malaysia Cup. However, I am a coach with an ambition,” said Irfan.

“I want to challenge JDT for the MSL crown. It is going to happen as I have the players who can turn dreams into reality.”

The signings will need to perform as not only can they improve the side overall, but in those crunch games at the top of the table they can often step up and be the difference with a moment of brilliance to win matches on their own.

[NEXT UP: We name some more possible contenders]