Seven foreign mid-season arrivals that had an instant impact in Malaysia
Jorge Pereyra Diaz
The thought of replacing highly-regarded compatriot Pablo Aimar at Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT) may have been daunting if Aimar had hit the ground running in Malaysia, but he didn’t and Diaz certainly did.
Months short of his 24th birthday, Diaz netted a brace on his MSL debut against Singaporean side LionsXII and averaged a goal a game from the start, including the strike that landed the Southern Tigers their first league title in 2014.
Regardless of the acrimonious ending, he is one of the best imports to ever grace Malaysian football
The Argentine continued finding the back of the net in 2015 but a change in the dugout saw him drop out of favour with Bojan Hodak and return to Independiente on loan.
He was back at Johor in 2016 and finished as the MSL’s top-scorer with 18 goals, adding plenty of assists as JDT won a record third straight league title. Diaz was arguably the best player in their ranks, but the club still pushed him out at the end of the season, citing he had become too big-headed.
Diaz retaliated and accused the club of being unprofessional, but regardless of the acrimonious ending, he is one of the best imports to ever grace Malaysian football.
Thiago Augusto Fernandes
He was twice a mid-season signing, first for Felda United in 2015 and then at Kedah the following year.
Signed to replace Edwin Wilson Junior, the club’s top-scorer in the MPL the previous year, Fernandes initially looked like a poor piece of business after getting injured early on.
The Brazilian, however, returned to full fitness and vindicated Irfan Bakti Abu Salim’s transfer move by hitting top form in the Malaysia Cup.
Felda’s quest ended in the semi-finals, but they could thank Fernandes for making it that far as he finished joint top-scorer with Kedah’s Sandro da Silva Mendonca on eight goals.
Injury on the eve of the 2016 campaign led to Fernandes being deregistered from the squad and he was loaned out to Kedah upon his recovery in the mid-season transfer window. He responded with five goals in Kedah’s 2016 Malaysia Cup triumph.
Felda were initially keen on getting him back in their squad before injury troubles intervened, with Fernandes moving on to Bahrain club Manama in 2017.
The Argentine became an instant hit when he joined Pahang in 2013, finding the back of the net twice on his debut against Sime Darby in the FA Cup and then another brace against arch-rivals JDT in the last four.
Struggling to find their footing in the first half of the season, Conti’s arrival solved a lot of problems. His flair and steady supply of goals complemented the pace D. Surendran, Azamuddin Akil and R. Gopinathan provided on the flanks.
Conti fired Pahang to their first Malaysia Cup trophy in 21 years, scoring nine goals in the process to finish as the tournament’s joint top-scorer with ATM’s Marlon Alex James.
He then backed that up with another six goals as Pahang won the trophy again in 2014 and he finished joint-third with Luciano Figueroa on nine league goals.
He upped his MSL tally in 2015 as Pahang came close to dethroning JDT, ending the season with 12 goals, again level with his compatriot.
Conti was among those released at the end of the 2015 season as Pahang cut their budget.
There were a few surprises when JDT decided to bring in Brazilian Marcos as a replacement for Singaporean Baihakki Khaizan, just four months after luring him from LionsXII where the lanky defender had been integral to their 2013 MSL title.
The former Nuremberg defender looked no different than Baihakki initially, but his presence later become telling as he marshalled the Southern Tigers’ defence ever so well.
He would provide the back-bone to JDT’s three league titles, one FA Cup victory and the historic 2015 AFC Cup triumph. JDT had the MSL’s best defence in 2015 and 2016, finishing the 2016 MSL season unbeaten.
Now 33, Antonio is still with JDT and was handed the captain’s armband in April this year.