Sime Darby and UKM determined to make mark on Malaysian Premier League

Newly crowned FAM Cup champions Sime Darby and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia FC (UKM) will begin their journey as full-fledged professional teams when they play in the Malaysia Premier League (MPL) next season.

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Sime Darby, the 2012 FA Cup runners-up, are determined not to repeat similar mistakes on their return to the MPL a year after their relegation.

As for UKM, they will be the third university team after Universiti Teknoloji Mara FC (UiTM) and the now-defunct Universiti Sains Malaysia FC to play in the professional league.

Sime Darby won the FAM Cup for the second time

Sime Darby, who were the Group B champions, won the FAM Cup for the second time after 2010 following a 3-2 aggregate win over Group A winners UKM.

Sustainability will be the main concern for both teams.  In the past, several newly-promoted MPL teams overspent and eventually withdrew or got relegated again after incurring financial losses.

Former Malaysia Cup champions Petaling Jaya Municipal Council (MPPJ) FC and 2004 Malaysian Super League (MSL) runners-up Public Bank FC are among the former FAM Cup teams who made it to the big leagues but were eventually dissolved for various reasons.

But Sime Darby and the Bangi-based UKM believe they will have the financial backing to keep pace with the favourites in the second-tier competition with an eye on playing top flight football one day.

The FAM Cup was once a competition for low budget teams, but since last season, ambition-driven clubs have been spending big bucks to secure MPL-level players in the race for promotion.

Sime Darby will eye a long-term return to the MSL

Sime Darby and Felcra FC were among the few teams who spent more than RM8 million for players this season.

While the move paid off for Sime Darby, it did not for Felcra, who had Kuala Lumpur Southeast Asian Games joint top scorer N. Thanabalan and Adib Zainuddin in their squad.

My players showed strong commitment and desire to succeed to win promotion

- Ahmad Yusoff

Felcra were eliminated 1-0 on aggregate by Sime Darby in the semi-finals.

Formed in 2010, Sime Darby, who played in the Malaysia Super League (MSL) in 2014 and 2015, are already talking about spending more money to sustain in the MPL next season.

Sime Darby coach Ahmad Yusoff said: “My players showed strong commitment and desire to succeed to win promotion.

“We had a good mix of seniors and young players. Now, we have to start planning for next season,” said Yusoff, who had a short stint as Terengganu coach in 2016.

Sime Darby coach Ahmad Yusoff is already looking ahead to next season

 Former Felda United striker Zul Fahmi Awang, Juzaili Samion, Nazrul Kamaruzaman, Azmirul Azmi and A. Segar were among the players who have made a difference for Sime Darby in the recent season.

However, Sime Darby may release a bulk of their current team and sign new players for next season’s MPL challenge.