2015 S.League Club Preview: Harimau Muda
What happened in 2014?
It was a baptism of fire for many young Malaysian players who were thrown into the deep end of senior-level football, having spent much of their development years in various national youth teams.
The huge gap in standard between youth and professional football showed as they lost the first ten matches before finally recording their first points in a 1-0 win over Woodlands Wellington.
Despite the gradual climb off the bottom for a brief period, the rawness in their game showed as cards accumulated and mistakes committed ensured they ended their third year in Singapore football propping up the league.
The Football Association of Malaysia’s decision to review the Harimau Muda structure at the end of last year saw the merging of their A and B teams, with several moving on to various clubs across the country.
A much-strengthened Young Tigers side enjoyed a good pre-season when they emerged champions in the Bangabandhu Cup in Bangladesh in early February.
International experience, particularly the lengthy training stints in Slovakia and Australia for those who were in the A team in the past two years, will make the class of 2015 a competitive outfit other teams can dare to dismiss at their own peril.
The Gaffer – Razip Ismail
The 52-year-old head coach did not have it easy in the past couple of years, trying to continuing the trailblazing path his predecessor Ong Kim Swee set in Harimau Muda’s first season in 2012.
He had to use every motivational skill and experience from his playing days to guide the raw Malaysians in their baby steps towards professional football.
His patient approach towards his charges had reaped dividends outside the league as they reached the semi-finals of the 2014 Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy and won the Bangabandhu Cup.
Expect him to showcase more of his tactical side this season as the young Malaysians reach the conclusion of their four-year stint as part of the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Football Associations of Singapore and Malaysia in 2011.
Blessed with natural pace and high energy levels, the young Malaysians will be aiming to utilise these physical attributes to run down experienced but slower opponents.
Improved individual game levels – from those who are retained from last season’s squad and some who joined from the A squad – will provide a more tactically aware and competitive line-up for the new campaign.
As was the case in the past two seasons, the gelling of players from various national youth teams will be a challenge. While they had a more thorough preseason in Bangladesh, more work is needed to get them to gel as a unit.
However much exposure they have had in recent years, they remain in a relative disadvantage against more seasoned opponents as the lack of competitive experience remains a stumbling block towards a better league position.
While all departments are strengthened this season, the gulf in class from their 2012 predecessors, particularly in midfield, could be their undoing as the forwards could be potentially starved of service from the midfielders.
Players to Watch
- Farhan Abu Bakar
Second-choice to now-Johor Darul Ta’zim goalkeeper Izham Tarmizi back in 2012, this season presents an opportunity for the 22-year-old to make the No. 1 jersey his own.
His shot-stopping capabilities will be vital to Harimau Muda’s campaign as he is expected to be stretched while facing the firing line of foreign strikers from the other clubs.
- Nazirul Naim Che Hashim
The 21-year-old left back makes his return to Singapore club football after a hiatus of two years. No longer the fresh-faced rookie from Harimau’s first year in the S.League, he now shoulders the responsibility of captaining the team and leading the backline in 2015.
Strong in the tackle, he possesses a sweet left foot capable of delivering deadly set-plays, as he demonstrated in opening the scoring from a direct free kick against the Bangladeshi senior national team in the Bangabandhu Cup final.
- Ridzuan Abdunloh
Capable of operating on either flank in midfield, the 21-year-old attacker pulls the strings with his ability to set up his teammates in the final third and converting chances himself.
Returning to the S.League after spending the last year in Australia with the A side, he will be called upon to deliver the goods in front of goal and aim to better his 2013 tally of seven goals this year.
Gary's 2015 S.League Prediction: 10th
The young Malaysians have strengthened, but with the local sides also bolstering their squads with experienced heads, they are in for a long campaign. Finishing off the bottom will be considered a modest achievement.