BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
Despite earlier talks that Selangor's move to sign their former golden boy Amri Yahyah from Melaka United have failed, on Wednesday the Mousedeers and the Red Giants announced that the Malaysia captain would be returning to his boyhood club after all, to the surprise of many.
That news immediately hogged the sports headlines of many publications, and slightly overshadowed an earlier revelation by Selangor head coach Maniam Pachaiappan, that he would re-register Indonesia winger Andik Vermansyah in his squad for the remainder of the season, following the winger's recovery from a lengthy injury.
On the same Wednesday, the two took to the pitch for Selangor for the first time in a long while, playing in a friendly match against Premier League side MISC-MIFA.
The fans too were there, descending on the Malaysian Islamic Science University pitch in Nilai, situated in a more-secluded corner of the placid institution, to welcome the return of two of arguably the most popular Red Giants players in the last decade.
Despite the fact that many commentators have been voicing their disagreement Amri and Andik's return (and those are valid criticism, admittedly), there will be a number of benefits that Selangor can harness from having the pair back in the squad.
Bums on seats
One change was immediately apparent in the friendly, and that is in the fans attention as well as the press'. The Red Giants have fallen off the media's radar somewhat in the past few years, to the point that right after the day their Liberian striker Forkey Doe was arrested by the police for driving a car with false registration two weeks ago, I was the only media personnel who turned up to their training to get Maniam and the club officials' comments on the incident. It is likely something that was in the back of club president Datuk Seri Subahan Kamal's mind, the whole time he was pushing for the 36-year old player's signing.
But the biggest contribution that Amri and Andik can bring to the Red Giants is more than simply putting bums on the seats and eyeball on matchdays.
Despite having lifted only the 2015 Malaysia Cup trophy in the past five years, Selangor have always had the potential to do more, in terms of their squad. But what has been missing at the club is the mentality to go all out and to win at all costs.
To a certain extent Nigerian centre back Ugo Ukah has that quality, but as a defender it is understandably hard for him to translate that mindset into action by leading the attack himself.
And this mentality is what Amri and Andik can bring back to Selangor, beginning from the second half of the season.
Taking to the pitch to win
Despite his age, Amri has always been one of the hardest working players on the pitch every time he plays. As a newcomer at JDT and Melaka he had to take a backseat to the already-established team tactics, but with Malaysia he has been playing in a freerole, and it is in this role that he has always thrived in.
Before he left Selangor, he had been one of the key man at the Red Giants, and this was most apparent in their AFC Cup group match against Tampines Rovers on April 30, 2013.
Needing to win away to the Stags in the final matchday in order to secure qualification to the round of 16, the Red Giants were on the brink of elimination when Singapore veteran Aleksandr Duric made it 2-2 in the 58th minute, after the visitors had been leading 2-0 at one point in the match.
But Amri never stopped working, even dropping deeper to collect the ball himself on numerous occassions. And 15 minutes from time, he found the winner in spectacular fashion, chesting a long cross from the right, before slotting home a half-volley from a tight angle.
Amri Yahyah (right), playing for Selangor against Tampines Rovers in 2013
Amri has always had that extra drive to score and win, and against an easily-demotivated side such as Selangor, that mentality will go a long way to spurring them on in the second half of the season.
The same mentality is also possessed by Andik. Although he is not a local player, his workrate and tenacity has helped him win over the fans, to the extent that he was made captain in the final stages of last year's Malaysia Cup, just before his injury. The devastation on his face during the post-match press conference following their penalty shooutout defeat to Kedah in the final match, told a lot about his desire to lead Selangor to victory.
It is not without reason that the two are fan favourites at the club.
But the transition will not be all hunky dory for Amri, Andik and Selangor. Whereas for Andik who is a better team-player it is a matter of getting back to full fitness, things may be trickier for the Malaysia captain.
His leadership quality has a darker side to it; his penchance for commanding the dressing room and keeping to his own style of play. When met by the press on Wednesday, Maniam said that his main concern for now is to make both of them understand his tactical demands, as he has changed the Selangor formation from the more-traditional 4-4-2, the formation Amri and Andik would have played in when they last featured competitively for the Red Giants, to a more fluid 3-4-3 layout.
It was rumoured that at Melaka he was at loggerheads with the already-established star striker Ilija Spasojevic, which led to the latter stepping down from his role as team captain, and Amri's eventual departure
To be fair, Amri himself said following the friendly that he did not come back to disrupt the established team dynamics, and he is eager to impart his experience to the younger players, which must be a relief to the Red Giants' fans.
If Maniam manages to harness the pair's winning mentality, get Andik to play to the established tactics, and Amri to toe the line, then Selangor will no doubt come back from the mid-season break with more bite, and could challenge for a top-three finish.