Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) has confirmed that stalwart Marcos Antonio will be sidelined for an extended period as he prepares to go under the knife.
The 34-year-old centre back suffered an ankle-cruciate-ligament (ACL) injury in last week's Super League match against Perak and is set to undergo the surgery in Portugal. Which means that he will miss the remaining matches of JDT's 2017 season.
It's a big loss for the team to lose one of their core players. Antonio since his arrival in 2014 to JDT, has become the 'Wall of Johor', a bedrock of the title-winning Southern Tigers side. His importance to the team highlighted by the fact that he's the one player who have played the most minutes for JDT this season.
Unlike other imports in the M-League that goes in and out of teams like merry-go-round, Antonio is the outlier - one who's consistency and performance warranted his continuous extended stay with one single team.
Without him, JDT would have to rely on the likes of Fadhli Shas, Aidil Zafuan, Junior Eldstal or even Dominic Tan to hold the fort in defence. With the greatest respect to those mentioned, none provides the same assurances that Antonio can.
On one hand, Antonio has already done his part for the season as JDT only need two more points from the last four Super League fixtures to clinch an unprecedented fourth consecutive league title. The bigger problem may arise in the other competition which is the Malaysia Cup.
As a typical full recovery from an ACL surgery is normally around the six to eight months period, the implication of Antonio's injury is likely to have a much bigger impact than just the 2017 season. Given that we are in August now, Antonio isn't expected back any time before February of 2018.
That means JDT who are on course to retain their league title, will have to do without Antonio for the opening qualifying rounds of the 2018 Asian Champions League. For a team that aspires to be part of the grandest regional cup competition in Asia, that is a massive blow to their chances.
The decision makers at JDT will need to make the hard decision, not to make a rash decision to completely discard Antonio but to make provision to ensure that they remained competitive to make a proper tilt at reaching the Asian Champions League group stage.
Having shore up the midfield with the inclusion of Natxo Insa in mid-season, together with the possible return of Hariss Harun at the start of next year - JDT may have a working midfield that could hold their own at Asian level, and it would be a shame not to have the same quality in defence.
At 34, Antonio's time at the top level may be limited and it's very hard to judge what impact such a surgery has on a player of his age. JDT could and should be looking for a long-term replacement.
Someone who could perhaps sit in and help the club during those important qualifiers but also willing to perhaps drop down to Johor Darul Ta'zim II when Antonio returns, with the promise that the said player is being prepared for the eventual day that Antonio calls it a day at JDT.
Antonio is a strong-willed person and one that demands plenty of respect. After all, one does not simply become the longest serving import at JDT without reason. There's no reason to suggest that the former Porto trainee would not come back stronger and better but JDT may have to start preparing for a time beyond Antonio.