BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
The 2016 season was another glorious season for the Southern Tigers. Despite their failure to defend their AFC Cup title, they reached the semi-finals, but it was at home where they shined even brighter.
Despite club owner Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim's plans to reduce spending for the 2017 season, resulting in the offloading of their Argentinian star strikers Juan Martin Lucero and Jorge Pereyra Diaz during the transfer window due to their demands for wage increase, they are not expected to face any problem challenging for the league title this season.
Apart from changes to their foreign legion, with three new players signed, the more significant changes have been made to their local player line-up. JDT have captured a number of Malaysia internationals, rising Malaysian stars and former Malaysia internationals.
On top of new signings, they have also promoted midfielder Afiq Fazail and forward Darren Lok Yee Deng from JDT II.
In the meantime, Azinee Taib and K. Sasikumar were sent the other way, while Nazrin Nawi and Jasazrin Jamaluddin were sold to Perak, while veteran Malaysia forwards Amri Yahyah and Safee Sali were sold to Melaka United and PKNS FC respectively, and Singapore international Hariss Harun has been removed from the registered squad, with the plan to loan him out to an overseas club for exposure.
In: Hazwan Bakri, Nazmi Faiz and R. Gopinathan (Selangor), Safawi Rasid, (T-Team FC), Syahrul Azwari Ibrahim (Sarawak), Haziq Nadzli (PDRM), Brian Ferreira (Independiente), Gonzalo Cabrera (Al-Faisaly FC), Jerónimo Barrales (Club Atlético Huracán).
Out: Jorge Pereyra Diaz, Safee Sali (PKNS), Amri Yahyah (Melaka), Juan Martín Lucero, Asraruddin Putra Omar (Pulau Pinang)
Unlike other Malaysian sides, JDT played no friendly match against Malaysian teams, preferring to take on Thai clubs instead, perhaps as preparation for their first AFC Champions League qualification match; against Bangkok United. They flew to Thailand earlier this month to play Chonburi FC (1-1), Air Force United (1-0 defeat) and Buriram United (1-0 defeat). Before that, they defeated Singapore's Geylang United 5-0 at home, their only pre-season win.
FULL OFFICIAL SQUAD (as of 19/1/2017)
Goalkeepers: Farizal Marlias, Izham Tarmizi, Haziq Nadzli
Defenders: Marcos António, Aidil Zafuan, Fazly Mazlan, Dominic Tan, S. Kunanlan, Hasbullah Abu Bakar, Azrif Nasrulhaq, Mahali Jasuli, Fadhli Shas.
Midfielders: Shakir Shaari, Junior Eldstål, R. Gopinathan, Safawi Rasid, S. Chanturu, Gary Steven Robbat, Safiq Rahim (captain), Afiq Fazail, Amirul Hadi Zainal, Syahrul Azwari, Gonzalo Cabrera, Azamuddin Akil.
Forwards: Brian Ferreira, Darren Lok, Hazwan Bakri, Jerónimo Barrales.
Despite JDT's class in recent years, a bombshell dropped by the club just two days before the league kickoff made us revise our prediction on the former AFC Cup champions' chances this season. On Wednesday, it was announced that head coach Mario Gomez, who took them to the AFC Cup title in 2015, has parted ways and he has been replaced by JDT II head coach Benjamin Mora.
However, the Tigers very rarely land a suitable head coach straight away, given Tunku Ismail's attention to detail, as was the case before they captured Gomez' services. They had to go through Singapore legend Fandi Ahmad, César Ferrando and Bojan Hodak before finally settling on Gomez.
The same is expected to happen again to JDT under Mora, and they may fail to dominate the league like they did last season. However, with the talents available at their disposal, they can still be expected to finish in a top-three position in the league standings.