Johor Darul Ta'zim FC dispensed off Marcos Antonio, Fernando Elizari and Fernando Marquez after the end of the 2018 season and in their stead came Mauricio, Aaron Niguez and Diogo Luis Santo. Their signings signalled JDT's intention for the upcoming 2019 season where they will embark on their first foray into the AFC Champions League group stage.
Hariss Harun and Gonzalo Cabrera are the only two imports retaining their place in the squad as JDT looked to built for the next level. Marked in particular by the capture of Mauricio and Diogo, players who have prior experiences in the Champions League, UEFA and AFC respectively.
HRH Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim (TMJ) explained at length that his club was keen to evolve and that showed with the selection of players for this 2019 season. He pointed to the experience that these players have as being vital to what JDT want to achieve in the new season.
"Before this when we buy players, it's always about getting the best players. But this year is a bit different, we learned from our previous mistakes. And try to find a player that is more suitable to the style of football we want to play, our philosophy and at the same time, a player that can adapt fast to Asian football."
"For example, we need a lot of character in the team. Before we did not have that much, personal strong character in the team. And to me character is everything because when you're under pressure, then these players manage to take the game to a whole new level.
"And that is why we bought a new defender in Mauricio from Lazio. He plays in big clubs and is very experienced. He played in Spartak Moscow and Sporting Lisbon, so you know he has a lot of experience playing at the highest level.
"Why we want players like that in our team? So that he can teach his team mates, our local boys. Aaron it's because he's fantastic. He adds a little bit of South American and European (style). He's from Spain. Why did I buy him? Because I like the style of Spanish football. I think by having him and Natxo (Insa) in the middle, will be fantastic and make us be able to play with our philosophy," said TMJ during the interview.
But undoubtedly despite only coming from the Thai league, Diogo will be the prized asset for JDT in the immediate future. The 31-year-old was an absolute hit in this four seasons with Thai champions Buriram United where his quality shone through well ahead of the other foreigners in the league.
JDT's charismatic owner shared the same sentiment and sung the praises of Diogo, a player blessed with all the right attributes of a top striker. Usually accustomed to getting what he want immediately, Diogo became a two year wait for TMJ.
"Diogo that we bought recently, I've always loved him since two years ago. But if I were to buy him that time, I think he would be costing around US$2.7 million, that is too expensive for the club. This year we had report that his contract is ending soon, so we went in very fast to get the guy.
"His first year was 33 games, 34 goals. Second year I think he had an injury and didn't do that well. But third year 29 games, 26 goals and then in 2018, 33 games 34 goals again. He has experience in Asian Champions League (ACL) as well. So I think we got the right player that is more suitable with the style of play of JDT," added Tunku Ismail.
JDT are currently preparing for the new season by training and playing friendly matches in Thailand. Their first competitive match will be the Charity Shield against Perak in the beginning of February, a match that will also double up as a Malaysia Super League encounter.
Yet for all intents and purposes, it looks very much that the team is gearing everything towards that historic ACL outing that starts in earnest in March.
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