BY ZULHILMI ZAINAL Follow on Twitter
2016 had been a wonderful season for the Titans. Despite winning sudden promotion to the Super League at the last minute and briefly stumbling at the start of the season, the Kuala Terengganu-based side would go on to punch above their proverbial weight, finishing a respectable seventh and reaching the Malaysia Cup semi-finals.
And coupled with 'big brothers' Terengganu's decline and eventual relegation, T-Team would go on to stake their claim as the premier professional side in the state of Terengganu. All this due to Indonesian head coach Rahmad Darmawan's tactical acumen, who found the right combination of young players and dependable foreign players.
It is the Titans' status as a sort of feeder club to Terengganu that has helped them last season, as the lack of a title-winning objective, long the go-to KPI of Malaysian sides, has granted Rahmad space to do what he is capable of.
This season the head coach has thankfully been allowed to stick to the same objective (despite Terengganu now playing in the second tier), and his men can be expected to perform as that gutsy side that can be expected to produce an upset or two against the bigger clubs. And for a club that has always billed itself as 'the small team with big dreams', there's certainly no shame in that.
After all, they should also consider themselves lucky that Rahmad decided to pass on offers received from other clubs back home in the off-season, reportedly including one from the Indonesia national team.
Rahmad Darmawan. Photo Goal / Abi Yazid
NOTABLE TRANSFERS (as at 20/1/2017)
Sadly, one of the T-Team's biggest breakout stars in 2016, young winger Safawi Rasid, decided to leave the club at the end of the season for JDT. Malian playmaker Makan Konaté had to be dropped due to injury suffered during pre-season preparations, Patrick Cruz left for Vietnam, Izzaq Faris Ramlan joined Melaka, goalkeepers Ilham Amirullah Razali and Wan Azraie Wan Teh joined Felda and Pahang respectively, while Asrol Ibrahim joined Terengganu.
The two foreigners were replaced by Mali international striker Mamadou Samassa and a former T-Team player, Farhod Tadjiyev. Midfielder Fakhrurazi Musa was signed from the Turtles, while promoted youth players include midfielder Azrean Abd Aziz, defender Shakir Zufayri Ibrahim and goalkeeper Suhaimi Husin.
They managed to retain the likes of captain Hasbullah Awang, defender Abdoulaye Maïga, forward Ramzul Zahini Adenan, young star Wan Ahmad Amirzafran Wan Nadris and midfielders Badrul Hisyam Morris and Dilshod Sharofetdinov.
In: Farhod Tadjiyev (Olmaliq FK), Mamadou Samassa (Brest), Hafidz Romly (DRB-Hicom), Fauzi Abdul Kadar (MISC-MIFA), Fakhrurazi Musa (Terengganu), Azrean Abd Aziz (promoted from youth team), Shakir Zufayri Ibrahim (promoted from youth team) and Suhaimi Husin (promoted from youth team).
Out: Makan Konaté (released), Patrick Cruz (released), Izzaq Faris Ramlan (Melaka), Ilham Amirullah Razali (Felda), Wan Azraie Wan Teh (Pahang), Asrol Ibrahim (Terengganu), Akhir Bahari (PKNP).
Safawi Rasid playing for the Titans last season. Photo MOHD SAUFEE / CSN SPORTSTALK
The Titans began their pre-season preparations by travelling to Rahmad's native Indonesia, and played two friendlies against local sides Persiga Garut (1-1) and Jagurawi FC (3-1 win). They then returned home and took on Kuantan (1-1), PDRM (2-1 win), Sime Darby (2-0), Felda (3-2 win), Terengganu City (5-0 win) and Tampines Rovers (2-1 win)
Rahmad has proven himself last season and in the previous season, and he can be expected to produce the same, or slightly better, result for the Titans in 2017. Expect an upper mid-table finish from T-Team in the Super League, as well as an appearance in the semi-finals or quarter-finals of either the FA Cup, or the Malaysia Cup.