When Johor Darul Ta'zim FC (JDT) came to fruition in 2013, they kickstarted a revolution and revamp in the Malaysian football landscape with far-reaching impact that reverberated around a football-mad country obsessed to see the game grow to bigger and better heights.
Success came quickly for JDT and their pathway soon became 'THE BLUEPRINT' for others to follow. It is not just about copying and trying to be the second JDT, it is more about taking what is the best practice and adopting the approach within the parameters that fit a football club.
That is exactly what Terengganu Football Association have done when they launched Terengganu Football Club (TFC) in 2018, becoming the second state team in the country after Johor to move towards the FC pathway and as such, had a headstart over their peers.
What was clear from the start was that TFC did not have the same financial muscle that JDT possess and they never set out to pretend otherwise. Along the way, TFC have taken a more calculated and moderate approach in developing the club for matters both on and off the pitch.
The Sultan Ismail Nasiruddin Shah Stadium has a rich history and presence but in order to grow, TFC needed to move away from the 15,000 capacity ground to a much bigger and modern one. And as luck would have it, the club was able to move into the ready-made Stadium Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Stadium with 50,000 capacity but still work needed to be done there.
Initially completed back in 2008 for the Malaysian Games (SUKMA), it has taken the stadium nearly 12 years to be fit and ready to be a proper football stadium, helped largely by the partnership with Malaysian Football League (MFL) as TFC became the first team to benefit with a new playing surface being laid in the stadium.
TFC also become one of only a handful of teams in Malaysia with a proper website running and updated on a regular basis, a far cry from what is supposedly a norm in the world of internet today where clubs around the world are leveraging on their online presence to grow the club.
One look at TFC's sponsors appreciation post at the end of the 2020 season will show the work that the commercial team at the club have put in to increase the revenue. Last season, TFC managed to ink deals with 20 different sponsors, be that monetary sponsors or those that are in-kind.
Not forgetting work that is being done to improve the facilities at the training ground to include new coaches-use room, video room and changing room that can be used by the team before and and after training, it would seem that TFC have not neglect their off-field responsibilities.
But ultimately the biggest focus for any team will always be on what happens on the pitch and that means the quality of the team and for fans, it will be about seeing the team achieve success on the field. In their first season under the TFC banner, they managed to reach the final of the Malaysia Cup, only to excruciatingly lose to Perak on penalty shoot-out.
By the middle of 2019, the big transition and modernisation of the club continued with the team as Nafuzi Zain took over the reins from Irfan Bakti and despite the 27 years gap of experience between the two, it can only be seen as a step forward for TFC to put their trust in someone younger but with far bigger potential.
The management's leap of faith in Nafuzi was to be proven right as the Kelantanese fused the team together in a style that is very easy on the eye and that is reflected by how almost every single new signing that they have made for the 2021 season has mentioned that it was Nafuzi's playing style that made them pick the club as their next destination.
2020 was a truncated season puntuated by the months and months of non-football because of the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic but TFC under Nafuzi still did enough to finish third in the league and subsequently because of the cancellation of both cup competitions, secured them a place in the 2021 AFC Cup.
Heading into the new season, there's another big revolution that is going on at TFC, showing their bravery in discarding proven players like Lee Tuck and Sanjar Shaakmedov, and taking that next step in revamping the squad by filling it with younger but no less talented players.
The pick of the bunch are undoubtedly Nik Akif Syahiran and Faisal Halim, the former a prodigious central midfielder with a keen eye for the final pass and the latter a pacy wide forward with the propensity for goals. While looking outwards for talented players, the academy players are not forgotten with four players from the TFCII and TFCIII squads gaining promotion to the first team for the new season.
With so many changes in the playing squad compared to last season, the immediate challenge which Nafuzi will face is to embed the new players with the philosophy of the team and ensuring that everyone gets on-board the system at TFC while at the same time, quickly figuring out the best combination for competitive matches.
JDT owner, HRH Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim mentioned TFC as one of the main challengers for honours in 2021 and while Nafuzi will look to run the 7-time champions close, they are unlikely to dethrone the reigning champions as this coming season looks increasingly like the second part of TFC's own revolution.
A long way round to the top of the pile but if Terengganu Football Club continues to place every brick correctly, it will be a matter of when rather than if they will ever each the top.