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 By Nicolas Anil

JDT, Pahang, Kedah secure top players to lead race for 2017 MSL title

With the 2017 Malaysia Super League (MSL) kicking off on Friday night, many teams are still in the hunt to secure last-minute signings for the best possible start to the new campaign.

Like any season, some clubs have splurged big to make a statement, while a few were more frugal with their spending.

With many teams still yet to complete their players' registration before the MSL opener -- the Charity Shield between Johor Darul Ta'zim and Kedah -- here are the main ins and outs so far.

Johor Darul Ta'zim  

The reigning MSL champions may have lost their two Argentine strikers in Jorge Pereyra Diaz and Juan Martin Lucero, but have replaced them with sufficient firepower from the same country, following the purchases of Gonzalo Cabrera and Jeronimo Barrales.

The Southern Tigers are also putting their faith in more local talent for 2017. Ahmad Hazwan Bakri headlines the local injection, along with his teammates Nazmi Faiz and R. Gopinathan, who were all reeled in from Selangor.

Darren Lok, who featured only 45 minutes for JDT II in 2016, has also been promoted to the main squad.

IN: Afiq Fazail (JDT II), Darren Lok (JDT II), Safawi Rasid (T-Team), Ahmad Hazwan Bakri (Selangor), Nazmi Faiz (Selangor),, Syahrul Azwari (Sarawak), Brian Ferreira (Independiente), Gonzalo Cabrera (Al-Faisaly), R. Gopinathan (Selangor), Jeronimo Barrales (Club Atletico Huracan)

OUT: Jorge Pereyra Diaz (TBC), Azniee Taib (JDT II), Jasazrin Jamaluddin (Perak), Asaruddin Putra (Penang), K. Sasikumar (JDT II), Amri Yahyah (Melaka United), Safee Sali (PKNS FC), Hariss Harun (TBC, loan), Nazmi Faiz (TBC, loan), Juan Martin Lucero (Club Tijuana)

Kedah

The 2016 Malaysia Cup champions have retained the core of their squad after an outstanding season which also saw them finish third in the MSL and reach the FA Cup semifinals.

The biggest change for Kedah comes through their foreign personnel, which has witnessed three new arrivals in Ken Ilso, Zachary Anderson and Sandro. They replace the successful trio of Thaigo Augusto, Shane Smeltz and Bang Seung-Hwan.

Tan Cheng Hoe's vibrant side are also emphasising a need for young talent after the club promoted a host of players from the Bukit Jalil Sports School.

IN: Fitri Omar (Penang), Akram Mahinan (JDT II), Suhail Sofian (SSBJ), Izwan Iskandar (SSBJ),, Zulfakar Khairuddin (SSBJ), Al Imran Halim (SSBJ), Syafiq Shamsudin (SSBJ),, Zulfahamzie Tarmizi (SSBJ),, Ken Ilso (Home United), Zac Anderson (Emirates Club)

OUT: Azmeer Yusof (Kuala Lumpur), Sabre Mat Abu (PKNS FC), Bang Seung-Hwan (TBC), Thiago Augusto (TBC), Amar Rohidan (TBC), Shane Smeltz (Wellington Phoenix), Syazwan Abdullah (Melaka United), Shazuan Ashraf (Felcra FC)

Kedah's Ken Ilso
Danish striker Ken Ilso has joined Kedah from S.League giants Home United.

Pahang

The Elephants have transformed into league contenders for the new season after barely surviving the drop in 2016.

Dollah Salleh returns to the side he won the Malaysia Cup with in 2013. Four years on, he is trying to reinvigorate the team with the same winning formula, and has signed an array of big-name midfielders to solidify his team.

Christie Jayaseelan, Nurridzuan Abu Hassan, Ashari Shamsudin and Wan Zaharulnizam are some of the talented players at his disposal, while an entirely new foreign cavalry also joins his revolution. Judging by the quality and depth of this team, Pahang should aim for nothing less than a top-three finish.

IN: Muslim Ahmad (Kelantan), Wan Zaharulnizam (Kelantan), Ahmad Syamim Yahya (Felda United), Christie Jayaseelan (Felda United), Nurridzuan Abu Hassan (Perak), Joseph Kallang Tie (Terengganu), Ahmad Nordin Alias (Terengganu), Zubir Azmi (Terengganu), Ashari Shamsudin (Terengganu), Afif Amiruddin (Perlis), Mohamadou Sumareh (Perlis), Kiko Insa (Bali United), Heo Jae-Won (Dibba Al-Fujairah), Julius Oiboh (Bueung Ket Angkor),

OUT: Fauzi Roslan (Melaka United), Sharie Zahari (Shahzan Muda), Nasril Nourdin (Perlis), D. Saarvindran (JDT II), Jailton, Claudio Meneses, Pablo Vranjican, Faysal Shayesteh

Felda United

The 2016 MSL runners-up will have to manage expectations, now that they have also qualified for the AFC Cup.

New coach Azmi Mohamed had decided to release Francis Forkey Doe and Christie Jayaseelan, who were among the inspiration behind their gallant run. But he has retained Shukor Adan and Zah Rahan Krangar, who were also key men under Irfan Bakti.

Norshahrul Idlan Talaha, Wan Zack Haikal and Fazrul Hazli will be useful additions for the new season, and much will also be expected from Argentine strikers Gaston Cellerino and Lucas Cano.

IN: Norshahrul Idlan Talaha (Terengganu), Wan Zack Haikal (Kelantan), Fazrul Hazli (Perak), Fakrul Aiman (PDRM FA), Farid Ramli (PKNS FC), Gaston Cellerino (Club Bolivar), Lucas Cano (Argentinos Juniors), Brenth Griffiths

OUT: Abdul Shukor Jusoh (Terengganu), Gilberto Alemao, Syamim Yahya (Pahang), Christie Jayaseelan (Pahang), S. Sivanesen (PKNS FC), Bobby Gonzales (PKNS FC), Francis Forkey Doe (Selangor), Thiago Augusto (Manama Club), Lutfulla Turaev (Terengganu)

Melaka United

The 2016 Premier League champions' marquee signing Amri Yahyah will add to the burgeoning fanfare Melaka have been building, ahead of their first season back in the MSL after a decade.

With the arrival of Australian coach Eric Williams, much of the squad has been changed. Other names include Tokyo-born Malaysian born youngster Tam Sheang Tsung, who was unveiled with former Arsenal and Chelsea striker Nicolas Anelka at Chinese moneybags Shanghai Shenhua in 2012. Plus, there's Sergio Aguero, who is not related to the Manchester City striker, and Ghana defender Godwin Antwi.

IN: Omid Nazari (Global FC), Godwin Antwi (DRB-Hicom), Izzaq Faris Ramlan (T-Team), Abdul Thaufiq (PJ Rangers), Norhadi Ubaidillah (Kuala Lumpur), Nazri Ahmad (Kuala Lumpur), Syazwan Abdullah (Kedah), Firdaus Muhammad (Penang), Fazli Paat (JDT II), Ezrie Shafizie (Felda United), Fauzi Roslan (Pahang), Faizal Muhammad (PDRM), Akmal Ishak (JDT II), Tam Sheang Tsung (Gainare Tottori), Ashvin Tharumanathan (University of Queensland), Sergio Aguero (FC Tatabanya)

OUT: Alexander Tudose (released), Labinot Harbuzi (released), Yashir Pinto (Perak), Ezrie Shafizie (Felda United), Ferris Daniel (Felda United), Syazwan Yusoff (Kelantan), See Kok Luen (PJ Rangers), Solehin Mamat (Kuala Lumpur), Fiqri Azwan (Felcra FC), R. Barath Kumar (PJ Rangers)

PKNS FC

The Red Ants are already beginning to establish themselves as Selangor's biggest side for 2017, boasting a squad injected with proven talent in addition to an already well balanced unit thriving under E. Elavarasan.

The retro-looking handler's most influential coup comes with the arrival of Safee Sali, who is already looked to by his teammates as a leader.

Patrick "Ronaldinho" Wleh, who scored 20 goals for Selangor while on loan in 2016, returns to compliment the veteran striker with his brute strength and guaranteed goals. The duo fills in the void left by Argentines Juan Manuel Cobelli and Gabriel Guerra.

IN: Khyril Muhymeen (Petaling Jaya Rangers), Zamir Selamat (Perak), Azmi Muslim (Selangor), Patrick "Ronaldinho" Wleh (Selangor - on loan), Affize Faisal Mamat (Terengganu), Bobby Gonzales (Felda United), K. Gurusamy (Sarawak), S. Sivanesen (Felda United), Azmizi Azmi (Perlis), Safee Sali (JDT), Lucas Espindola (All Boys), Sabree Mat Abu (Kedah)

OUT: Farid Ramli (Felda United), Remezy Che Ros (Kuala Lumpur), Juan Manuel Cobelli, Gabriel Guerra (JDT II), Shahurain Abu Samah (PDRM FA), Farderin Kadir (Negeri Sembilan FA)

Perak FA
Perak have recruited well and will be hoping for a good run in the 2017 campaign.

Perak FA

Karl-Heinz Weigang will be optimistic of another promising season with the team he has saved on multiple occasions. The wily German returned to the Bos Gaurus for a third stint in 2016, and lifted the side from relegation candidates to finish sixth.

Weigang was insistent at having all team reins before he signed a new deal, and his charisma has lured some quality signings to the silver state.

Selangor duo Shahrom Kalam and Hafiz Kamal could rediscover their form, not forgetting Zaquan Adha, who could find a new lease of life under Weigang. Former German U19 midfielder Faton Toski has been drafted in to lead the firing line, while Yashir Pinto is another shrewd signing from Melaka United.

IN: Khairul Amri (Penang), Nazrin Nawi (JDT), Jasazrin Jamaluddin (JDT), Nizad Ayub (MOF FC), Yashir Pinto (Melaka United), Vladislav Mirchev (OFC Nesebar), Hafiz Kamal (Selangor), Shahrom Kalam (Selangor), Zaquan Adha (JDT II), Abdul Hadi Yahya (Selangor) Faton Toski (KF Laci)

OUT: Zamir Selamat (PKNS FC), Nurridzuan Abu Hassan (Pahang), Syazwan Roslan (Perlis), Oybek Kilichev, Xhehavir Sukaj, Elias Fernandes

Kelantan

The Red Warriors will be happy to compete in the 2017 MSL after almost pulling out due to a lack of sponsorship and financial constraints.

Zahasmi Ismail will have to make do with only three foreigners, led by the return of former marksman Mohammed Ghaddar. The Lebanese is a popular figure, having scored the winning goal for them in the 2012 FA Cup final.

But the east coast side have lost a few key players following the departures of Brendan Gan and Wan Zack Haikal, who will don Felda United colours this year. Australian defender John McKain has also left the team.

IN: Farisham Ismail (Penang), Faizol Nazlin (MOF FC), Abdul Aziz Ismail (Melaka United), Hasmizan Kamarodin (Terengganu), Okiki Afolabi (Talleres de Cordoba), Mohammed Ghaddar (Al-Faisaly), Cedric Djeugoue (IR Tanger)

OUT: Wan Zaharulnizam (Pahang), Muslim Ahmad (Pahang), Manaf Mamat (Kuala Lumpur), Brendan Gan (free agent), Wan Zack Haikal (Felda United), Baze Ilijoski (FK Pelister), Wander Luiz, Jonathan McKain (Souths United), Hazrul Mustafa (Negeri Sembilan)

Kelantan's Mohammad Ghaddar and Cedric Djeugoue
Mohammed Ghaddar and Cedrice Diegoue have joined Kelantan for the upcoming season.

Penang

The Panthers have secured Ashley Westwood to lead them for the new season, and the former Manchester United trainee comes with a big reputation. Westwood comes to Southeast Asia, having led Bengaluru FC to two I-League titles in three seasons between 2014 and 2016.

The Englishman, who is meticulous when it comes to diet and conditioning, has brought in some physique and experience to a youthful squad. Beefy fullback K. Reuben arrives from PDRM FA, along with the versatile Yong Kuong Yong, who returns from Terengganu.

Former Australia U23 international Diogo Ferreira and English-born Hong Kong centre-back Andrew Russell are among the imports roped in for the new season.

IN: Nigel Dabingyaba (Canterbury United), K. Reuben (PDRM FA), Yong Kuong Yong (Terengganu), Shazalee Ramlee (Kuantan FA), Diogo Ferreira (Persib Bandung), Andrew Russell (South China)

OUT: Fitri Omar (Kedah), Mazlizam Mohamad (Perlis), Farisham Ismail (Kelantan), Jeong Sok-min (released), Matias Cordoba (PS Barito), Ranti Martins (Released)

T-Team

The Titans will be content with another mid-table finish.

In Rahmad Darmawan, the Terengganu based side have a united team willing to do battle for each other. It is that same drive which took them to seventh in the 2016 MSL, despite being billed as heavy relegation prospects before the campaign.

Uzbekistan forward Farhod Tadjiyev is the biggest name bought in so far as Rahmad plots a way to get the best from his largely youthful-looking outfit.

IN: Hafidz Romly (DRB-Hicom), Farhod Tadjiyev (Olmaliq FK), Fakhurazi Musa (Terengganu), Fauzi Kadar (MISC-MIFA)

OUT: Izzaq Faris Ramlan (Melaka United), Safawi Rasid (JDT), Ilham Amirullah (Felda United), Wan Azraie (Pahang), Makan Konate, Patrick Cruz

Selangor

The Red Giants are looking more like mid-table settlers, or possible relegation battlers, after losing the core of their team due to massive internal politicking.

Ahmad Hazwan Bakri and R. Gopinathan have been shipped to JDT, and the squad was further depleted after Wleh also left. Francis Forkey Doe is the biggest coup for the seven-time league champions, who also retained their Italian-born Nigerian defender Ugo Ukah and Indonesian winger Andik Vermansyah.

New Selangor head coach P. Maniam is expected to push many President Cup youngsters to the forefront, while relying on experienced heads such as S. Veenod and Razman Roslan to help steer this raw team.

IN: Francis Forkey Doe (Felda United), Afiq Azmi (Negeri Sembilan), Abdul Halim Zainal (Sime Darby), K. Satish (PKNS FC)

OUT: Nazmi Faiz (JDT), Ahmad Hazwan Bakri (JDT), Azmi Muslim (PKNS FC), Patrick "Ronaldinho" Wleh (PKNS FC), Hafiz Kamal (Perak), Shahrom Kalam (Perak), Abdul Hadi Yahya (Perak), Mauro Olivi, R. Gopinathan (JDT)

Sarawak

The Crocs have snapped up some interesting foreign imports for their 2017 campaign. Philippines poster boy Mark Hartmann joins David Usop's troops after a good stint with S.League's Geylang International, where he scored eight goals in 11 appearances.

Demerson Costa, meanwhile, joins Sarawak from Brazilian club Chapecoense, who lost most of their team members in a tragic plane crash in November that killed 71 people. The Brazilian defender, who impressed Usop, was brought in along with Lee Jong-Ho and Croatian Mateo Roskam.

IN: Aidil Mohamad (Mukah FA), Mark Hartmann (Geylang International), Lee Jong-Ho (Svay Rieng), Mateo Roskam (Sime Darby), Demerson (Chapecoense)

OUT: K. Thanaraj, K. Gurusamy (PKNS FC), Junior Aprecido, Syahrul Azwari (JDT), Ndumba Makeche, Gilmar Jose

Nicolas Anil is a former Malay Mail and Goal.com Malaysia editor/writer who appears on BFM Radio as a football analyst. Twitter: @nicolas_anil.

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