Southern Tigers set to roar even louder

Should new signings Pablo Aimar (right) and Luciano Figueroa start to gel with the local lads, Johor Darul Takzim FC could be the team to beat this season. - BERNAMA Pic

By 6.30pm all the seats in the Larkin Stadium were packed for Johor Darul Takzim's (JDT) opening game of the season against Perak. It was the same scenario a year ago when JDT hosted the northerners in the second game of the season.
There were lots more people waiting outside without tickets, hoping for a miracle to get into the stadium.

While the expectations for the team are the same, a lot has changed for the Southern Tigers since. Nike are now their official kit sponsor, making JDT the first Malaysian team to have the famous swoosh on its jersey.
They are the first team in the country to have an electronic scoreboard. The pitch is even watered before the game starts.

Even beleaguered Cardiff City owner Tan Sri Vincent Tan made a surprise appearance at the match where he was the guest of Tengku Mahkota Johor (TMJ) Tunku Ismail. He presented the TMJ with a replica Cardiff City jersey.

But back to JDT, who are embarking on a more professional set-up and are doing things in a business-like way.

The season tickets are now numbered and fans who purchase these tickets don't have to arrive early for the games to ensure a good view.
The team also seem to be placing emphasis on merchandising and building a brand name, as can be seen by the products on sale.
Many wear the red and blue jerseys with pride these days.
More importantly, there is a change in the team line-up. If last season they had Daniel Guiza, this season they boast former Valencia and Benfica player Pablo Aimar, once dubbed the next Maradona.

Also onboard is Luciano Figueroa who played for River Plate, Boca Juniors and Panathinaikos.

These marquee signings are definitely going to pull the fans to watch the games live.

JDT have also brought in the likes of Amri Yahyah, Amirulhadi Zainal and Mahali Jasuli, all players who impressed last season.   

This will be a make or break season for the Southern Tigers. Last season, the team went off the boil after a good start. They lost in the FA Cup final to Kelantan and were knocked out of the Malaysia Cup by the same team. 
But while the atmosphere at Larkin Stadium on opening day was magical, I can’t say the same about the game. The team has yet to gel and it is quite obvious that it will take time before Aimar and Figueroa are on the same wavelength as the local lads.

There were lots of misplaced passes and there were times when Perak could have easily scored if they had had more composure. In the end, JDT emerged victors with two goals from Amri and Figueroa.

As the season progresses, and as the players begin to gel into a cohesive unit, JDT should emerge as the team to beat. It is important for Malaysian football that this happens so that other teams try to take a similar approach and look for funding. 
I can only hope that other teams in the competition become more professional and get tycoons such as Tan or even Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, who owns Queens Park Rangers, to back them.

They could take advantage of the growing interest in the league as teams such as Sarawak and Pahang play to full stadiums regularly.
Even Penang, which is in the second-tier Premier League, are reporting sold-out games.

As for now, I have a feeling that JDT are going to be the most hated team in the Malaysian league. In football however, that is not such a bad thing.

> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.
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