Zesh Rehman: It's an honour to captain Pahang in Malaysia
We are on the verge of the 2016 Malaysia Super League (MSL) and I have been handed the captaincy for what could be a challenging season for Pahang, with so many new players coming in.
The responsibility of leading the squad in my third year in Kuantan is a huge honour, which I am very excited about.
I've captained Football League teams in England, including Bradford City for two years, Fulham's reserves and also the Pakistan national side. But I realise that this will be a very different kind of challenge.
We have a very young squad, with three new import players and a freshly appointed head coach, so it's going to be a season of transition, which will require patience and understanding from the fans.
From last season's squad, strikers Dickson Nwakaeme and Matias Conti have both moved on, along with my friend and former QPR teammate, Damion Stewart.
In the football industry, players come and go so I want to wish that talented trio, plus the local players who have left the club -- including Hafiz Kamal, Razman Rozali, 'Alex' Azamuddin Akil, R. Gopinathan and R. Surendran -- all the best with their new ventures. It was such a pleasure playing with these guys and, indeed, under Zainal Abidin Hassan.
Zainal, who has a new challenge at Selangor, is an excellent coach but more importantly a really good man. I am grateful to him for bringing me to Malaysia a little over two years ago and look forward to facing his Red Giants this season.
Our new foreigners are two Slovenians in centre-back Nejc Potokar and forward Dalibor Volas and an Argentine in striker German Pacheco. For all of them, it will be their first experience of being with an Asian club.
They're all 28 years old or below and will be part of a much more youthful squad than last season.
With young players you automatically get an injection of enthusiasm and hunger, which, it could be argued, was missing in the latter stages of last season from a big chunk of the squad who had won so much silverware -- including consecutive Malaysia Cups -- in the previous two years.
Hopefully, the likes of myself, defenders Saiful Nizwan and Shahrizan Salleh and goalkeeper Nasril Nourdin can use all of our experience to pass on to the younger guys on the first rungs of the professional football ladder.
Behind the scenes, all of the staff at Pahang have been working incredibly hard, from CEO Fahrizal Hasan, all the way to the office staff. They are trying to ensure that the new project gets off to a good start, but more importantly, is sustainable over a number of years.
Entering my third season in Malaysia at the age of 32, I would like to end my career with Pahang and be here for the long term. It's a fantastic club with the best fans in Malaysia. My son was born in Kuantan and my family love life on Malaysia's east coast. I have had offers to go elsewhere, but my loyalty lies here unless told otherwise.
I think the usual suspects will be challenging for a place at the top of the table, including Johor Darul Ta'zim and Selangor. But there could also be a few surprise packages as there always seems to be in Malaysia. Felda's artificial pitch could be an advantage for them as it was many times for LionsXII during the last few years. There are no easy games in the MSL and many of the teams are evenly matched. The newly promoted sides, Kedah and Penang, are also very well organised teams who will be hard to beat.
Our first game is at home on Saturday night against T-Team. It will be difficult against a team who won a recent MSL playoff against ATM FA but it is vitally important that we start with a victory. And we don't have to look too far ahead to see a reunion with former coach Zainal and the quartet of former Pahang players when we host Selangor on Feb. 27.
For their sake, I hope the returning group don't go into the home dressing room at the Darul Makmur Stadium by mistake. Or I don't run towards Zainal on the bench in celebration if we happen to score an early goal.
Zesh Rehman is an English-born former Fulham and QPR defender, now with Malaysian club Pahang. He represents Pakistan in international football.