Felda United demoted for licence failure; Negeri Sembilan rise to MSL
Felda United will play in Malaysia's Premier League (MPL) next year after being demoted for a failure to submit the documentation required to renew their licence.
Football Malaysia Limited Liability Partnership (FMLLP) announced that the team that finished this year's Malaysia Super League (MSL) campaign in third place would not be granted a reprieve for failing to meet their October deadline.
It is a huge blow for the Fighters, who finished the 2017 MSL season strongly, including earning a victory over champions Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) in September.
They were expected to be one of the biggest threats to JDT's hopes of winning a fifth successive MSL crown in 2018.
The decision is indicative of a zero tolerance policy towards teams that cannot produce evidence to demonstrate their sustainability.
FMLLP chief executive officer Kevin Ramalingam explained on the FMLLP Facebook page that there was no room for flexibility on these matters, even if it was regrettable to see a top tier club relegated for matters unrelated to football.
Earlier in the year Kelantan, T-Team, ATM and Perlis were issued with six-point deductions for a failure to comply with registration regulations, while Kelantan were restricted to the signing of one foreign player having failed to convince the FMLLP of their ability to manage their financial affairs.
Kelantan's sanction was later reduced to three points on appeal.
"The time to take things seriously has already come," Ramalingam said. "If the points' deduction and transfer restrictions last season was not indication enough for people to take the Malaysian League seriously, then this certainly is."
He also credited FMLLP chairman Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim with ensuring a stricter and more consistent approach to these matters.
"You have to perform, you have to comply and you have to keep everything, especially your accounts, up-to-date," Ramalingam said.
Felda are the second MSL team to drop out of the top tier for non-footballing reasons, with T-Team having withdrawn as part of a restructuring exercise by the FA of Terengganu.
But there is no reprieve for Sarawak and Penang, whose relegation from the MSL to the MPL stands.
Instead, two more teams will be promoted from the MPL. PKNP and Negeri Sembilan, who finished third and fourth respectively this year, move up to the MSL as replacements for Felda and T-Team.
The FMLLP insisted that "sporting merit" was the key factor in deciding how to resolve the challenge over which teams played in which league.
Bangkok-based Paul Murphy has lived in Asia for a decade, writing for ESPN FC since 2014. He is a former Daily Express sub-editor. @PaulMurphyBKK