Faris Ramli, Shakir Hamzah and Khairul Amri on the move
Shakir, Faris and Amri to have new employers; while Hariss, Safuwan and Kedah coach Aidil continue stints across the Causeway
Three Singaporean footballers who were plying their trade in the Malaysian Super League (MSL) will be playing for new clubs next season.
Defender Shakir Hamzah has been released by Kedah after two successful campaigns in Alor Setar, Faris Ramli's Terengganu have culled all their foreign players, while Khairul Amri's Felda United have been booted out of the Malaysian league.
Lions captain Hariss Harun, who has a contract with MSL champions Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) until the end of the 2021 season, told The New Paper: "For the last couple of years, we have had a few players here and there in Malaysia.
"Whenever we play (each other) there is a little bit of rivalry. They are all quality players, I'm sure they will be in demand within Malaysia itself, if not around the region...
"In Malaysia... despite the budget cuts, they will be in demand, for sure."
One player who seems to be highly coveted is Shakir. According to Harian Metro, the 28-year-old is attracting interest from Perak, Kuala Lumpur and Pahang.
Kedah's Singaporean coach Aidil Sharin said Shakir, who was named in the MSL Team of the Season last year, was let go as the team will be relying on just one foreign defender for next season - Brazilian Renan Alves.
Aidil, who coached Shakir for the last three years at Home United then Kedah, said: "This is a tactical plan and the club agreed with my plan, so we'll move on from there...
"Overall, I can say he's been good, he contributed a lot. Now what we want is to move on to 2021 and not look backwards."
Aidil himself is definitely looking forward, having signed a one-year extension to his contract till the end of next season.
Since he joined Kedah in October 2018, he has won the Malaysian FA Cup, reached the final of the Malaysia Cup and finished second in the MSL.
"The two years have been great, so I'm definitely looking forward to the third year," the 43-year-old said.
"After the third year, maybe I want to try a new challenge... It depends (on) if there is a better team in Malaysia. If not, I want to try to go to Indonesia to further my (coaching and try a new) challenge."
Like Aidil, national defender Safuwan Baharudin is extending his stint in Malaysia.
Selangor announced last week that the 29-year-old will stay at the club for the 2021 campaign, which will be his sixth year with a Malaysian outfit.
His national teammate Faris, 28, meanwhile, declined to comment until he secures his next contract.
However, the reasons for his departure from Terengganu have been made clear by the club's chief operating officer Mohd Sabri Abas, who told Malaysia's Berita Harian that the club's foreign contingent were released due to team planning and financial factors.
He added that the club were cutting costs by 20-30 per cent for next season.
Various reports in the Malaysian media have suggested that Covid-19 has prompted cost-cutting measures in the country's football ecosystem.
The New Straits Times reported that all MSL clubs ended last season in the red and are expected to trim their budgets by between 30-40 per cent next season, adding that players have been forced to accept less attractive non-negotiable contract extensions or risk being released.
The Malaysian Football League's chief executive officer Abdul Ghani Hassan said RM40 million (S$13.1m) is a "ballpark figure for... how much the football industry would have lost this year".
In late March, JDT's players, coaches and staff took a 33 per cent pay cut "to help the club and society ease their burden during this testing time".
A portion of their wages was donated to the Johor Disaster Fund to help those afflicted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Hariss, 30, who championed the initiative at the time, told TNP he is not sure if JDT would institute any wage reductions for next season.
Malaysia's wealthiest club made a RM35m loss for this year after the MSL season was truncated and played behind closed doors, with the Malaysia Cup cancelled altogether due to a spike in Covid-19 cases in the country.
JDT's Asian Champions League campaign was similarly curtailed after Malaysia's National Security Council denied them permission to travel to Qatar to play out the remainder of the tournament.