Malaysia play the Fifa game

IT is official. The 2023 Super League will become an 18-team competition instead of 12.

As reported by Timesport last week, the M-League will be revamped and expanded.

The objective of the unexpected move is to improve the dynamism and competitiveness of the country's professional football league.

The Malaysian Football League (MFL) announced the new direction of the league today following an agreement by the league stakeholders at an extraordinary general meeting.

MFL's restructuring of the domestic football pyramid is seen as in line with the changes and demands of modern football. It is also part of the evolving commercial aspects of the industry. The revamp, it is said, will give more emphasis to the development of local talents.

Among the major reforms announced yesterday are: the top flight Super League will be an 18-team competition. The Premier League will be put on hold before being relaunched as a Semi-Pro League with the implementation of an in-depth club development programme aside the Amateur Football League (AFL) for M3 League amateur teams.

The 2022 Premier League's bottom two teams will face the top two M3 League teams for the 17th and 18th spots in the 2023 Super League.

If they (M3 clubs) prevail, they must still fulfil MFL's club licensing criteria before being allowed to compete in the Super League.

The 2023 Super League will be supported by the Reserve League, which will provide the stage for Under-23 player development.

Each Super League team will be allowed to list five overage players in the Reserve League, but only three overage players, including imports (a maximum of two), will be allowed to be on the pitch. This will guarantee play-time for at least eight local Under-23 players at any time.

Super League teams will now be allowed to sign up to nine foreign players on their roster, but MFL will maintain the current quota of five imports — 3+1 (Asian Football Confederation) +1 (Asean) — on the pitch at any one time with the addition of one import player on the bench to ensure that local player slots on the pitch are maintained.

MFL president Datuk Ab Ghani Hassan said workshops will be held to educate M-League teams to be prepared for the 2023 season.

"The restructuring of the M-League has received the support of MFL members, and we will now head to prepare for the revamp next season," said Ghani.

"The expansion of the number of teams in the Super League is based on the recommendation of Fifa, and we believe with more matches it will be beneficial for the national team with players getting more playing time as well as the increase of revenue for teams as they now have more matches to host.

"MFL aim for the M-League to be on the Asian football map, whereby this restructuring is seen as a positive step for all parties in the local football industry. We acknowledge the AFC's vision for all affiliates to increase their standards consistently, and we do not want Malaysian clubs to fall behind in the development of football in this region."

MFL chief executive officer Stuart Ramalingam admitted that the changes are not easy and he hopes the teams take up the challenge.

"We understand that change is not always easy, but it is often necessary and unavoidable. We hope that all relevant parties are open to this restructuring and take up the challenge to develop Malaysian football."

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