By Gabriel Tan
Normally, fans have to bear with an agonising wait during the off-season as they eagerly anticipate the start of a new campaign that brings with it renewed hope and optimism.
However, for the supporters of Darul Takzim, who were known as Johor FC last term, the last few months have been far from intolerable as they watched their side announce their arrival as a rising force in Malaysian football with a plethora of big-name signings.
Harimau Selatan's two foreign player slots have been filled up by Spain international Dani Guiza, who was part of the side that won Euro 2008, and Italian wing-back Simone Del Nero, who spent five seasons with Serie A giants Lazio.
Apart from that, the Johor-based side also captured the imagination of the nation as they announced their capture of several Malaysia internationals, including Safee Sali, Safiq Rahim, Norshahrul Idlan Talaha, Aidil Zafuan and Azmi Muslim, who all played at the recently-concluded AFF Suzuki Cup.
Given the reinforcements they have made, Darul Takzim have already been installed by many as favourites to win the league this season and Fandi believes it is now up to the players to match those expectations, starting with Tuesday's opener against Pahang.
"We are all very excited for the first game," he told ESPNSTAR.com. "We have assembled a new team and now it's time to see how we fare.
"As you know, we have signed a few big names and this first game against Pahang will be a good test for us.
"On paper, you could say we are one of the contenders but in football, the true story will unfold on the field. All I can say is that we have a very determined side.
"After all the talk, it's up to the players to live up to their names and the expectations and I believe they can do just that."
Although Darul Takzim have shown promising signs in pre-season, including a 5-1 rout of Great Eastern-YEO's S.League outfit Woodlands Wellington two weeks ago, their boss believes there remains room for improvement.
Still, Fandi is hoping to get the campaign off to a good start by beating Tok Gajah at the Darulmakmur Stadium, a result he believes his side can then build on.
"The first game will be important as it will be our first test," the legendary Singapore forward admitted. "The important thing is that we pick up the three points.
"I think we'll need four to give games before we fully gel and play as a cohesive unit."
Despite being a relatively young side when compared to some of Malaysia's traditional giants, Darul Takzim have done well in the top flight and finished in the top four for three straight seasons from 2007 to 2010.
Having had to settle for a 9th-placed finish in the league last term, Fandi concedes the onus is on them to put a smile back on the faces of their fans.
"I'm sure the fans know not to get too carried away at the start," he added.
"They've watched us in pre-season and they will know we haven't been at our best. Some of the players have only just joined us after returning from international duty.
"But understandably, expectations are high and we are hoping to provide some joy to the fans and give them something to cheer about."
Even if Darul Takzim are to be crowned champions of Malaysia for the first time in their history come July, they would have had to do it the hard way given the coming campaign is shaping up as one of the most-competitive in the league's history.
Defending champions Kelantan remain a real threat, while newly-promoted ATM, perennial challengers Selangor and Singaporean outfit LIONSXII are all regarded as challengers for the title.
But as level-headed as he was during his playing days, Fandi believes every side will start as equals when the campaign kicks off on Tuesday.
"For me, everyone is a threat because we must beat everyone if we want to be one of the contenders," the 50-year-old explained.
"Just like how it's not about one or two big names but everyone in the team, it's also not just about one or two big sides but every team in the competition. Everyone deserves to be labelled a contender.
"The important thing is that we put in hard work - through that we can achieve our goals, and I'm prepared for what lies ahead."
Fandi spent last season in the role of team manager of the side, before being handed the coaching reins following the departure of Sazali Saidon.