Not too soon for Myanmar’s Aung Thu to think about next move

John Duerden John Duerden

Despite only just arriving at Police Tero FC, John Duerden reckons Aung Thu should already be considering his next move.

When you look at the list of the top scorers in the Thai league then the familiar name of Diogo is at the summit. The Brazilian has been a feature for some time and fans up and down the Land of Smiles have become accustomed to the sight of the forward banging in another goal for Buriram United.

As impressive as Diogo has been, and he has been very impressive, it helps that he plays for the best team in the country and the best team in the whole of Southeast Asia. It is obviously easier to score goals when you play for a side that dominates games and creates plenty of chances. Just as the coach who wins the league with the best team tends to be awarded the individual coaching prizes, the players who play for the best teams get something similar.

But look down the list and Aung Thu’s name jumps out. The Myanmar forward has eight goals to his name after 14 games this season. This is hugely impressive due to the fact that he plays for Police Tero, by no means a powerhouse in Thai football and currently in the bottom half of the league.

There is almost more pressure in playing for Police Tero than Buriram. When you have a defence that concedes almost two goals a game then the forwards know that they can’t afford to miss too many chances. Buriram have a miserly backline that gives the strikers the confidence to know that even if they miss, the points should still be in the bag. Miss for Police Tero and that may well not be the case and it could cost the boss his job (this is Thailand after all).

Diogo has been in Thailand for some time and heading overseas is part of Brazilian football culture, with thousands of compatriots around the world. You could count the number of professional Myanmar players outside the country using your fingers. Until not that long ago, any foreign team that wanted to sign a player from Myanmar had to wait until the deal had been approved or rejected at cabinet level.

It is telling that the Myanmar players who have left the country in the last couple of years have gone either to Singapore, three players joined Balestier Khalsa in 2017 with the club situated in the area of Singapore that had traditionally been home to Myanmar immigrants, or Thailand, just across the border.

Even staying within Southeast Asia is not easy and this can be overlooked. It is telling that Cambodia star Keo Sokpheng (Cambodia’s history of exporting players is similar to Myanmar’s) did not last long with PKNP FC in Malaysia and has already headed home. Chan Vathanaka is Cambodia’s biggest star but has been told more than once by Pahang coach Dollah Salleh to up his game.

So for Aung Thu to leave his homeland for the first time and shine in a mid-table (usually at best) club is hugely impressive. It is not just the goals but the all-round play and how he has grown in confidence with his team-mates and is becoming more influential with how the team plays going forward. All this at the age of 21.

If the annual awards were given out at this stage of the season then Aung Thu would deserve serious consideration. He has exceeded expectations and shown that all the talk of the talent coming through in Myanmar was not hype. More Thai clubs will be heading to Yangon later this year to look at more local talent and this is partly because of the impression that Aung Thu has made.

Already, he should start thinking of the next step. Next season, Aung Thu needs to be playing for a bigger and better club that is not destined for mid-table mediocrity. There is no need to feel guilty about considering this so soon –if he had not performed, Police Tero would be unlikely to show much patience.

Eventually he needs to be thinking about leaving Southeast Asia but at 21 he has time to move up the Thai ladder to teams such as Buriram and Bangkok United. Aung Thu needs and deserves to be playing in the AFC Champions League to show all of Asia what he has been showing fans in Thailand.