Aung Thu ready to be Myanmar’s trailblazer

John Duerden John Duerden

John Duerden analyses Myanmar star forward Aung Thu’s move to the Thai League T1 side Police Tero.

The move that football fans in Myanmar have been waiting for has finally happened. Aung Thu has crossed the border to join Thailand’s Police Tero. From 2018, one of the best forwards in Southeast Asia will be able to test himself in the best league in Southeast Asia. Not only that, he will be representing Myanmar. It is a big deal in more ways than one.

It is a chance not to see how good the 21 year-old striker really is but a chance to see how good he can become.

In football terms, this is the logical progression in what has already been an impressive career. A standout in Myanmar’s appearance at the Under-20 World Cup where he scored against hosts New Zealand, Aung continued to shine at the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup.

On home soil, he led the White Angels out of the group stage and into a hard-fought semi-final against eventual champions Thailand. Then becoming joint top scorer at the 2017 SEA Games confirmed that the Yadanarbon FC striker man was ready for the next step.

And the next step had to be to Thailand.

The package is there to succeed. The acceleration and ability to find space in the area produces the goals to help a team win games but the vision and intelligence lift it to new levels.

These qualities will be tested and improved in the Thai Premier League next season. Myanmar’s league has improved but is still some way behind its eastern neighbour in terms of standards.

His team-mates and opponents will be better. Myanmar teams compete in the AFC Cup. Thailand’s are capable of reaching the latter stages of the AFC Champions League, demonstrating that they can more than live with opposition from China, Japan, Australia and South Korea.

This means that the standard of defending is better. He is a big star in his homeland but for defenders who have taken on the likes of Hulk, Lee Dong-guk and Paulinho in Asian club football and the continent’s best in qualification for the 2018 World Cup, Aung Thu will not be seen as anything special. It is up to him to change all that.

Also higher is the pressure to perform. A couple of bad results in Thailand and the coach is out of a job. This is not always conducive to long-term development but it does mean that players have to perform in every game. Aung Thu will be expected to score and his reputation back home will count for little.

He is joining a team that struggled last season and were the second-lowest scorers. That means there should be opportunities to play, and hopefully the service will be there.

While the immediate target is to settle and impress, in the longer term, there should be more. What Aung needs to do is to succeed at his new club and then join one of the big boys, a team that plays in the Champions League against the best of Asia. Do that and who knows? He could then be moving to an even bigger league further east such as Korea, China and Japan.

That is in the future. For now, the move may be a short trip geographically but in terms of what it means for Myanmar football, it is rich in symbolism. Players rarely move abroad.

The S-League’s Balestier Khalsa bucked a trend and signed a trio last season. The feeling was that having three Myanmar players rather than one would help the imports settle. It also helped that the club is located in a part of Singapore that has been the traditional home to the city-state’s Myanmar community.

Singapore apart, there has been little movement. In the past, it was a bureaucratic nightmare to do deals in Myanmar as they had to be approved at the cabinet level. It is easier now but the national team is full of players who play at home.

That needs to change and having the biggest star showing the way is perfect. Aung Thu has the talent and knowhow to score goals in Thailand and has the reputation and standing at home to ensure that his compatriots will be watching his progress.

Success means that more Myanmar players will be in demand and more Myanmar players will have the confidence to go. That is not to say that all the White Angels should be heading overseas but having a reasonable proportion of the squad in Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia will be healthy.

There’s plenty of pressure then on Aung Thu. Pressure to succeed at a new club in a new country and pressure to show everyone – at home and abroad – that Myanmar players have what it takes to shine overseas. He can handle it.