Thailand football: 2017 in review

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

It was another memorable year for Thailand football as Buriram United reclaimed their status as kings of Southeast Asia’s premier domestic competition.

In a dominant campaign, the Thunder Castle set a new record as they racked up 86 points from 34 games, losing just twice and finishing 14 points ahead of their nearest challengers.

There was less joy on the international front, however, as they endured a turbulent year that saw the departure of the legendary Kiatisuk Senamuang as national team coach.

Still, there was also the silver lining of in the form of Chanathip Songkrasin finally completing his move to Japan by joining Consadole Sapporo on loan, and the star playmaker has already shown enough to suggest he will be a real success.

Here, FOX Sports Asia looks back at all the standouts from the past 11 months in Thailand.

WHAT HAPPENED AT HOME

As mentioned previously, Buriram coasted to the Thai League T1 crown, hugely benefitting from the Brazilian strike partnership of Jaja Coelho and Diogo, which combined for an astounding 61 of the 85 goals they scored.

Bitter rivals Muangthong United settled for a runners-up finish but had some consolation by winning the League Cup to go along with their impressive run in the AFC Champions League.

Looking further down the rankings, Chiangrai also can be pleased with what they achieved in 2017 as they won the FA Cup to go along with their fourth-place league finish, while Pattaya United and Port will be satisfied with their top-half positions on the table.

TOP OF THE LOT

It is hard to look past league champions Buriram, but there is an argument that Muangthong had an equally-successful campaign even if they came up short in their league title bid.

Aside from their triumphant run in the League Cup, the Twin Qilins, also garnered plenty of plaudits for continental displays.

Winning three out of their six Champions League group games, Muangthong showed they could match it with top teams from Japan, South Korea and Australia and reached the Round of 16, where they were ultimately eliminated by Kawasaki Frontale.

But, for a side brimming with national team stars, a better showing in the league is a must.

NEEDS IMPROVEMENT

Harsh as it may seem, third-placed Bangkok United really could have done better in one key aspect: defending.

Mano Polking got his charges playing scintillating attacking football and they recorded a staggering 97 goals in the league, 12 more than the second-best offence in Buriram.

Full Time Chiangrai United 4-2 Bangkok United. BUFC lost in the final game of 2017 Chang FA Cup.

A post shared by Bangkok United (@bangkok_united) on

However, their 57 goals conceded cost them a genuine tilt at becoming champions as they had worse defensive record than 13th-placed Navy.

Traditional heavyweights Chonburi would also have been expecting more than a 7th-place finish, which ultimately saw club legend Therdsak Chaiman step down as coach.

STARS OF THE SEASON

Thitipan Puangchan (Chiangrai United)

Having been earmarked as a future star since he came through the ranks of Muangthong six years ago, Thitipan Puangchan finally looks ready to rise to the next level after taking some time to find his feet.

Since moving to Chiangrai, the central midfielder has established himself as one of the best No. 8s in the country played an integral role in his club’s recent rise.

Once a hot prospect, now a genuine star?

There is currently a vacancy in the Thailand side for an all-action midfield playmaker, one capable of providing energy and creativity in equal measure.

Now a regular face in the national team setup, it is up to Thitipan to make that position his own.

Dragan Boskovic (Bangkok United)

With 2017 being his fifth year in Thailand, opposition defences should have by now been familiar with the threat Dragan Boskovic poses.

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A post shared by Dragan Boskovic (@bole_07) on

Knowing what he is capable of one thing, preventing him from doing what he does best – scoring goals – is another, and that is exactly what the one-time Montenegro international did.

Plundering 38 goals en-route to claiming the Golden Boot award, the powerful striker known as “Bole” is clearly at a superior level and there will be plenty of clubs around the continent keen on his services.

Teerasil Dangda (Muangthong United)

He may be one of Thai football’s most-established names and is about to enter his thirties next June, but Teerasil Dangda has shown no signs of slowing down just yet.

The Muangthong star was the only local to lead his respective team’s scorers list across all 18 T1 clubs with 14 goals to his name, four more than the next best in Bangkok Glass forward Surachat Sareepim and BEC Tero Sasana’s Wichan Nantasri on ten goals each.

As he approaches his peak, and having previously made less of an impact than he would have liked in his overseas spells with Manchester City and Almeria, there is no better time for Teerasil to have a successful stint abroard, especially with Japanese side Kawasaki Frontale lining up a move for him.

NATIONAL TEAM REPORT CARD

For the past four years, it has been a walk in the park for the War Elephants as they coasted to two AFF Suzuki Cup titles, two Southeast Asian (SEA) Games gold medals and qualification for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup under Kiatisuk.

But, after what was perceived by Football Association of Thailand (FAT) as unsatisfactory displays in the final round of Asian qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Kiatisuk was replaced by Serb Milovan Rajevac in April.

ผมขอขอบคุณทุกกำลังใจที่ส่งมาให้ผมและทีมงานของผมตลอด4-5ปีที่ผมได้รับเกียรติสูงสุดในชีวิต ที่เข้ามาทำงานในฐานะโค้ชทีมชาติไทย วันนี้ผมขอประกาศยุติบทบาทในการเป็นหัวหน้าผู้ฝึกสอนทีมชาติไทย และจะดำเนินการเคลียร์งานต่างๆส่งต้นสังกัดภายใน 90 วัน ผมขอขอบคุณนักฟุตบอลทุกคน ทีมงานของผมทุกคน แฟนบอลทุกท่าน รวมถึงขอบคุณครอบครัวที่อยู่ข้างหลังผมตลอดมาครับ⚽??

A post shared by Kiatisuk Senamuang (@coach_zico) on

Thus far, Rajevac has yet to taste victory in three competitive outings although there have been a couple of positive friendly displays, so the jury is still very much out.

Retaining their Suzuki Cup crown next year would be a minimum expectation ahead of a far sterner test at the Asian Cup in January 2019.

Nonetheless, with key players like Teerasil, Theerathon Bunmathan and Kawin Thamsatchanan all in their late twenties now, it is also crucial that Rajevac nurtures new talent, especially given the Under-22s were far from convincing despite winning gold at the SEA Games back in August.

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