Why unsung Thai hero Theerathon deserves to play in Japan

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan argues that Theerathon Bunmathan deserves to play in the J1 League as much as Chanathip Songkrasin and Teerasil Dangda.

First, it was Chanathip Songkrasin. Then, it was Teerasil Dangda.

And, on Christmas Day, Thai football received a nice little present with talk suggesting that Theerathon Bunmathan is set to be the next War Elephants star heading for Japanese football’s top flight.

For those outside of Thailand unfamiliar with Theerathon, the reported interest from Vissel Kobe – who currently have ex-Germany star Lukas Podolski on their books – could seem a little peculiar.

After all, Chanathip is a silky-skilled playmaker who has already shown in half a season at Consadole Sapporo that he can carve apart almost any defence.

Likewise, Teerasil is widely regarded as ASEAN football’s most-lethal striker who could really add to a Sanfrecce Hiroshima attack which netted only 32 goals this past campaign, as they escaped relegation by a solitary point.

Foreign players are usually reserved for attacking types with the ability to excite and win matches on their own. Even if a club decides to ‘sacrifice’ an import spot on a defensive player, they usually opt for those in the perceived “backbone” positions: centre-back or defensive midfield.

So why then – if the rumours prove to be true – are Vissel willing to use their ASEAN import quota on a left-back?

Quite simply because Theerathon is not just any left-back.

In fact, he is the best left-back in all of Southeast Asia, as he has been since he first gained regional prominence at the 2012 AFF Suzuki Cup.

What sets him apart from every other left-sided defender?

For one, while full-backs in the region – either due to lack of fitness or technical ability – are usually one-dimensional and either excel defending or attacking, Theerathon performs both to perfection.

At the back, he reads the game well, rarely loses out in a one-on-one situation, and has the recovering speed and determination on the rare occasion he does get beaten.

Keeping the dangerous Keisuke Honda at bay

But, when it is time to attack, Theerathon never passes up the opportunity to bomb forward on the overlap, where he gets the opportunity to use his primary weapon.

That left foot.

Considering Japan is a country which prides itself on technical precision and, at times, perfection, it should come as no surprise that the one attribute anyone hoping to make it in the J.League must have is technical ability.

It does not matter how big, strong or fast you are; if you can’t trap a ball and pass it on, chances are you won’t make it in Japanese football.

Thankfully, for Theerathon, technical ability is one thing he possesses in abundance.

Whether it be distributing the ball from open play or delivering one of his trademark set-pieces, Theerathon’s left foot is more precise and deadly than most attacking midfielders in the region, let alone full-backs.

Unlike Chanathip and Teerasil, the 27-year-old does not enjoy the same level of adulation among Thai football fans.

He did leave Buriram United after eight years of service to join bitter rivals Muangthong United, and it did not take him long to show that his allegiances had shifted in a meeting between the two teams this season.

And, while he is easily one of Thailand’s best players, he was also briefly dropped from the national team by then-coach Kiatisuk Senamuang, although he eventually won his place back and even captained the side on numerous occasions.

There is no denying that Theerathon wears his heart on his sleeve and that sometimes can rub people the wrong way, especially coming from a society that values – even demands – respect and humility.

Nonetheless, it is this same feisty attitude that will serve Theerathon well when he eventually moves abroad as he looks to fly the flag for Thailand.

With five Thai League 1 titles, four FA Cups and six League Cups to his name, the Nonthaburi native has achieved all that he can in his homeland.

Theerathon certainly deserves his chance to prove he has what it takes to make it in one of Asia’s toughest leagues.

If any Southeast Asian left-back was ever going to do it, this is the one.