Paul Williams speaks to Chiangrai United’s big-name import Cleiton Silva on the club’s hopes for 2018, including adding some spice to the Thai League 1 title race.
Chiangrai United’s star signing Cleiton Silva, the Thai League’s all-time leading goal scorer, has said the club’s focus this year is not on making the group stage of the AFC Champions League, but on doing well in the Thai League 1.
As last year’s FA Cup winners, Chiangrai United qualify for the AFC Champions League preliminary rounds and – next Tuesday – host Indonesia’s Bali United, who defeated Tampines Rovers 3-1 on Tuesday night.
The winner of the upcoming tie advances to face Chinese giants Shanghai SIPG in the final playoff and that daunting task makes qualifying for the group stage highly unlikely, according to Silva.
“We have to play Shanghai SIPG and we have to be realistic, it’s difficult to beat them,” Silva told FOX Sports Asia.
“It’s only one game, and anything can happen but it’s very difficult to beat Shanghai SIPG, and Bali as well, we have to play them first.
“I think our focus is on the Thai League. If we can win these games it will be nice, but our target now is the Thai League. We want to do something good in Thailand.
“At this moment we don’t have the squad [depth] for the Champions League. If we can go forward that’s OK, but it’s not our focus, our focus is the Thai League.”
It’s domestically where Silva thinks the Beetles can make an impact, adamant that their goal this year is to break the Buriram United and Muangthong United duopoly and win the league title.
“Yes, the president, he really wants it,” Silva said when asked if winning the title was their goal for the season.
“Football is unpredictable, we hope to have a great season, we really hope to be champions but it’s really difficult, especially because we have so many new players.
“All the five foreigners are new, [and] we lost one player now to Bangkok Glass. For the moment we are still fixing many things, and we have one month until the Thai league starts.”
He also described the domination by Buriram and former club Muangthong as “boring”, and said the extra challenge provided by the likes of Chiangrai United and Bangkok United will be good for the league.
“I hope to have this competition because we always see Buriram and Muangthong in the top two,” the 30-year-old said.
“So it’s good to have another two or three clubs that can really fight for the title, because sometimes it’s boring when you look to the table and always see the same clubs winning, the same clubs in the finals, the same clubs being champions.
“I think Chiangrai can be the third [challenger], Bangkok United also because they have good players.”
Silva’s signing was a coup for ambitious Chiangrai, with the striker – who has scored a record 119 league goals – returning to Thailand after a season in China League One with Shanghai Shenxin.
While he scored 17 goals in a season in which they surprisingly made the semi-finals of the CFA Cup, Silva lamented the club’s lack of ambition, which was the sole reason he decided to return to Thailand after just 12 months.
“I had a good time there, but the club didn’t have so much ambition like I have,” he explained.
“They just don’t want to go to the Super League, they just want to be a leader of the table. We were in the semi-final in the Cup and the club just didn’t care.
“For me it’s a disgrace because the players want to be in the semi final, they want to be in the Super League, but the club looks like it doesn’t want to go to the Super League.
“So for me it was not okay because I have big ambitions, I go there I play for one year, [and] in my opinion I do a great performance for the club, especially because it’s my first season, with me adapting, so I did good.
“So, for me, it was disappointing because the club doesn’t want to go anywhere.”
The same can’t be said of Chiangrai and it didn’t take much convincing for Silva to sign on the dotted line.
“I transferred out because they [Chiangrai] have big ambition for the season and for the next two or three seasons, they really want to be champions in Thailand,” he said.
“They have a good environment for the players, they have a very good team, they have a good training ground. I’ve played here so many times before in front of the supporters, and it’s a great atmosphere to play.
“The club is still rising, it’s really ambitious for the season which makes me very happy.”
Photo credit: Chiangrai United FC