Scott McIntyre speaks to Thailand midfielder Charyl Chappuis on saying goodbye to Teerasil and Theerathon, missing out on the AFC Champions League and stepping up for Muangthong United in 2018.
With a host of headline-grabbing transfers, some star names returning from abroad, the glare of the new ASEAN player quota and seemingly one of the more competitive title races in years, the Thai League moves into its third decade firmly entrenched as the leading domestic competition in Southeast Asia.
Ambitious Bangkok United, big-spending Port FC and the return of the league’s all-time leading scorer – Cleiton Silva – to Chiangrai United have dominated the off-season headlines just as much as some of the star attractions who have moved abroad.
Bangkok United and, in particular, Chiangrai appear in a strong position to finally end the dominance of the ‘big two’ but those writing off Buriram and Muangthong would be wise to do so at their own peril.
Both of the established powerhouses have issues to contend with – Buriram having to juggle domestic duties with their continental fixtures in the AFC Champions League, whilst Muangthong have been hit hard with the departure of three key stars as left-sided wonder Theerathon Bunmathan and forward Teerasil Dangda have moved to the J.League on loan, while goalkeeper Kawin Thamsatchanan is now in Belgium.
They also have to pick themselves up following last week’s disappointing ACL elimination on a bitterly cold evening in Japan when they fell 3-0 to Kashiwa Reysol, which means that they won’t be able to repeat their heroics in reaching the Round of 16 last year.
With all the comings and goings at the club during the off-season, much responsibility for stabilising things will now fall on the shoulders of the club’s established stars and FOX Sports Asia spoke exclusively with one of them, midfielder Charyl Chappuis, this week to look back at the ACL loss and ahead to the new season.
FOX Sports Asia (FSA): Firstly, looking back on the ACL loss, how much of a blow is that for the club, especially after the impressive run last year?
Charyl Chappuis (CC): Of course we are all disappointed because we wanted to go the Champions League and especially for me, because I joined Muangthong as I wanted to compete in the Champions League. But we have to accept that we had no chance.
The team played well, we tried in the first half to contain them and the coach did a good job tactically. He knew Kashiwa well so we tried to defend and play with counterattacks and, at the end of the first half, we had a big chance to score and if we took that, then things might have been different but in the second half the class of Kashiwa was too high.
We are used to having the ball, keeping the ball and playing football but that game game was different. It was the Champions League, we knew that so we had to defend but we’re just disappointed because we can’t progress and I think also for a few of the Thai players it was really cold – also for me, it was so I’m sure it was for them.
We tried our best and even though in the end it wasn’t enough we’ll make sure we fight this year to return to the ACL.
FSA: Do you feel that perhaps the way the playoffs are structured could be altered so that the so-called ‘bigger’ teams don’t always have the advantage of playing just the one match and always at their home stadium?
CC: This is part of the game, I understand the J.League is higher than the Thai League [in the AFC Club Competitions Ranking] and these are the rules and we must accept them. When I was playing for Buriram, Brisbane had to come to Thailand and it worked for us and there’s that advantage for the home team, but if you want to play in the Champions League you must beat those teams.
FSA: Looking ahead to the new league season that starts this week, what are the hopes and expectations at Muangthong, especially with so many key players leaving the club during the off-season?
CC: Now with Teerasil and Theerathon going to the J.League it’s a big loss for us but with Jaja [Coelho] and others coming in we have good signings and the team is almost the same. Of course now I have to step up, and Sarach [Yooyen] has to step up and we have to keep our game at a high level, but I’m looking forward to the season and actually I’m really confident that we’ll do well.
FSA: Do you look at the moves that Theerathon and Teerasil made as both a positive and a negative – obviously it’s tough for the club when you lose players of that quality but equally it shows there’s a path for players, including yourself, to move to bigger clubs if they perform well, right?
CC: For them, it’s a big chance and a dream come true but for me it’s a little bit different because I’m half-Thai so it’s different standards. But, for me too, it would be a dream come true and it’s for this that you play football – to play in a better league in a better team but I’m really happy now at Muangthong and I want to get through a full season without injury and then we’ll see.
FSA: Finally, the last couple of seasons in Thailand we’ve seen some huge transfers, both in terms of players moving domestically and others coming in from abroad. This means now there are some ‘powerhouse’ clubs starting to emerge who have made their ambition clear with their spending – will this make it harder for others clubs, such as Muangthong, to maintain their spots at the top of the standings?
CC: We are Muangthong and we are a top team in Thailand and I think the management has done a great job, but you see with the spending this is how it is in Europe and this is part of football.
It’s a difficult question and it’s up to the teams and how they want to spend, but I think scouting is also really important at all levels and I think we’re doing that really well.