Scott McIntyre speaks to Thailand international Teerasil Dangda ahead of his debut season in Japan’s J1 League with Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
With the 26th edition of the J.League kicking off this weekend, it’s fair to say that the competition has come a long way from the early years – both in terms of the type of foreign players it attracts and the rather archaic rules once used.
That inaugural season in 1993 saw the league played without the possibility of draws with all matches going to extra-time and penalties if needed to determine a winner and then, amazingly, no points were awarded for a victory with clubs ranked simply by their tally of wins.
If that was very American in nature, the best foreign talent attracted to the league had a clear South American flavour with two of the three scorers in the championship final hailing from Brazil, while the Best XI that year also featured two Brazilians and an Argentine.
Fast forward two and a half decades and not only will 2018 see players from more than 15 different nations grace the three professional divisions, but there will also be a record five players from Thailand – three of whom are established national stars.
Whilst youngsters Jakkit Wachpirom (returning for a second season with FC Tokyo) and Chaowat Veerachat (at Cerezo Osaka) will likely spend the bulk of their time with the U-23 sides at their respective clubs (that feature in J3), the other trio has the potential to set the league alight.
The creative midfielder Chanathip Songkrasin was a key cog in Consadole Sapporo maintaining their top-flight status last year and is back for another stint with the northern club under their new coach (former Urawa Reds boss Mihailo Petrovic) whilst left-sided dynamo Theerathon Bunmathan will be hoping to feature alongside new captain Lukas Podolski as Vissel Kobe travel south to face Sagan Tosu in the competition’s opening match.
A man who could have the most immediate impact though is star forward Teerasil Dangda who has linked up – as Chanathip and Theerathon have – on loan from Muangthong United at fallen powerhouses Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
Having been a regular feature throughout pre-season where he scored in three separate matches, it’s hoped that the 29-year-old will be able to fix the lack of an out-and-out scorer that has plagued the team since the departure of Peter Utaka.
With a new coach at the helm in former FC Tokyo boss Hiroshi Jofuku, Teerasil is set to be handed one of the two roles up front alongside Brazilian Patric in what’s expected to be a 4-4-2, with the club hoping to steer well clear of the drop zone that they flirted with until the final weekend of the 2017 season.
Ahead of Hiroshima’s opening league encounter where they host Chanathip’s Sapporo side, FOX Sports Asia caught up with the prolific marksman for this exclusive chat.
FOX Sports Asia (FSA): What are your expectations ahead of this loan move with Hiroshima and what are you hoping to achieve during your time in Japan?
Teerasil Dangda (TD): Firstly, for me the move is about self-development and how I can improve on and off the pitch.
In terms of football, I know the style is different between Thailand and Japan, Europe or elsewhere and so I know that I have to work hard to not only earn my place, but then also look to be one of the best players in Sanfrecce Hiroshima. That’s my target for this season.
FSA: We’ve seen several Southeast Asian players come to Japan and not really set the J.League on fire but given the success of your national teammate, Chanathip Songkrasin, during the first part of his loan spell with Consadole Sapporo last year does that also give you the belief that you can settle and do well in the J.League?
TD: Before, when I was considering and looking at Japan and watching the J.League, I naturally had some doubts over whether or not I too could be able to play and be successful at that level.
Then, when I watched just how quickly Chanathip was able to adjust and settle in Japan, I felt sure that I too can do that.
FSA: This year there will be a real Thai flavour to the J.League with yourself, Chanathip once again at Sapporo, Theerathon joining Vissel Kobe and the younger guys in Jakkit at FC Tokyo and Chaowat at Cerezo Osaka. In fact, you’ve got more than a quarter of the national team playing here! Does that make you feel proud to see so many Thai players being handed this opportunity?
TD: Sure, it’s really exciting and it’s a source of pride for all of us that we are here in Japan, but we also have to consider that – even though several of us are playing with the national team in Thailand – we can’t be satisfied with that point alone and we have to prove that we belong here as well – that’s the first thing.
Then we have to show to ourselves that we can improve as players by this experience in Japan and in turn that will also ensure that we are better when we join the national team and it helps in that area as well.
FSA: Is there anything specific that you want to improve during your time in Japan as a player or a person?
TD: As I said before, this move for me is about different aspects. I know it’s a challenge to have to leave Thailand and move to Japan which is a different country with a different culture, so I want to prove that I can do that and, of course, prove that I am good enough to be able to play in the J.League as well.
FSA: With so many players moving from Thailand to Japan it’s of course good for the national team but if you look at the aspect for your club, Muangthong, it’s not as good because they have now lost three very good players with yourself, Theerathon and Chanathip all moving on loan. Can you see both sides of the move?
TD: Definitely, I can and – on the one hand – we can say it’s a great thing what the club is doing with Muangthong almost sacrificing themselves to let players such as myself, Theerathon and Chanathip move to improve as players and we are thankful for that.
I also know though that Muangthong is such a big club with so many good players and every year there are young players arriving or coming through the club and so much quality, so I’m sure that they can manage to solve this problem.