As Port begin reestablishing themselves as a T1 club, one strategy seems to be to sign young, dual-passport players – those brought up and trained in footballing cultures more developed and disciplined than Thailand, but who crucially have Thai nationality.
Following the signing of Thai-Swedish Elias Dolah, Port signed two more dual-nationality players – fellow Thai-Swede Niran Hansson (who made an impressive debut in the friendly vs BBCU on Saturday), and the youthful 18-year old Thai-British Patrick Bentley, who grew up in Australia.
Both players are a total mystery to Port fans, so The Sandpit met up with them for a chat to find out more about two players who might be the future not just of Port FC, but also of the Thai national team…
You both have Thai nationality but grew up overseas. What is your experience of Thailand?
NH – I’ve been here on vacation many times with family. I was adopted when I was 18 months, so I’ve been back here with my Swedish parents to visit the orphanage.
PB – I’ve been here every year since I was born to visit my mum’s side of the family.
And what’s been the hardest thing about adjusting to life here?
PB – Every foreign player has to get used to the weather. Playing in the humidity is hard. We’re used to the heat in Australia but not the humidity.
Tell us how you both got started in football and where you played before coming to Port.
PB – I grew up in Sydney, and I played in the Youth Premier League for a team called Manly Utd. Then I moved to a team called APIA Leichhardt where I played U18s and U20s in the NSW Premier League. I look at myself as a defensive midfielder, but I’ve also played centre back and right-back – I’ve been playing right back in training with Port. But I’ve been a defensive midfielder for the last 10 years. My dad is from Manchester and played football so I’ve been playing since I was 5. I didn’t have a choice. All my friends in Australia started playing rugby & cricket, but I stuck to football.
NH – I started playing with a local team in the suburbs of Stockholm, then got scouted by Brommapojkarna’s academy and joined the U15s, went through all the youth teams, and signed professional terms in 2015. I tried ice hockey for a couple of years but chose football when I was about 12 because I was better at it.
You were coached by Sweden legend Olof Mellberg. What was it like working with him?
NH – It was an experience. He has a long career behind him and I learnt a lot from him.
You’re a central defender but I believe you also like to play right back…
NH – I’ve been a central defender all my career but a couple of years back I started to play right back. In Sweden my height is nothing special, but in Thailand I’m tall, so in Thailand I’ll probably be more of a central defender.
How do you compare football in Thailand to the football you grew up with?
NH – In Thailand possession changes very often. They just get the ball and run. I still have the Swedish mentality of keeping shape and holding the line which doesn’t happen in Thailand. In Sweden we have 3 months of pre-season so we learn to hold our shape.
PB – Non-stop counter-attacking, that’s what I’ve noticed.
NH – Communication on the pitch is also a problem. Thai players aren’t used to being vocal and maybe they get annoyed with me shouting at them! But somebody has to do it.
PB – In Australia we’re more patient. We spend a lot of time on tactics – I don’t know if it’s beneficial or not but some sessions we just work on positioning, off and on the ball. It was a bit of a shock as here it’s just non-stop backwards & forwards, it really tests your fitness. It’s a lot quicker and more direct than I’m used to.
Do you think if a team started using the more European possession style in Thailand they’d be successful?
PB: I don’t think so.
NH: Yes I think so. If your defence is organised, and you have a good offence, when the other team doesn’t play defence it’s easier for you.
PB – I guess so, but you win some & you lose some. Australia played Thailand recently and drew, were expected to win but should’ve lost. Thailand dominated the game and deserved to win. Yes they played counter-attack but they did it intelligently. It’s no less intelligent, it’s just a different style of football – it’s faster, quicker & more direct. Thailand took Australia by surprise.
Have you been brought to Port for the future or will you get lots of first team action this season?
NH – I don’t know yet. We haven’t talked about it.
PB – I guess it’s up to the coach – he expects everything from every single player, every player needs to be ready.
What was the process of joining Port?
NH – My agent had a couple of offers from Thailand – I can’t tell you who the others were! – and it all happened very quickly. We flew down, did a medical, and that was it.
PB – Port first approached me about a year ago via my mum’s friend who knows someone at the club. They invited me for a trial last year but I wanted to finish my last year of high school first, so I came here in January this year for a trial and got a contract.
And what were your first impressions of Port?
PB – Very welcoming, everyone greeted me and made me welcome. Noone made me feel left out.
NH – I’d already spoken to Elias (Dolah) and he said it was a great club & a good place to be, and when I arrived everyone was very welcoming. The captain, Rochela, he called me when I arrived and invited me to come down to training, and he was really welcoming.
PB – I was surprised by the big turnout for the friendlies. The fans are so passionate and friendly, they already knew my name, they come up & take pictures & ask for autographs. I’ve never had that before!
Niran, you scored in front of Zone B on your debut, in the friendly against BBCU. How did that feel?
NH – It felt great, starting my first game at home and just trying to get a feel of Thai football and playing with new players…I felt good, I played well I think. I hadn’t played a game in 2 months so my timing’s a bit out – I feel physically fit but the timing isn’t quite there yet. But it was great to get a goal!
Which other Port players have you been most impressed with?
NH & PB (simultaneously, without hesitating) – Suarez!
NH – There’s something special about him, he’s got great passing & vision. He’s on a different level.
PB – I also look up to Rochela a lot – his composure, his decision-making, everything about him on & off the pitch. He’s a role model, that’s why he’s our captain because he leads by example.
What are the club’s ambitions for this season? Top half, mid-table, or avoid relegation?
PB – Aim as high as possible, that’s what I’m hearing from the coach, Madame Pang, all the players. What kind of team would we be if we only aimed for mid-table?
What about your personal ambitions?
NH – For me, I signed a 3-year contract, so I think they have a plan for me to stay and as long as I’m comfortable I’m happy to stay. It’s good for my development to play with players like Rochela and Elias.
PB – I’ve also signed a 3-year contract. We’re both quite young, and they don’t want to just sign us then see us leave after a year. It’s a perfect club to develop with experienced guys like Rochela and national Thai players, so who knows where the next 3 years will take me?
NH – I’m here to play so I want to get into the first team as soon as possible and play as many games as I can.
PB – I’ve already achieved one of my dreams since moving to Thailand. 10 years ago my dad took me to see Thailand play at Rajamangala, and after the game we got into the pitch and my dad said “Maybe one day you’ll be playing here” – then last week I was training there with Port! I hope I’ll get to play an actual game there one day.
What kind of social life do the players have? Do they go out partying together?
PB – I wouldn’t know, I’m 2 years underage!
NH – I hang out with Elias.
PB – We all eat together pre-and post-training. They’re a great bunch of lads, and we all have the same goal which is to do well for the team.
NH – For me it’s 100% football. I try to do rehab in the morning, stay in the pool, just take care of myself.
PB – We don’t have that much free time, just a day off each week. When I’m not training I just eat, rest & stretch.
As young footballers, which famous players do you most admire or look up to?
NH – Steven Gerrard. He was a leader on the pitch, scored a lot of goals. He’s a real role model.
PB – I’m a massive United fan (NH groans) – not by choice! From my dad. So I’d say Paul Scholes, Giggs, Carrick – Carrick is my favourite player of all time, I’ve looked up to him all my life and I model my play on him. He’s very underrated and you don’t notice him on the pitch but he makes a massive difference. And I also really like Ander Herrera.
It’s heartening to see Port signing up potential stars of the future on long contracts, and both Niran and Pat seem to be very level-headed, ambitious young players who will – hopefully – be a big success at Port. Certainly – if his performance against BBCU is any indication – Niran will be making his full debut sooner rather than later. The Sandpit wishes them both well for the future.
Many thanks to Niran and Pat for taking the time to meet with us. Thanks to Max and Joe at The Sportsman Bangkok for hosting us. Interview by Tim Russell & Dominick Cartwright. Photos by Tim Russell.