With the disjointed 2018 season slowly dribbling, like an old man’s 3am piss, to a close, one’s thoughts begin to turn to 2018 and the imminent transfer window. With Port’s T1 status guaranteed, the powers that be should soon be thinking of which players to keep and which players to show to the exit, either gently and with a consoling arm around the shoulder, or with a great big Father Ted/Bishop Brennan-style kick up the arse.
New foreign player rules for 2018 will of course have an effect on Port’s transfer strategy, assuming they have one (which is a pretty big assumption from what we hear) – whereas this season the rule was 4 global foreigners + 1 Asian, next year it’s 3 global foreigners, 1 Asian, and 1 ASEAN. With the big Japanese clubs already rumoured to be scooping up the best Thai players due to their own ASEAN rule, it looks as if the league will lose some of its international stars and replace them with little known Vietnamese and Indonesian players. So good scouting, good agents and a bit of imagination will be required to play the transfer system between now and 2018. And with 5 teams going down next season to usher in the brave new dawn of a 16-team T1 in 2019, getting the transfer window right is more essential than ever.
Here’s my look at who will stay and who will go between now and the new season…
I predict there will be little activity in this area. There’s no doubt that Rattanai, when fit, is one of the best young keepers in Thailand and he has continued to improve this season. A great shot stopper, increasingly commanding in the air, authoritative in his box and gradually mastering the art of kicking, he should be Port’s no1 for years to come. Worawut and Watchara are both more than able deputies so unless one of them decides he wants more action elsewhere, I don’t foresee any new sets of gloves hanging on the Port pegs next season.
Again, Port are very well stocked when it comes to full-backs. On the right, Nitipong has had an excellent season playing at wing-back and despite occasionally forgetting his defensive duties he deserves to stay, and young Meechok has proved to be a competent replacement when needed. Likewise at left-back, where hopefully Yossawat will make the position his own in 2018 with support from Jetjinn. There have been mutterings about Panpanpong’s loan deal being made permanent but let us hope that they don’t get beyond the muttering stage, as he has been one of the club’s weakest links this season.
It’s in the centre where I expect the wheelin’ & dealin’ to take place. Cap’n Rochela may be the first name on most Port fans’ team sheets but our sources say he has yet to be offered a new contract, and the player himself is apparently casting an eye in the direction of Japan should an offer not be forthcoming. It would be a shame to lose a player whose leadership, intelligence and reading of the game – as well as his faultless penalty taking – are head & shoulders above anyone else at Port, but if he does move on, a good foreign replacement is essential, preferably one who can get forward for set-pieces too. I bumped into Dolah recently and he confirmed he’s staying for 2018, and whilst he was one of our most improved players during the season, he’ll benefit from someone more capable and consistent than Todsapol or Anisong by his side.
Let’s start on the wings. On the right, unless a big offer comes in – which, given his stats this season is not beyond the realms of possibility – I expect Port to stick with the Midfield Monk Pakorn, a young man whose all-round game has come on leaps & bounds since his mid-season spell at the monastery. On the left, whilst Genki continues to run himself into the ground every week, his powers seem to be waning and, at 31, this will almost certainly be his last season at Port; whilst Ekkapoom, much as we all love him, barely figured this season and at 32 will also likely be moved on, so a new left-winger, or a left-sided striker, will also be on Port’s shopping list. If I see Tana on the left (or indeed anywhere else on the pitch) for as much as one second next season I’ll start supporting Muangthong. Genk’s departure would also free up the Asian player berth. Let’s also not forget young Pinyo who will be returning from his loan spell at newly-promoted Prachuap and can fit in on either flank.
At DM, Port have numerous options, none of whom have convinced enough to make the spot their own this season. Adisorn’s all-action Jack Russell style seems to work against more talented opponents, Ittipol and Pummared have also put in some decent performances in the position, and the criminally underrated Tatchanon will be back from his loan spell at Chonburi; but it’s an increasingly key position in modern football and so a good – possibly foreign – DM should be right at the top of the club’s wishlist. There are unconfirmed rumours that Port are looking at a Japanese or Korean player in this position.
Elsewhere, Siwakorn, despite collecting yellow cards like John Spittal collects match tickets, remains the players’ player, and will almost certainly be a Port player next season. Despite my earlier misgivings, Sergio Suarez has been on absolutely stellar form in the last few games and may just have played his way to a new contract; however the club may prefer to bring in an AM who can actually shoot, or give a chance to the forgotten man of the PAT Mattias Jadue, who is contracted until the end of the 2018 season and comes with the bonus of an Asian passport. Apart from these players, there isn’t much talent in reserve and Port should be looking to bring in a couple of good Thai midfielders to provide competition, with special attention paid to the no10 role – Port need to vary their attacking “tactic” of pinging in hopeful crosses and add a bit of guile on the edge of the box.
As ever, it’s in attack where Port need reinforcements the most. The club’s incompetence at filling this position in recent years has been staggering to behold, with the likes of Brent McGrath, Kayne Vincent, Wuttichai, Tana, Thiago and Kaludjerovic all huffing & puffing to little effect, and good players like Maranhao and Asdrubal allowed to leave and thrive elsewhere. Josimar has had a good 2017 and should surpass his 2016 goal tally before the end of the season, but he’s not quite the Scary Foreign Striker Port need to compete with the big boys and, at 30, may not be kept on for another year.
Port were apparently 24 hours away from signing Buriram goal machine Jaja Coelho last year and that is the sort of player they should be targeting this time round, along with a couple of promising-to-good Thai strikers. Indeed, SMM seem to be reporting the “Jaja to Port” story on a weekly basis, despite Jaja’s agent Benni repeatedly stating that that particular ship has long since sailed. Jadue may yet prove to be a good option in this position; Wuttichai and Tana are most definitely Bishop Brennans.
Rest assured once the close season rumour mill gets into full swing, The Sandpit will be bringing you all the latest gossip, however speculative and clickbaity it may be, and will be first with the news if/when Port actually sign anybody.