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Crystal Balls 2018: Muangthong Utd

 

After sweeping all before them in 2016, the team we Port fans love to hate meekly surrendered their title in 2017, with the League Cup their only trophy of the season. This time out they’ve lost Kawin, Theerasil and Teerathon (aka Hia Um), but have added Buriram’s 2017 top score Jaja Coelho, and are expected to be in the title race. Here’s MTU fan Grant Aitken to tell us what he thinks the season has in store for the Kirins…

 


 

What was your highlight of the 2017 season?

The ACL campaign was thrilling. That last minute winner against Kashima Antlers will live long in the memory.

How will your team fare in 2018?

1st or 2nd hopefully, best to wait a few games before making any firm predictions though.

Who is your most exciting new signing?

Only one contender here, Jaja. He’s a different level player and will make the difference.

Which departed players from 2017 will you miss the most? Who are you glad to see the back of?

We’ve lost 3 key players in Terrasil, Theeraton and Kawin, but with Peerapat and Adisak we have high calibre replacements for the two that are going to Japan. Kawin is less easy to replace and we’ll need to tighten our defence to compensate for the loss.

What changes would you like to see at your club? Or are you happy with the way things are going?

Losing players to clubs abroad is the major talking point for Muangthong this year, but I think the club has little option but to agree to let the players move on. Blocking moves would appear spiteful and make the next generation of players, that are good enough to play abroad, less likely to choose Muangthong to further their careers. It’s important the club thinks about its long term strategy rather than desperately clinging on to players who want to play elsewhere. We have a strong academy, several feeder teams and potentially a valuable parent club, unless I’m reading too much into the eventual destinations of Leicester City’s “Fox Hunt” development programme graduates.

Which teams will be in contention for the T1 title, and who will win?

Muangthong and Buriram will be the front runners. Although, I’m hoping Buriram will suffer from the same issues they had two years ago when they finished outside the top 3. I would like to see them hold their own on the ACL stage, but their squad looks weaker now then it did 2 seasons back so they will find it difficult being competitive on all fronts.

Chaing Rai and Bangkok Glass have improved, although not significantly. I think Mano Polking will re-group his side to be a strong outfit, but I feel they’ll still have problems taking points against the big 2. Port have some good attacking players, but I think they’ll struggle for consistency if Jadet is intent on playing them all at the same time and they could take a while to find their feet. Tero and Ratchchaburi will be hard to beat this year, but don’t quite have enough quality to mount a title challenge.

If I had to pick a winner I’d go with Muangthong, although its getting tighter so injuries, bust-ups or divine intervention could result in a surprise winner this year.

Which 5 – yes 5 – teams will go down to T2, and which 3 will come up to T1?

Chainat have seemed very quiet in the transfer market so far, and I think the shenanigans of last season will have a detrimental effect on Navy. Ubon have issues in many areas of the club, and I think Sukhothai will struggle this year too. Prachuap seem to have ambition but I’m not sure they can stay up, whereas Air Force have some good fire power up front and emerging young talent so they should be fine. I expect to see Suphanburi and Nakhon Ratchasima in the dogfight too, but I’m backing them to beat the drop.

Which fixtures are you most looking forward to in 2018?

Bangkok United is probably my favourite fixture. The away game is not far to travel so we normally bring 4-5k fans. They, as well as ourselves, have a gifted manager, so I find it intriguing to see their tactics in action. Coach Ban got the bragging rights last season and Mano was the overall victor the year before. Buriram is a big game, but far more tense, and generally having more at stake so it’s not quite as enjoyable, but certainly a game I eagerly anticipate. I look forward to any fixture if I know I can expect the opposition to come and try and play some football. That generally rules out Ubon, and certain away fixtures where the playing surface is deliberately made unplayable. You can’t emulate EPL style football on a Sunday league playing surface. I hope the FA is monitoring next year and dishes out fines for repeat offenders.

Thai football crowds are declining year on year. Why do you think this is, and what can be done to make the game more popular?

There are many things clubs could do better but the main problem is that fans will not flock in their masses if the football is not entertaining. I think more support needs to be given to referees to show them how to help the game flow and make sure they’re punishing offenses that contradict entertainment values. I’d love the FA to set aside a budget to bring in a retired referee from Europe to scrutinize performances, not just for the big decisions, but for the little ones that annoy the hell out of spectators too.

Finally, give us your three wishes for the 2018 season.

1.Muangthong to progress to the ACL Group stage beating Japanese opposition on their own turf in the process.

2.Buriram to have a strong showing in the ACL group stage – it’s a necessary evil if we’re to keep chipping away at Australia in terms of coefficient points.

3.Somebody to put together a hilarious montage of Diogo’s face every time he takes a tumble in the penalty area, only for the referee to refer to VAR and book him for simulation.

 


 

Thanks Grant! Want to share your thoughts on the 2018 season? Fill out our questionnaire!

Due to technical issues entirely beyond our control some of you may see a picture of the 2017 Port team celebrating an away victory at the top of this page rather than a picture of Muangthong. We apologise for any inconvenience or distress this may cause.

 

Tim Russell

Tim Russell

The founder and editor of The Sandpit, Tim has been in SE Asia since 2003 and in Bangkok since 2012, where he runs a travel tech business. Tim has followed Port FC since 2014, and is also a fan of his hometown club Coventry City, and French club AS St-Etienne. He has written for the likes of Football365, ITV.com, NME and The Quietus, and is a regular contributor to God Is In the TV. He's a keen photographer and his work can be seen on his website.

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