Diogo Jumps Ship: The 2019 Challengers Roundup

 

Now, there’s been a lot of business done already by a lot of teams, so I’m not going to try to cover every team, let alone every transfer, but here is a roundup of some of the bigger teams and the more important signings they’ve made to date.

 

Buriram United

Who else to start with but the champs?

And what else other than the stunning sale of Thai League behemoth Diogo Luis Santo to Malaysian side JDT? I’ve got to admit this was a shock, although when you consider that he’s turning 32 next season and they got 100 million baht for him, there is at least some logic there. We’re hearing from several sources today that 31 year old former West Ham striker Modibo Maiga is set to replace The Divine Mop. He looks like a half decent T1 foreign striker, which is unlikely to cut it for the defending champions. Massive, massive downgrade if it happens.

There’s more than just a striker to the champions, though. Buriram already had arguably the best Asian quota player in 2018 in South Korean jack-of-all-trades Yoo Jun-Soo, but they’re going one better in 2019. Hajime Hosogai – a 30 cap Japanese international and Bundesliga veteran – is the new man, who is expected to play defensive midfield for the Thunder Castle. It’s always risky trading out a player who has had such a good season, but in this case there’s every chance that it’ll turn out well.

Buriram have been quiet on the domestic front, as they have a young team with plenty of up-and-comers, but they’ve gone pretty wild in the ASEAN market. In comes Stephan Palla – an Austrian-Filipino full back with more than 200 appearances in the Austrian Bundesliga, over 30 caps for Austria at various youth levels, and 10 caps for The Philippines. Joining him on loan from National Defence Ministry is a rather more speculative punt: Chreng Polroth. At just 21 he already has 23 caps for Cambodia, but with the level of domestic competition over there, Buriram would be lucky rather than clever if he ends up being able to cut it at the top of Thai football.

Verdict: What looked to be a solid if unspectacular transfer window is right up in the air now. Maiga is very unlikely to match Diogo in terms of goals or performances, so it could be argued that the only way is down…

 

Bangkok United

They’ve been making waves. The headline arrival must be Nelson Bonilla, the Salvadorian forward who netted 25 times for Sukhothai last season. Partnering him up top for The Angels will be a Japanese forward with Dutch roots: Mike Havenaar. 6 foot 4 (1.94m) Havenaar has been a success in both the J League and Eredevisie, as well as scoring 4 times in 18 appearances for Japan. With these two replacing Brazilian forward Robson and Iranian midfielder Mehrdad Pooladi, The Angels have strengthened significantly.

They’ve been signing Thai players, too. The big name on that front is former Muangthong man Tristan Do. Having mostly played full-back up until last season, Do was moved forward on to the wing, and impressed for his former club. Bangkok United coach Mano Polking has plenty of options tactically with Do and fellow new arrival Peerapat Notechaiya, who Port fans may remember for his own goal in last season’s Port vs. Muangthong clash. They are both natural wing-backs, indicating that perhaps Mano fancies using a back 3 next season. Bangkok United have also signed winger Anon Amonlerdsak, who starred on loan at Bangkok Glass towards the end of the season, but has now joined Bangkok United on a permanent deal from Buriram.

Verdict: This lot could well win the league next season, and after the sale of Diogo, I have them as slight favourites.

 

Port FC

Things started very quietly for Port, although they have picked up significantly in recent weeks. Go Seul Ki is a fantastic midfield signing, a significant upgrade on Kim Sung Hwan, who will be sent out on loan this season. T1 MVP in 2018 Sumanya Purisai will also really strengthen the midfield, while Ernesto Phumipha is an excellent back-up for Kevin at left back and Sansern Limwattana provides some extra quality and depth to the squad.

Port have also picked up two youngsters from Fox Hunt, one of whom seems to be being considered for first team involvement next season. Jirattikan Vapilai has got the nod with the first team in the first couple of friendlies, although he hasn’t given us much to be excited about just yet.

Verdict: Port have seriously revamped the midfield, but he rest of the starting XI remains as is. Steady progress.

 

Muangthong United

It’s been an off-season of comebacks for Muangthong. Iconic star Mario Gjurovski returns to the SCG, having had a successful stint at Bangkok United and a nightmare season with Bangkok Glass. Will he be the same player that Muangthong remember? We hope not, but never count the Macedonian star out.

Also returning – this time from loan spells in the J League – are Thai superstars Teerasil Dangda and Theerathon Bunmathan. Striker Teerasil’s goals and left back Theerathon’s assists will be integral to Muangthong’s title hopes next season, with both expected to make a huge impact at the SCG.

There is a fresh new arrival too, and he’s arguably the biggest transfer coup of them all. Young Burmese star Aung Thu made a huge impact in his first T1 season last year, scoring 11 goals and providing 8 assists. With the removal of restrictions on how ASEAN quota players can be used, Muangthong have a very impressive new option at their disposal, although quite how or if Muangthong’s new coach Pairoj plans to use the likes of Teerasil, Jaja, Heberty, Aung Thu and Gjurovski in the same team is a mystery.

He’s not the only promising ASEAN arrival, either. Muangthong have also got their hands on Vietnamese-Russian goalkeeper Dang Van Lam, who has been impressing for the Suzuki Cup champs for the last couple of years. Muangthong have apparently beaten Chinese and other Thai clubs to his signature, and the Sandpit’s Vietnamese correspondent (thanks Tim) has been telling us for a while that he would be an excellent T1 signing.

There’s still work to be done, though. With Brazilian beast Celio Santos and Japanese stalwart Naoaki Aoyama having left the club, Muangthong had a big hole where their defence ought to be. It’s been partly filled in by solid-looking South Korean international Oh Ban-suk, but they still need to recruit another international central defender if they’re going to have any chance in the league. Tristan Do’s departure to rivals Bangkok United must also be seen as a double blow, both weakening Muangthong while strengthening Bangkok United. They have signed another comeback kid on loan – Suphanan Bureerat – who spent 7 years with Muangthong as a youngster, but it’s certainly a significant downgrade.

Verdict: Mixed stuff for Muangthong so far. Things could yet be very good or a big letdown at the SCG next season. You know what we’re hoping for!

 

Chiang Rai United

Chiang Rai have probably lost more than they’ve gained so far in this transfer window. The headline exit is arguably the best defender in T1 – Victor Cardozo – who has shockingly agreed to join promoted side PTT Rayong. Replacing him is compatriot Brinner Henrique, who did a solid job for Ubon UMT in 2018. He’s tall and good in the air, but not as tall, nor as good in the air as the man who has just left the club.

Chiang Rai have also let the Thai national team ‘keeper for the Suzuki Cup – Chatchai Budprom – move to relegated side BG Pathum Thani. They do have a highly-rated backup already at their disposal in Saranon Anuin though, so will hope to have a seamless transition between the sticks.

Another arrival of note is feisty Thai-Italian midfielder Gionata Verzura. Half of the Verzura Crime Family, he has performed well for Ubon and Ratchaburi in recent seasons, without quite making a case for himself at one of the top clubs. Peerapong Pichitchotirat is a more experienced but similarly combative player who can operate in defence or midfield. He’s been at Bangkok Glass for as long as I can remember, but his loyalty apparently doesn’t extend to relegations.

Last and certainly not last, they’ve also lost cup-specialist manager with an astonishingly good record in Thai football Alexandre Gama.

Verdict: The way things are going, Chiang Rai can probably forget about adding to their recent remarkable trophy haul.

 

PT Prachuap

It was always going to be difficult for Prachuap to build on last season’s incredible success. Losing strikers Doumbouya – already a confirmed signing by Trat FC – and potentially Jonatan Reis, who has been not-too-subtly trying to engineer his own exit, will mean that more transfer miracles will be needed by boss Thawatchai if Prachuap are to achieve another top-half finish.

Mathaus Alves’ arrival from Chonburi doesn’t seem particularly miraculous if we’re honest – but they are aiming to stay true to last season’s man-mountain philosophy up top at least. Uzbek defender Artyom Filiposyan seems like a wild stab in the dark, which is incidentally what fellow new arrival and the other half of the Verzura crime family – Antonio Verzura – will bring to Prachuap’s midfield.

Supot Jodjam from Krabi is almost certainly a shrewd signing. The 28 year old striker has had an excellent record in T2 for a few seasons now, and has even made a Thai national team squad. Admittedly, he doesn’t have to be great to be one of the best Thai strikers in T1.

Looking at their departures list is a little concerning, though. There are a few names there who contributed significantly in last season’s push up the table, although Thawatchai may feel that he’s done enough already to address this.

Verdict: Basically, it’s all about Reis. Keep him and they will be expected to do well again, lose him and the lower half could beckon.

 

Nakhon Ratchasima

They’ve made a few deals which could work out pretty well, I think.

I was very impressed with Amadou Outtara at Navy last season, who looked a cut above his teammates at Navy. He’s joined by another player from a struggling team who had a pretty impressive record: Bernard Doumbia from Chainat. If The Swatcats also keep hold of Leandro Assumpcao then they will have an absolutely formidable forward line, although they might struggle a bit more in midfield without Antonia Pina, who has joined Police Tero in T2.

They’ve brought in another forward too, although he’s not expected to play a big role. Chitchanok Xaysensourinthone is a Thai-Swiss forward with a Laos-sounding name and an extremely attractive girlfriend. With his European football education, good looks and numerous Instagram followers Chitchanok has been given a go at several decent Thai clubs (incidentally, the same clubs that also gave best friend and fellow bloke with good looks and an extremely attractive girlfriend Charyl Chappuis a go), but hasn’t racked up a great deal of appearances at any of them. 25 appearances and 6 goals in 2 seasons with Suphanburi has been the best he’s managed, which for a squad player isn’t too bad.

Verdict: With Milos Joksic at the helm, Korat will probably do alright again this season, although going for 3 foreign attackers is a dangerous gamble which didn’t pay off for anyone last season.

 

Chonburi FC

The sharks have been busy. The big arrival is Lukian from Pattaya, who will add goals to a foreign forward line who didn’t provide nearly enough of them in 2018. Assisting him up top will be American forward Chris Cortez. Coming from the second tier in America this looks to be a bit of a strange signing, although that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll turn out badly. Odds against for me, but it’s an interesting effort at least.

At the back, they’ve also brought in foreign quota reinforcements in the shape of Dutch-born Togolese international Mawouna Amevor. This will be his first season in Asian football so the big man could take some time to adapt, but looks on paper to be a solid acquisition. The AFC signing is Park Hyun-beom a very tall South Korean defensive midfielder who has enough experience at top clubs in his home country to suggest that he should do well in Thai football.

Chonburi have pounced on the opportunity to hoover up some ASEAN talent, too. They’ve been shopping in what I think is probably one of the riskier markets – the Myanmar National League – but as we discovered last season, the rewards can be great if you do manage to find a diamond in the rough. The two signings are midfielder Sithu Aung and defender Zaw Min Tun.

Former Port defender Niran Hansson has also arrived to provide competition in defence, of which there already seems to be plenty, while Ekkachai Rittiphan will do likewise on the wings. They’ve been linked repeatedly with Indonesian midfielder Evan Dimas, who would be a good signing, but they also need a couple more foreigners.

Verdict: It looks like The Sharks have bought pretty well, but there’s not a lot of T1 experience there. More must still be done if they want to challenge the big boys.

 

Suphanburi FC

Suphanburi probably underperformed last season, with their +8 goal difference being miles better than the three teams who finished directly above them in the league. That’s probably explained by their inexperience, and they’ve moved to address that issue by bringing in Port midfielder Kim Sung-hwan on loan, who could form a useful partnership with Adul Lahso in midfield if they can both stay fit.

Mark Hartmann always seems to get a T1 gig despite not being particularly good, and with the ASEAN quota changes he’s a decent acquisition for Suphanburi, although he’ll be behind Romulo and star striker Cleiton Silva in the pecking order. Keeping Cleiton, who spent the latter half of 2018 on loan at Suphan, ought to be the number one priority for The War Elephants.

Atit Daosawang has also arrived on loan, giving them a useful option in midfield or defence, although he has failed to fulfill the promise he showed at youth level for the Thai national team. Port fans won’t remember much of Atit from his loan spell in 2015, because he wasn’t that great, but wasn’t bad either.

Verdict: The battle for Suphanburi is keeping hold of Cleiton and their promising youngsters, and with a bit of experience sprinkled in, this group could do much better next season. 

 

Tom Earls

Tom Earls

Having moved to Thailand aged 10, Tom has been playing or watching football in Thailand for more than 18 years. A keen follower of the Thai National Team and an avid fan of Port FC, he is a regular contributor to The Sandpit.

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