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Crystal Balls 2019: Muangthong Utd

 

With the new season a mere month away, it’s time once again to consult the runes and ask farang fans of rival clubs what they think 2019 has in store for them. And who worse, oops I meant better, to start with than our old friends (we can be nice to them now they’re behind us in the table) Muangthong Utd? So take it away Grant Aitken

 

How did your team perform in 2018? Where do they need to improve?

By our own expectations, not great. It was a turbulent season after losing key personal and changing coaches several times, so for the most part it was a case of damage limitation after starting the season poorly. We’re generally a goal threat, thanks in part to the magical feet of Heberty Fernandes, but our defensive unit needs a complete overhaul.

Transfer window – which new signings are you most excited about? Which departing players are you sorry to see go/happy to see the back of?

Aung Thu is an exciting player and Dang Van Lam will add some much needed steel to the back line, also. It’s taken me by surprise how well the board have embraced the new ASEAN quotas. It seems unrealistic prices for domestic players have forced Muangthong to cast their net farther afield this season. Familar faces, Supanan Bureet and Mario Djorovski have also been welcomed back.

On the other hand it’s a bitter blow to see Tristan Do move to a rival club, and not to a J-League team which will surely be his eventual destination. Bangkok United also took Peerapat off our hands and whilst the two transfers have been made synonymous due to their timing, the latter’s gradually declining performances have made a move away from the club less shocking. Jaja is another player whose absence will be met with indifference by fans. We also said a goodbye to Naoaki Aoyama after four years of lionhearted defensive displays. He’ll be sorely missed.

Happy with your club’s coach?

Language barriers and failure to adapt to his surroundings meant Radovan Curcic’s reign was as unremarkable as it was unproductive. I’m not surprised they selected a Thai native this time around and Pairoj’s record as as good as any currently available. I’m withholding judgment right now, but he does seem to have lifted the mood in the camp. In addition he has involved many youngsters in his preseason training programme ensuring each player has had a chance to shine. As a result a few previously unfancied candidates have worked their way into the first team, which is a pleasant surprise.

What are your realistic ambitions for the 2019 season?

Top 3 with a significantly bigger points tally than last term would be nice, but as long as were not going backwards I’ll be content for now.

The main priority for the club should be blooding the youngsters in to provide the foundations for future success. This time last year I remember watching the Coca-Cola Cup final, Munagthong U19 v Buriram U19. It was an evenly matched game with Supachok scoring a sublime late winner. However, at that point, if you’d have told me that Rattanakorn and Supachai, who were largely anonymous, would have breakout seasons, whilst academy gems, Poramet Arjvirai and Sundy Wongderee would spend the season struggling for game time I’d have scoffed. Korrawit Tasa was an unused substitute that day, however Ubon gave him a platform last season and he repaid them handsomely. I hope we do the same for those boys this year.

Which teams will be in contention for the title? Which teams will struggle to survive?

I think the top 4 will be exactly the same as last year, with us and Port being the most likely to swap positions, if any. Buriram have a mental strength that is hard to breakdown right now, even with Diogo leaving I still wouldn’t bet against them finding a way win when it matters. Regardless of what they’ve spent, I think Bangkok United’s favorite’s title is optimistic, with only a couple of their new signings improving their starting 11. I’m not sure it will be enough to stop Buriam’s reign of dominance, unfortunately.

At the other end, I see no hope for Chiang Mai United. I fancy PT Prachuap to have a bad case of 2nd season blues and Chainat’s lack of ambition will also cost them dear.

Tell us your very favourite, and your absolute least favourite, things about following your club

I’m a family man, so it’s great that I can enjoy the game out here with my wife and kids. I’m not sure I’d be as willing to do that back in England. With this being my 6th season as a regular supporter it’s also nice to have made a few friends, half of which I’m still unable to communicate with but I still get a wai or handshake out of recognition for my continued support for the team.

The least enjoyable thing about supporting Muangthong recently has been the lack of identity we showed under Curcic’s reign. Has brand of football was bland, cautious and generally negative, but then again I wouldn’t expect much less from a man that was only given a six month contract and therefore prioritized results over style. Additionally, Muangthong fans are immensely proud of our successful academy. Whether it be Kawin’s escapades in Europe, or Suphan and Thithipan’s commanding displays for Thailand. So when it the young players get neglected it really does irk the fans. I think the board are slowly starting to appreciate that our loyal fan-base does need throwing a bone every now and then. Any club with long term aspirations needs to utilize it’s youth academy, especially one with a track record as good as ours.

 

Thanks Grant! If you’d like to share your thoughts on your team’s chances this season, you can complete the questionnaire here

 

NB I apologise for using the same picture for this preview as I did for the 2018 preview, but images of Muangthong’s stadium have proved very difficult to find and this was the best I could do.

 

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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