Port’s Foreign Signings – A Statistical Analysis

 

I was standing around in The Sandpit after the home game against Nakhon Ratchasima when, as often happens, an unusual claim was made that piqued my interest.

“Do you know how many foreign players Port have signed from clubs outside Thailand? One. Rolando Blackburn.”

Now, as with most unusual claims it was immediately obvious that this wasn’t accurate, but seeing as the club itself has almost certainly made no effort to analyze their own transfer dealings, I thought I’d do the hard yards for them and run some numbers.

What I ended up doing was a little more comprehensive than I originally intended. First, I used the three articles that myself and Marco had written (foreign strikers from 2009-12, foreign strikers from 2012-18, foreign midfielders from 2012-18) about Port signings and collated the data with a little help from Wikipedia and Transfermarkt. Then I found this excellent list of Thai League Foreign Players on Wikipedia which gave me a few even earlier players I’d never head of. Vietnamese defender Lương Trung Tuấn who joined Port in 2004, anyone?

I ultimately settled on a sample size of 53 foreign signings from which to draw my analysis. It’s not a huge number, but it’s an almost exhaustive list of foreign players who have joined Port since 2009 with a few notable extras from before that time period. Only a few players, for which I could not find sufficient information, were left out. I think with this number, drawing conclusions from differences of a few percentage points is probably not worthwhile, but we can be reasonably happy that some of the clear trends are unlikely to be anomalous.

There are only two data points I used, which were the nationality of the player and the country they played in immediately before joining Port. This basically gave me two separate groups of analysis:

  • The countries Port most commonly sign players from
  • The nationality of players that Port sign

Within these two groups, I separated my findings in to 3 sections.

  • Overall (the total %)
  • Before Pang (the % before Pang’s tenure)
  • With Pang (the % during Pang’s tenure)

So, what did I learn after messing around on Microsoft Excel for a couple of hours?

Well, it’s fair to say that Rolando Blackburn is not the only Port foreign player to have been signed from abroad. In fact, foreign players signed from abroad account for 62% of Port’s foreign signings. Before Pang’s tenure it was 65% and during Pang’s tenure the number drops slightly to 58%.

 

Overall62%
Before Pang65%
With Pang58%

 

What has changed somewhat is the areas from which Port have bought these players. Dealing with continents rather than individual countries makes more sense to me here, so here is the breakdown of the continents from which Port have signed their foreign players.

 

Foreign Players signed from Thai clubs

 

Overall38%
Before Pang35%
With Pang42%

 

Foreign Players signed from Asian clubs (not including Thailand)

 

Overall36%
Before Pang41%
With Pang26%

 

Foreign Players signed from South American clubs

 

Overall9%
Before Pang3%
With Pang21%

 

Foreign Players signed from European clubs

 

Overall13%
Before Pang15%
With Pang11%

 

 Foreign Players signed from African clubs

 

Overall4%
Before Pang6%
With Pang0%

 

Arranging the numbers differently shows the key trends more clearly.

 

Foreign players signed from…Before PangWith Pang
Thai clubs35%42%
Other Asian clubs41%26%
South American clubs3%21%
European clubs15%11%
African clubs6%0%

 

With Pang, Port have signed significantly more players from South America. Wagner Carioca, Renan Oliveira, Rodrigo Maranhao and Rolando Blackburn all signed for Port under Pang’s stewardship, whereas only the legendary Leandro Oliveira had signed directly from South America before. Even that signing comes with a massive asterisk, as Dusit Chalermsan, Port coach at the time, already had first hand knowledge of Leandro from his and Leandro’s earlier spells in Vietnam. He was a known quantity from his time spent in South East Asia, even though he stopped off in Brazil on his way from Vietnam to Thailand, and Dusit signed him with a view of building his team around the Brazilian maestro.

 

Rodrigo Maranhao, one of the stars of the 2016 promotion campaign

 

So, what conclusions can we draw from this? Does it mean Port have enacted some sort of scouting system under Pang to identify players in the Brazilian second and third tier who could be successful in Thailand? Stop sniggering at the back!

No, it’s a trend mirrored by the league as a whole. The number of foreign players in the league has fluctuated over the years due to quota changes, but ultimately the number of foreigners clubs can sign from any country has been cut markedly.

In 2014, teams could have six foreigners of any nationality in their squad, plus one additional player from an AFC country (6+1). In 2015, this was reduced to four from any nationality, plus one from an AFC country (4+1). In 2018 the number of foreign players from any country was cut further to three, plus a player from an AFC country and a player from an ASEAN country (3+1+1). In 2019, the current quota, teams can again have three players of any nationality, one from an AFC country and now three from ASEAN countries (3+1+3).

While the number of quality foreign imports has been decreasing, the amount of money available to be spent on them has increased, due to the growth of the league. This has led to the significant rise in the number of arrivals from South American clubs we see above, in place of those in financially weaker areas like Asian and African leagues. Port are simply following a trend which I’m pretty sure exists among most clubs, and the league as a whole.

 


 

The nationalities of the players Port have signed – our second set of numbers – really helps us complete the picture.

Footballers who end up plying their trade in Thailand are for the most part a nomadic bunch. A majority of African and South American players who have signed for Port have done so from outside the continent of their birth, so to better understand some of the fundamental changes in Port’s recruitment trends, let’s look at nationalities, arranged again by continent.

 

Foreign Players of Asian nationalities

 

Overall30%
Before Pang35%
With Pang21%

 

Foreign Players of South/Central American nationalities

 

Overall26%
Before Pang18%
With Pang42%

 

Foreign Players of European nationalities

 

Overall25%
Before Pang21%
With Pang32%

 

Foreign Players of Australasian nationalities

 

Overall4%
Before Pang3%
With Pang5%

 

 Foreign Players of African nationalities

 

Overall15%
Before Pang24%
With Pang0%

 

Again, let’s look at the same numbers in a different table.

 

Foreign players from…Before PangWith Pang
Asia35%21%
South/Central America18%42%
Europe21%32%
Australasia3%5%
Africa24%0%

 

The same trend plays out in these numbers, with a very clear uptick in the signing of South American players. This time it is also accompanied by an 11% increase in the signing of European players, which is another similarly more attractive demographic of players to clubs with more spending power.

With a marked increase in South American and European signings, we must also see decreases in other areas, and this is most stark in the signing of African players. Whilst it’s obvious to anyone who remembers watching football 5-10 years ago in Thailand that the number of African players has decreased significantly, Port not having signed a single African player in the Pang era is still surprising.

This season the biggest spenders in the league brought in Modibo Maiga, whilst mid-table Trat went for African players in all 3 of their foreign player slots. One of them, Lonsana Doumbouya, is the top scorer in the league, and overall there are still 9 African players plying their trade in T1, although surprisingly they are spread across just 4 teams. It seems unlikely to be an anomaly that Port have not signed a single African, but the reasons why this is the case are unclear with the data I have at my disposal.

 

Lonsana Doumbouya, Adefolarin Durosinmi and Bireme Diouf, all of Trat FC

 

Signings of Asian players have similarly seen a decline. Under the 6+1 quota system from 2014 and earlier, Port used to regularly have two or three South Koreans on the books, but with the quota change to 4+1 in 2015, most T1 teams scaled back and only had 1 Asian foreigner in their squad, with Port being no exception.

Since then the rules evolved again though, with one and then three new spots opening up to players from ASEAN countries. Under the 3+1+1 quota in 2018, Port used their ASEAN spot to sign Terens Puhiri of Indonesia, but Terens then returned to his former club and Port didn’t bring in another ASEAN player, Martin Steuble, until the mid-season break of 2019. At this point the quota had already changed to 3+1+3, with Port failing to take advantage of any of those ASEAN spots for the first half of the season. This has to be seen as a big oversight from Port, and next season we should really see a significant increase in ASEAN players joining the club, making full use of the 3 available quota spots. ASEAN leagues may be of a lower standard than T1, but the signing of Steuble has shown us that there are players capable of making an important contribution, even in a side pushing for the T1 title.

 

Conclusions

 

In drawing conclusions from Port’s transfer business, we have to be able to recognize who has been successful and who hasn’t. In our list of arrivals from Thai clubs in the Pang era, we see names like David Rochela, Sergio Suarez, Josimar, Dragan Boskovic and Go Seul-Ki. Names like Kayne Vincent, Thiago Cunha and Bajram Nebihi remind us that not all domestic deals have turned out as hoped, but for the most part the Thai market has yielded far more successful signings than the foreign market. There are examples of successful signings from abroad, such as Rodrigo Maranhao, Martin Steuble and Kim Sung-Hwan, but these are far outweighed by relative failures like Andrija Kaludjerovic, Serginho, Renan Oliveira, Matias Jadue and Asdrubal Padron.

 

Asdrubal Padron, who injury prevented from making a single appearance for Port

 

It looks very much as though we are doing 58% of our shopping in the less fruitful foreign market, and only 42% from the more predictable domestic market. This is a trend that must be addressed if we want to increase the consistency of our foreign acquisitions.

Another area I find surprising is the dramatic reduction in players from Africa, not just at Port but the league as a whole. John Baggio and Lonsana Doumbouya have been the poster boys in the last couple of seasons for how successful African players can still be in T1, but all four clubs who have African players on the books at the moment will be very happy with their contributions. Brazilians may have brought the league lots of flair and more than a few great players, but the standard of football in many African countries is still significantly superior to the standard in Thailand. There are still lots of players who could be brought in at relatively low cost for potentially great rewards.

 

John Baggio of Sukhothai

 

Both Baggio and Doumbouya are African players in the domestic market who, whilst they won’t come cheap, ought to be within Port’s price range in the coming off-season. We would do well to look hard at the possibility of signing both.

In the Asian market, Port should also be looking to increase the number of acquisitions of ASEAN players who can fill the remaining two quota spots which will be available, assuming that Steuble stays with Port next season. The signings of Michael Falkesgaard and Dang Van Lam, by Bangkok United and Muangthong respectively, have shown there are quality half-European goalkeepers available in this market. Also, the success of young Vietnamese players in international football should also be prompting T1 clubs to look in to the possibility of bringing some promising Vietnamese youngsters to Thailand. I don’t have enough knowledge of half-European half-ASEAN goalies or Vietnamese youngsters to suggest any names in particular, but a little scouting could really go a long way in finding top quality foreign players who could have a massive impact at Port.

 


 

Will the club will take heed of any of this, or run their own similar analysis in order to evaluate the success or otherwise of their transfer business? No, probably not. Will I now be able to say “I told you so” to no-one in particular next time we bring in a predictable flop from the Honduran third tier? Yes, yes I will.

 

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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