Thailand Gain Extra Champions League Spot in 2021

 

The Asian Champions League, which Port crashed out of in the qualifying stages this year, is expanding from 32 to 40 teams from the 2021 season. This, along with the fact that Thailand moved past Australia to in the AFC’s club rankings, means that Thailand will go from 1 automatic spot in the group stages and 2 in the qualifiers to 2 automatic spots in the group stages and 2 in the qualifiers.

Therefore, in 2021, the T1 Champions and the FA Cup winners will go straight in to the AFC Champions League group stages, while 2nd and 3rd place in T1 will go in to the qualifiers.

This is obviously good news for Port, although it has come a year too late, as our FA Cup win in 2019 would have meant automatic ACL qualification had it come a year later. Still, with high hopes of finishing towards the top of T1, Port will most likely have a shot at Asia’s premier club competition once again, whether through automatic qualification or qualifiers.

 

 

In related news, the team who shocked Port in ACL Qualification earlier this year, Ceres Negros, will reportedly not be competing when their domestic league restarts. After a few seasons of uncertainty following boardroom legal disputes and financial difficulty, the erstwhile Filipino champions are releasing all their players and will cease to exist. Their last stand in defeating Port and putting up impressive resistance against FC Tokyo was to be their ACL swan song.

 

Tom’s Transfer Talk – For Sale: Unwanted Talent

 

Credible Rumours are starting to emerge linking some of Port’s bit-part players with moves away from PAT Stadium. After investing huge sums of money in a horde of players who are clearly second, third or even fourth choice in their positions, Port’s scattergun recruitment policy now puts us in a position where a lot of promising talent will either be stagnating on the bench, loaned out or sold.

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A Pair of Thits: Twins Signing Highlights Port’s Lack of Recruitment Strategy

 

 

Yesterday Pang unveiled her latest two signings, with twin brothers Thitathorn and Thitawee Aksornsri joining from Police Tero, for a combined fee of at least 20m BHT (one reliable source told me it may be as much as 50m BHT). Both have played regularly for Tero and are also Thai U23 regulars, so, under normal circumstances, they would appear to be good signings.

These, however, are far from normal circumstances. Putting aside for the moment the ethics of spending millions of baht on new players when your existing ones have taken a COVID-19 pay cut, these latest signings highlight just how chaotic Port’s approach to recruitment is. Let’s look in more detail at these two new arrivals. Thitawee (the long-haired one) plays at CB or RB, and from now on will be known as Right Thit. This means he immediately finds himself in the pecking order behind Rochela, Dolah, Todsapol, Tanaboon (whom La Pang appears to think can do a job at CB, despite considerable evidence to the contrary), and recent new arrival Adisorn. Whilst there is less competition at RB, he finds himself behind the Thai league’s best player in that position Nitipong, who is virtually indestructible and never suspended, so Right Thit’s best hope is to be a backup RB.

Thitathorn (the short-haired one) is a CB or LB (making him Left Thit), and if there’s one thing Port love it’s signing left-backs and never using them. Not only does he find himself behind two of T1’s best LBs in Kevin Deeromram and Martin Steuble, he also has the highly rated Jaturapat in front of him, along with highly unfortunate dressing-room joker Yossawat, whose continuing presence at Port is increasingly and tragically reminiscent of David Brent still hanging around the offices of Wernham Hogg long after he was fired (“I’m a friend first, a left-back second, and an entertainer third”). So Left Thit has even less chance of getting game time than his brother.

So with Port spending more on defence than the US government, what exactly is going on here? Port’s squad now stands at 53, and with B teams having been scrapped for this season, that squad needs to be trimmed down to a maximum of 37 by the time the season starts. So what exactly is Port’s strategy? Well, very obviously there isn’t one. Some clubs – most famously 2000s Real Madrid – have a galactico strategy, buying up every big star they possibly can; others – eg Borussia Dortmund, or my own club St-Etienne – prefer to sign and develop promising youngsters. Few clubs try and do both at the same time. And any sensible club only recruits when and where it is needed, by carefully examining the squad and assessing where there are weaknesses, and only hiring new players who can strengthen.

Most of Port’s big name buys are pointless vanity signings, most notably Tanaboon, whose signing, coupled with the fact that he seems to have a clause in his contract guaranteeing him a starting place when fit, has destabilised the team. He can’t play at CB (he’s certainly not as good as Dolah, Rochela or Todsapol), and whilst he’s much better at DM, with Go, Kannarin and, last season, Anon all more than capable of filling that position, signing an expensive big name was totally pointless. Ditto the signings of Heberty (a great player but not the great player Port needed), Chappuis (a PR move at best), and Adisorn. None of these players were needed, none (with the possible exception of Heberty) have added or will add anything to the squad, and all they are doing is decreasing even further the chances for the club’s promising young players, making Port about as healthy an environment for youngsters as Jeffrey Epstein’s house.

It was clear at the start of the season that what Port badly needed were two players: a first-choice goalkeeper, as Port currently have three very average and either injury or accident-prone keepers, with the best of the three, Watchara, seemingly frozen out of the first XI; and a first choice out & out striker. No new goalkeeper appeared, and up front we signed Heberty, who despite his goal tally isn’t a no9, and Adisak, who isn’t the scary striker we needed. Last season Port could’ve signed Junior Negrao, who is currently tearing K-League defences a new one on a weekly basis, but opted for the hapless Rolando Blackburn instead. This season, the only genuine no9 at the club, Josimar, hasn’t even been registered for T1. Meanwhile, the club is collecting defenders and midfielders the way Brits were stockpiling bogroll when the coronavirus first hit, with about as much logic and common sense.

What do all these new arrivals mean for Port’s existing first XI? Well, many of Port’s stars are out of contract come the end of 2020 and so possibly the club are planning for an exodus. It also means that time may be up for Rochela (who was frozen out for the second half of last season), Dolah, who never seems to have quite convinced Jadet despite most of us seeing him as our best CB, and the unfortunate Todsapol; whilst in midfield, the excellent Kannarin is likely to find his chances restricted with Choke gone and Sir Det back in charge, whilst Siwakorn, long the subject of admiring glances from Bangkok Utd, may move on. This, of course, assumes that Port’s management team are capable of planning for the future, which is the second biggest assumption in Bangkok right now after the college. More likely it’s a combination of ego, face, metaphorical dick-measuring, and a desire to stop Port’s rivals scooping up the best talent. Either way, right now the club’s recruitment strategy resembles nothing more than the “Even better than that!” guy from The Fast Show.