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The Sandpit 2021/22 Big Guess Up – Muangthong United

 

The glory days appear to be well and truly over in Nonthaburi. As once again the closed season has seen talent drift away from the club. Yet much as I’d like to predict a season of hardship and a relegation battle, there remains enough quality in the squad, combined with the general drop in standard at the bottom of the division to keep them well clear.

The loss of Derley to Ratchaburi is very modern MTU. The Brazilian whilst some way below the calibre of striker seen at Legoland in years past, is a more than a decent player for Thailand. Yet with his contract up, his wage demands couldn’t be met by MTU and he was close to signing for newly promoted ChiangMai before Ratchaburi closed the deal. His replacement is Adisak Kraisorn who returns to the club having spent last season on loan at Port, where he amassed 11 goals in the league, just one less than the man he replaces, he did so however scoring a goal every 126 minutes of game time compared to 211 for Derley. This might not be quite the blessing it initially appears, as he completed 90 minutes on just 3 occasions. Is his body up to leading the attack week in and week out?

Also heading out the door are former club captain Wattana Plainum and Port loanee Chatmongkol Thongkiri which leaves them light in the midfielder who kicks people department. There’s just not anyone in there who screams battler. Maybe it’s some wonder kid I’m not aware of yet and if so, good luck to you young’un, Mr Ko will be pleased to meet you in round 5.

 

Head Coach – Mario Gjurovski

 

Mario not a fan of socks

When Gama left MTU in October 2020 the club decided to appoint from within, as former playing legend Mario, who had been appointed to coach some youth teams and undertake various PR duties, such as podcasting with Robbie Fowler (rewriting the history of the scouse goalscorers time at the club), took over at the helm. Overall it’s a smart move, Mario is loved by the faithful and buys a lot of goodwill, especially combined with the general reticence of Thai fans to criticise and things would have to get pretty bad before the fans turned on the manager.

And they’ve had little reason too so far in his tenure. Beating Buriram away in your second game would buy any manager plenty of goodwill. Added to a near total change in football style from his predecessor. Although it is worth pointing out that the Gama era at MTU lasted two games longer and produced two more wins than Mario’s so far, so the end product hasn’t improved even if the football has.  Muangthong now play some very fast moving and neat football going forward. It can be great to watch when it works.  The problem is it also leaves the defence exposed and when your defence is as flawed as this, that’s going to cause issues.  I like the full backs, Wattanakorn Sawatlakhon seems like that rarest of things a MTU prospect that might be more than OK, while the returning Jesse Curen always impresses me, a bit of a Kev light, with a bit more what the Aussie’s call “mongrel” in him. Infact I’d not be shocked if at some point we see him moved to try and plug the gaping “enforcer” shaped hole in their midfield.  Rather the issue is at centre back where you have Lucas Rocha partnered by Ballini or Chatchai Saengdao. Rocha’s just not that good. Make a list of all the foreign centre backs in the division, I don’t think there’s a worse one at a club with the slightest expectations of a top half finish. As for his partner, Ballini skill set doesn’t go much beyond being tall and Chatchai, is just there. The end result, the second most goals conceded by a top half finisher last season and a habit of giving away silly penalties. Most of which are blamed on some form of conspiracy. Which sees most defeats followed by the sending of a strongly worded letter of complaint to the FA or on field confrontation with the officials.

 

The attacking foreigners that remain are well suited to the style developed by Gjurovski. Way back in before COVID changed everything and the Leo Pre season cup, was able to be played, it was won by Port, over Muangthong, in case anyone had forgotten. Watching their games one thing that stood out, Willian Popp’s arrival in Thai football. The guy looked completely lost. In the early season, there was little improvement. However come October and the change of manager things have greatly improved and the Brazilian now looks a decent enough player and scores the odd screamer, including the league’s goal of the season. He’s is complimented by Weerathep Pomphan and Teeraphol Yoryoei who arrives having joined the exodus from Samut Prakan Dons, both suit the Mario brand of football and Teeraphol will get considerably more game time here than if he’d joined Port as was rumoured.

Key player – Sardor Mirzaev

However, the pick of the bunch is Sardor Mirzaev, who looks a very smart player,creates and scores goals aplenty and just looks a level above most in the league. Possible a little to far above the norm, as I sense they are stuck between a rock and a hard place with the Uzbeki. If he maintains the levels displayed last season and with MTU now a selling club, there’s a chance the offers come in. Conversely, you wonder how well they perform without him pulling the strings.

 

Sardor Mirzaev a very average pose for an above average player

 

Prediction – Schnook FC

At the end of Goodfella’s Ray Liotta’s character Henry Hill, laments the boredom of his new life, compared to his time as a wiseguy, “I’m an average nobody. I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook.” You suspect this is how it must feel for modern Muangthong fans.  When the majority signed up the club competed for titles and played continental football, signed the cream of players in the division and generally behaved like Thailand’s topdog. Not any longer now it’s a humdrum existence of midtable mediocrity, punctuated by the odd decent game thanks to their commitment to open football and pinning the hopes that the annual batch of youth team graduates produce something more than average pros. There will be no change this season. This is the weakest Muangthong team in the time I’ve followed Thai football, however its also the weakest the top tier has been in that time. Mediocracy awaits.

James Clarke

James Clarke

Originally from England, James first came to Thailand in 2010 to escape big cities and spend time on beaches away from crowds. He now divides his time between living in Bangkok and wishing he was living in Bangkok.

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