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The Sandpit 2021/22 Big Guess Up- Suphanburi

 

When I first started watching Thai football Suphanburi were very much a club on the up and widely considered to be the next cab off the rank into title contention. Sadly the years since have not been kind. As talent has drifted away from the club and the replacements either haven’t been to the same standard or haven’t worked out. A midfield of Thai international Charyl Cappuis, alongside the tenacious Adul Lasoh, a man with the looks of a soap villain and ankle biting jack russel esk game seldom seen in Thailand and widemen Chananan Pombuppa (in his time with Suphanburi) and Tanasith Siripala have departed the club. However this year the arrival of Lossémy Karaboué gives them a player to rival the best the club has seen. Can it be the move to kick start the club’s potential and a return to the heady days of 2015 when they finished third or will this season follow the pattern of recent years and once again see the club scrapping for survival to the bitter end?

 

Head Coach – Adebayo Gbadebo

Gbadebo’s time at Suphanburi is somewhat akin to Jadet’s with Port, moving from director of football to manager and back, only to return to the dugout when his replacements have failed to produce. In the past, his style was viewed as ultra defensive and the feeling when he moved upstairs in 2018 was that his team wasn’t entertaining enough and he might have taken them as far as he could. Only to return when things took a turn for the worse under Pairoj Borwonwatanadilok and successor Totchtawan Sripan. During his time away from the dugout he either had a footballing epiphany or the owners at the club decided to force his hand by supply a much more attack focused squad. Only Police and Samut Prakan Dons conceded more without being relegated last season. Although Suphanburi did have the one man car crash of defending that is Alef. Gbadebo will be hoping his departure leads to improvement from a defence led by Suphan Thongsong, a Thai international and steller performances, supported by Piyachanok Darit and Daisuke Sato, who arrives from Muangthong, having found himself usurped at the Nonthaburi club last season. He joins fellow Filipino’s Patrick Reichelt and Patrick Deyto at the club, with all three likely to be starters, the club is one of the better users of the ASEAN rule in the league.*

Adebayo Gbadebo polo shirt and double point

 

Key Player – Lossémy Karaboué

The signing of Karaboué is a coup of the highest order, whilst in his time at Ratchaburi the goals of Yannick Boli and the flair of Steeven Langil, garnered the headlines. It was the Ivorian, who started his career in France, quietly conducting the team. He’ll be the jewel in Suphanburi’s crown this season and you’d suspect would have signed for one of the division’s “top” clubs, if his profile included a few more goals and assists or he had a more convenient passport. Their loss is Suphanburi’s gain as there are few better midfielders in the league.

 

Lossémy Karaboué I’m all pun’d out beyond hes’s a Suphan player

My Prediction – Groundhog Season

The same as every recent season. There’s a lack of quality and depth in the squad that will embark on the first leg. Danilo Alves could fire them to safety but a new arrival to Thailand and a journeyman career that includes stops in Albania and the Uzbeki second tier is a worry. However, we’ve been here before with Suphanburi and we know what is likely to unfold. So, I suspect the opening leg won’t define their season. Rather anything less than an absolute disaster come the mid season window, will see reinforcements brought in and a late season push for survival. Can they dodge a bullet a third time? The last two seasons have ended with them taking it to the wire of a last day escape and technically being relegated, only to be resurrected by the decision of PTT Rayong to fold.  I’m sure the vast ranks of Supanburi fans would prefer an uneventful midtable finish but l suspect we’re in for a dogfight to the bitter end, can they top their last two cliffhanger endings?

 

 

 

*This line was in the draft version before Reichelt delivered this one emoji knockout to me on twitter, after Suphanburi’s impressive 0-0 draw away to Buriram in the opening round.

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The Sandpit 2021/22 Big Guess Up- Chonburi

Chonburi are your typical team that won something many moons ago, and still hang on to the belief that they should be mixing it up with the top-half of the table every season, and possibly be involved in a challenge at some point. Bar their Thai FA Cup in 2016, that was their last piece of silverware, with the Kor Royal Cup in 2012 being the piece before that. Safe to say, for a team with the pedigree that Chonburi has, and for a fan base and boardroom that expects so much: they’ve been massively underachieving for the last 5-years. Bar a few glimpses of promise of course, namely the FA Cup win in 2016, and them finishing runners-up in it last season too.

For me, I feel we’ve seen a transition of the club, and in my opinion, it’s for the better too. In previous seasons I’ve looked at the Chonburi squad, laughed, and commented ‘Dad’s Army’ on it. The same can’t be said now, as there is a youth movement at the club, with there only being a handful of players over the age of 30. It’s a major shift in strategy in my opinion, and they’ve now got a core of talented [young] Thai players, that have gained experience in the past few years, with them being complemented by solid foreign players in the form of Dennis Murillo, Gidi Kanyuk, and Yoo Byung Soo. I’m not that fussed by Renato Kelic if I’m honest, but when you compare him to Junior Lopes, I guess he looks like prime Paolo Maldini…

I think this season is one that should be a real lift to Chonburi fans, because there’s plenty of reasons to be excited by their squad, and the pressure is now on their head coach to lift them out of their slide down the table in recent years. Since 2016, Chonburi have finished: 5TH à 7TH à 9TH à 7TH à 12TH. Simply put, they’ve been a club mismanaged for at least the past 5-years, and it’s about time they started to turn things around.

Chonburi they’ve cleaned up this close season

Head Coach – Sasom Pobprasert

I haven’t paid too much attention to coach Sasom in the past if I’m honest, with my main memories of him being from his time with Air Force Central. From conversations that I’ve had with certain individuals, I’m led to believe he’s quite a useful coach with younger players, which makes the Chonburi strategy of signing a plethora of has-beens in the past few seasons even more of a headscratcher for me. Regardless, the same can’t be said about the team this season, and it should be a good indicator of just how good their coach is.

Below is Sasom’s record in charge of Chonburi:

GAMESWINSDRAWSLOSSESWIN %
441781938.64

 

I guess it’s solid enough, but it’s nothing to write home about either. If they can finish this season with more draws than losses [and more wins than draws of course!], then that would be considered a major success in my eyes.

Coach Sasom, is his Sharks team set to fly up the table?

 

Key Player – Dennis Murillo

It was actually quite difficult to decide on who I feel will be their key man, as you could’ve also gone for the likes of Kritsada, Worachit or Gidi. I opted to not take the easy option and give multiple players, and I’ll tell you why: Dennis is superb. I’m not saying he’s a magnificent player, as I feel that he’s quite average in a few areas, but if you’re looking for someone who’ll find the back of the net for you on a regular basis: he’s your man. There’s no fuss with him, he can be relied upon to show up and do his job, and considering some of the ‘diva’ foreign players that we’ve seen in Thailand, it’s a nice change.

Provided he gets good service from Gidi and Worachit, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him have another 20-goal season, and fill the goalscoring void that the club’s had since they inexplicably sold Lukian in 2019.

 

Dennis Murillo her erm rocks and he plays for Chonburi now

My Prediction – Mid-table, possibly top-half

I think we’ll see quite an improvement from Chonburi this season, and I’m quite certain that we won’t see them flirting with relegation this time about. Simply put, there’s worse teams in the league this year, but take nothing away from the club: they’ve gotten their recruitment right. Only Rayong scored less goals in the division last season, so to get the top scorer remain in the country and his main supply route, is both quite a coup and a simple fix to your main problem. Better late than never in that regard! If I were on the Chonburi board, my message to Sasom would be quite simple:

“You’ve been able to build a strong team this season. Get the results required, or you’ll be moved on.”

Whether or not he has the capability to do so remains to be seen, but there’s enough attacking pieces at the club to see them find the back of the net frequently. The problem for me is their defensive unit, though I quite like Chatmongkol, but I’m just not certain that there’s enough quality within it to keep their opposition at bay. Throw Chanin into the mix, who’s good for at least 3 howlers a season: it should make for an interesting season to say the least!

 

 

 

 

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The Sandpit 2021/22 Big Guess Up- Samut Prakan Dons

Pattaya United  Samut Prakan City Dons (none of that City nonsense on this site-Ed) have had a somewhat tumultuous off-season, with them seemingly gutted by other Thai League 1 clubs for their better players. It appears that the purse-strings have been sealed shut, and possibly even superglued to boot, with them not being able to bring in like for like replacements. Considering that the owners had a few illusions of grandeur when they stole relocated the team to Samut Prakan, it’s a bit of a kick in the teeth for the fans that had bought into their ideas. If it means that we never see the ridiculous 30,000 capacity stadium that they said they wanted to build: I’m all for it.

There’s been quite a lot of departures this off-season, and although I see a lot of sadness from the fans about the loss of Peeradon, for me: Teeraphol is the bigger loss. Peeradon is a pretender, a passion merchant, and someone that you can’t rely on when the going gets tough. Teeraphol, on the other hand, is always up for a battle, and can drag you out of a messy situation with a goal or two. I know which player I’d have preferred Port to sign, and it certainly wasn’t the former captain…

Add in the losses of Ernesto, Barros Tardelli, and Jakkapan: this team is barely recognizable! I’m quite intrigued by the arrival of Daisuke Sakai, whilst ChaiyaTwat is usually good for a few goals over the course of the season too.

 

Samut Prakan Dons close season transfer policy

 

Head Coach – Masatada Ishii

Samut Prakan have managed to hold onto their Japanese tactician, who I feel is probably in the top-3 for head coaches across the entire league. For me, that top-3 is: [begrudgingly] Gama, Dusit, and Ishii. Make of that what you will. I think a lot of clubs forget how important it is to have a quality head coach, with most owners preferring a puppet that they can overrule. It’s a serious issue that we’ve had at Port for far too long, but it appears that the Samut Prakan ownership have at least allowed Ishii to steer the club in the direction that he believes it needs to go. Unfortunately for him: they’ve given him a significantly worse squad this season.

Wiki currently has Ishii’s stats for Samut Prakan City at:

GAMESWINSDRAWSLOSSESWIN %
301451146.67

 

They’re some solid stats, and truthfully: the club’s in safe hands. If they can tighten up their defence this season, their lack of goalscoring prowess will be less of a problem, as I feel they’ll be involved in a lot of 1-nil games this season. It’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out, and the fans must be praying that ownership can do enough to convince Ishii to extend his stay even further.

 

Coach Ishii, standard polo shirt and point shot but this guy is a cut above most

Key Player – Jaroensak Wonggorn, and then Aris Zarifović

I’ve opted for the safe option of Jaroensak as my key player, although that’ll change when the owners [undoubtedly] sell him at the first opportunity they get. Jaroensak has tremendous potential, and although his end product can be a bit lacking at times: he’s a player that I have a lot of time for. I also like the fact that you barely see him posting on social media [TAKE NOTE ALL T1 PLAYERS!], which shows [to me] that he’s switched on, and committed to becoming a better player. Good on him, and I wish there was more like him.

Once Jaroensak departs, the mantle of ‘key player’ will be taken by Aris Zarifović, with the Slovenian central-defender one of the more underrated foreign players in the league. If I’m honest, I think he’s one of the better foreign central-defenders to have played in Thailand in the last 5-years, and if clubs focused on signing foreign defenders who can actually defend: there’d be less turnover of players too! If I had the opportunity to swap Rochela for Zarifović: I’d snap your hand off. That’s how highly I think of him, but [unfortunately] he’s not pretty enough to be on a billboard, so it’s highly unlikely that Pang would ever sign someone like him.

Jaroensak Wonggorn “where have all mer mates gone?”

 

My Prediction – Mid-table

This team is nothing like the team that was so impressive last season, and I feel like Masatada Ishii has been let down by ownership with the transfer manoeuvres that he’s been allowed to make. To replace Barros Tardelli with Eliandro is such a major downgrade, whilst Phoutthasay Khochalern is nowhere near as good as Zulfahmi Arifin, who they didn’t retain, and has since signed for Sukhothai. I imagine that Khochalern is a much more ‘budget friendly’ option to have, and if there’s anything that this team now screams out: it’s budget friendly.

All things considered, this squad is more than capable of surviving quite comfortably, and that’s helped by the fact that they have such a good head coach. It really wouldn’t surprised me if he gets poached by another club, like Chiangrai or Ratchaburi, and if that happens: then they could be in some trouble. Provided ownership finds some money again, it could be a single season of pain for the fans, with better times just around the corner. But if the owners are no longer interested in investing in a solid team: things could get messy.

The big question is: what club do the fans latch themselves onto if this one ceases to exist?

 

 

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The Sandpit 2021/22 Big Guess Up – Port

On many levels, it was a closed season much like the majority in the Pang era for Port. As the club went out and purchased the league’s best available attacking option. Once again failing to address the fact that it’s an out and out goalscorer we needed and not another attacking midfielder/winger/second striker to add to an already overstocked squad.  So, in came John Baggio from Sukhothai, perhaps they didn’t realise the diminutive Malagasy preferred role, as we went into the ACL campaign with him as our main attacking option and Nelson Bonilla (9) dropped from the squad. And who knows if he’d found the net rather than the crossbar when presented with a golden opportunity two minutes into his debut against Hong Kong’s Kitchee, perhaps his Port career and the ACL campaign would have worked out differently. As it was, it would prove to be the end of the “Oud” era as Sarawut Treephan paid with his job for failing to grasp possible the best chance we’ll get to advance to the knock out stage of the continental competition anytime soon.  I liked Oud and though there were moments where we showed signs of trying to play some more cerebral football but it’s hard to defend a guy when his tactics, as they were by the latter stages of that Kitchee game, are reduced to firing long balls up to a bloke who’s a mere 5ft2 tall. Besides for once when presented with a golden opportunity, the Port board took advantage and made a shrewd move. As in came Dusit Charlermsan.

 

John Baggio Port’s short time star

 

 

Head Coach – Dusit Charlermsan

 

There’s been plenty written about what happened at BG Pathum United leading up to Dusit’s departure but when a manager wins you the league for the first time, to send him packing to one of your minion clubs, rather than just making him step aside in the short term, due to the licencing requirements of the ACL group stage, it should come as no shock he takes it as a bit of a slight.  BG’s loss is Port’s gain, as rather than having to still turn up at Leo stadium, to managing the Bunnies cast off, kids etc of Rajpracha in T2, Dusit moves into central Bangkok to take charge of Port.

Under him BG won the league last season looking untroubled. They were unbeaten while the competition was still alive and conceded just 13 goals and kept 18 clean sheets over the season. Playing a system built on a rock solid back five. Added to that goals regularly came from set pieces, an area where Port has been sub par in recent years, so hopefully, we see an improvement there.

It’ll be interesting to see how Dusit sets up his Port team. The defence at BG was fairly fixed, will he again settle on one preferred lineup and use it when available or mix things up? In the middle of the defence, the el capitán Wheel of fortune has landed on “in” twice in a row, for the first time in a while, so David Rochela (22), keeps his place for the league campaign. I can see him playing in the middle of the three CBs. There are a multitude of options to play alongside him, the physical presence of Elias Dolah (4), the effortless libero stylings of Worawut “Baresi” Namvech (24), Tanaboon Kesaret (17) offers more going forward and could get plenty of times against lesser teams, then there’s Adisorn Pomrak (20) and twins Thitawee (2) and Thitathorn (3) Aksornsri who will be looking to establish themselves at the club beyond their advertising work.

 

Dusit in his first spell managing Port

 

 

The wingback/fullback role presents two distinct and different options on each side. Nitipong Selanon (34) and Jaturapat (15) offer more defensive stability, however, in Kevin Deeromram (23) and Philip Roller(33) we have two great wingback options who will trouble anyone in the league going forward. Roller arrived from Rathaburi over the closed season, having finished last season as the top scoring Thai, all the more impressive as he did whilst playing wingback. Sadly Kevin starts the season recovering from surgery but ultimately when everyone is available, I hope we play the more attacking options.

The keeper situation still hasn’t been addressed and we go into the campaign with Watchara Buathong (1), Rattanai Songsangchan(18) and Worawut Srisupha (36) still vying for the starting spot. All three are decent and you’d suspect walk into a starting role at more clubs in the division than not. Yet all are flawed and you’d hope we’d at some point see one kick on or sign a top keeper.

The midfield pair of Ko/Go Seul-Ki (8) and Siwakorn (16) are firmly established and l don’t see them being displaced come the start of the season. They are ably supported by understudies Charyl Chappuis (6) and Kannarin Thawornsak (31), who again in a sign of the depth of the squad at Port would be a starting pair at most clubs outside the “big 5”. The attacking options at Port are somewhat more bohemian that fits the image of a Dusit team. I’ve got no idea how he fitting the plethora of talent at his disposal into a team. You imagine that Sergio Suarez (5) will be a starter, having developed into one of the league’s star performers in the years he’s spent in Klong Toei. The Bordin (10) Kevin combination down the left is always enjoyable to watch and get the better of the vast majority of teams. There’s also Pakorn Prempak (7) who appears in the best shape of his time with the club and scored one of the goals of the ACL group stage. All supplemented by a battalion of flair in Tanasith Siripala (11), Nurul Sriyankem (13), Nattawut Sombatyotha (45) and the returning Sansarn Limwattana (69).

Not often you get a Port preview with no mention of the fans or PAT atmosphere

 

Key Player – Nelson Bonilla

The one area where Port are light on numbers is in the striker department. Adisak Kraisorn has had to return to Legoland (thoughts and prayers fella) and Yannick Boli has moved on to Chiangmai United. In comes experience Thai league performer Javier Patiño (30) another of our annual raids on Ratchaburi. I expect him to be primarily used as a backup. As it will be Nelson Bonilla having been resurrected to the squad who starts most games. At his best Bonilla is deadly, the kind of cold blooded finisher seldom seen in Thailand. Sadly the last couple of seasons have been beset by injuries. Whilst there have been flashes of return to the levels seen for Sukhothai, they’ve not lasted for a run of games. If the El Salvadoran hitman finds his way back to that form for a prolonged period, combined with Dusits nous, this after all is a manager who topped the league at the midpoint last season relying solely on the attacking prowess of Chenrop Samphaodi and Siroch Chatthong, then Port are well on route to a successful season.

 

 

One of the best goals in recent years at Port, captured in a great shot by Allie Suwanrumpha

 

My Prediction – I’m the party pooper as Port aren’t.

 

 

I’d love to be writing that we’ll end up champions here but I just can’t. That said l still think there will be massive progress this season. Especially if certain outside forces at the club focus their attention on more international matters and let Dusit get on with the job he knows how to do and they don’t. Its not impossible we surpass the more fancied BG and Buriram but l think its more likely we ended up third, edging out Chiangrai and Bangkok United in the battle for the ACL spots.

 

 

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The Sandpit 2021/22 Big Guess Up- Police Tero

Of the current Bangkok-based Thai League 1 sides, one could argue: Police Tero are the least glamorous. They’re a club I’ll always think of as BEC Tero, though the glory days of the past are exactly that: a thing of the past. The days of them having the best players in Thailand are over, their somewhat dodgy deal with Muangthong saw to that, whilst we also snapped up the Aksornsri twins from them a few years back, in a move that hasn’t worked out well for the players, nor Port FC. I still think that Thitathorn will amount to a good player, but the more I see of Thitawee: the less impressed I am.

There are quite a few new faces in the squad this season, with the signing of Lesley Ablorh being one I’m interested in, whilst the arrivals of Anon Samakorn, Wanchai Jarunongkran, and Alexander Sieghart on loan deals will be extremely interesting to watch too. Anon needs a big season to kick-start his stuttering career, which you could also argue as being the case for Sieghart too. If they can’t shine this season: they may have to drop down to Thai League 2 next time.

This Police Tero squad has a Chonburi-esque [of recent years] feel about it: it’s quite an old squad. Whilst Chonburi have solved that issue this season, Tero hasn’t, with them having at least 9 first-team players over the age of 30 at the time of writing. Also, that’s not mentioning all the older players that they allowed to depart during the off-season! I think that there’ll be an attempt to rejuvenate the squad mid-season, with the first-half of the season spent trying to keep themselves away from the relegation spots.

 

Police Tero…… Criminal Merch.

 

Head Coach – Rangsan Viwatchaichok

Police Tero isn’t a club that typically gives their head coach a lot of time: they’ve had 7 managerial changes since 2016. It was the disastrous decision to hire Mike Mulvey in 2017 that would ultimately lead to their relegation in 2018 in my opinion, though the horrendous spells of Scott Cooper and Totchtawan Sripan in 2018 certainly didn’t help either. All 3 of them were complete disasters for the club, they got their recruitment horribly wrong, and they managed to get a club with a strong pedigree and history relegated. Good job lads!

This is Rangsan’s 4TH spell in charge of Tero, with his stats this time around:

GAMESWINSDRAWSLOSSESWIN %
6930142543.47

 

It’s not a bad record at all, and though I’m sure people will say “but it includes Thai League 2!”, he can only play the teams in front of him! With that being said, I do think he’ll need to win more than 10 games this season, otherwise, he could very well be on course to be replaced, only to get the job again a few months later. A Jadet-esque situation!

 

Rangsan Viwatchaichok – out styles the Police merch department

 

Key Player – Issac Honey

Issac is a tremendous footballer, who’s been at Tero on-off since his arrival in Thailand in 2013. Bar his 2-year spell at Angthong in Thai League 2, he’s been on the books of the club every other season, and it signals how highly regarded he is by club management. I think he’s a better striker than defender, having watched him play as a striker for Angthong, finishing 2ND in the Thai League 2 Golden Boot in 2017 with 17 goals. If all else fails, and Evandro Paulista is let go by the club, they should consider signing another central-defender and entrusting Issac with the key role of finding the back of the net.

Unfortunately, I think that’s extremely unlikely, and it’ll be up to the likes of Teerathep, Arthit, and Evandro to score the goals to keep the club in the league. Can they do it? It remains to be seen.

 

Isaac Honey

 

My Prediction – Relegation battle

I honestly can’t see Police Tero doing too much over the course of the season, and I’ll be quite surprised if they manage a few shock results. There just doesn’t appear to be any proper quality within the squad, and the fact that they moved on from Richard Sukuta-Pasu before the season even began is a bit of a shock too. To replace a striker with a midfielder suggest that they’re confident they’ll get enough goals from elsewhere, but I truly struggle to see where those goals will come from. Don’t get me wrong: Lesley Ablorh is a good signing, and I think he’s deserved a chance in Thai League 1 for a number of years. But where will the goals come from!?

I’ve enjoyed watching their style of play in recent years, as they tend to play a 3-4-3 most weeks, but there’s some glaring weaknesses in the squad at the moment. Who knows, they could make a number of changes mid-season and prove me completely wrong!

 

 

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The Sandpit 2021/22 Big Guess Up – Buriram

There aren’t many clubs where two seasons without a trophy, would be considered a drought but then not many clubs around the world enjoy the level of dominance Buriram has had over the recent history of Thai football. Not that last season was terrible, it started poorly with 5 defeats in the first ten games. The last of which saw Alexandre Gama’s second spell at the helm get off to a somewhat uninspiring start with just a point at Trat from his first two games and five goals conceded. However thereafter the Isaan club was flying for the rest of the season. Collecting more points than title winners BG Pathum United in the remaining rounds. Whilst the champion’s defence was being heralded, Buriram matched them over the last sixteen rounds as both clubs managed a remarkable eleven clean sheets.

 

oi maaaaaate, how many years since you won anything?

That tight defence is lead by the dependable Pansa Hemviboon. Whilst the departure of Sasalak Haiprakhon for the first half of the season to Jeonbuk in Korea is certainly a disadvantage, there’s potentially a massive upgrade in the backline coming in the form of Brazilian centre back Digão, who arrived in the middle of last season only to be barely seen, playing in the three cup games but only making one league matchday squad where he was an unused substitute.  If the plan was to give him time to get used to Thai conditions it’s potentially a masterstroke as he was till recently a regular for Fluminense, a solid midtable team in the Brazilian top tier.

Also remaining at the club for a second season are Brazilian forwards Maicon and Samual Rosa.  The jury seems to be still out on these two. A feeling seeming shared by the club as the summer started with them pursuing the signing of Barros Tardeli (who had previously been linked heavily with Port). To the point, it was reported as a done deal with a rumoured private jet flying him and his wife into the Thai countryside to help with issues around visa’s and/or COVID. Yet the deal wasn’t completed and Tardeli instead headed to K League and Suwon FC.

Since getting hold of Diogo and Tunez, the foreign signings made by Buriram just haven’t worked.  Given that it’s not like this a club shops in the Carlos kickaball bargain bins that most Thai league budgets necessitate, you’d expect somewhat more from the numerous big money signings with track records featuring stints in numerous major leagues, yet it never quite happens. However, these two are getting what most of those haven’t, time. I’ve liked Rosa on occasions and expect him to come good.  Given that they also have Supachok and Suphanat at their disposal and an owner not afraid to spend in mid-season should the need arise. I don’t expect there to be major problems getting goals this season.

 

 

 

Head Coach – Gama

Quite simply if you let him come in get on with the job success seems almost certain to follow (which could be why he’s never managed Port). His only “failure” in Thailand came at Muangthong. Although even there he still managed to win over 50% of games.  Elsewhere it’s been year on year success since he took over at Buriram in 2014. A footballing pragmatist would probably be a fair description of Gama’s style. He knows how to win and finds a way to do it be it pretty or backs to the wall. That it often isn’t the most open style that he chooses, counts against him with some,  especially as he’s led some of the best funded clubs, however, the doubters tend to be silenced come the end of the season when the trophy’s roll in.

 

 

Gama – loves a Britpop coat

 

Key Player – Peeradon Chamratsamee

To be honest, I’ve been getting heaps of abuse for this selection in the preview chat. The general feeling was this guy is very much one of those Thai central midfielders, winning a game 2-1, no worries he’ll turn on the tricks and pretty passes and put you out of sight. Conversely, when it’s dogs of war time and you’re in a tight contest with near rivals or just generally outgunned by superior opposition he’ll go missing. A case that his performances in the league against Port last season support. In round two he was largely anonymous as Samut Prakan Dons were beaten 4-1, come Christmas and with SPD 2-0 up inside 7 minutes, his role was reversed as he bossed the midfield picking Port apart, as they chased the game and he pulled the strings on a 6-3 win. I was surprised to discover he was as old as 28, I’d assumed he was younger and had more time on his side to develop.  So why is he my key play? Well primarily he suits Buriram, there will be far fewer games, where he isn’t on the dominant side and when they do come up against the top teams he’ll be surrounded by better players than in his time with Pattaya and SPD, who will offer more help to turn the tide. There’s also a bit of the bedevilment to him, as we’re talking about a player who has managed to collect yellow cards more regularly than Siwakorn over the last two seasons. I beleive he can offer the kind of midfield craft that Buriram has been lacking in recent seasons.

 

 

Peeradon Chamratsamee lovely shirt fella

 

 

 

My Prediction – Champions

There’s plenty of questions still to be answered about this Buriram team. However looking at the whole package, l see less that is likely to go wrong than their fellow title challengers. If Digão is a dud, they’ve already dealt with being without him and had a watertight defence. Given that they outperformed BG from the time Gama got settled/ the second half of the season and BG have regressed it seems the logical choice to make them favorites for the title. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that we see the Rangsit Bunnys defend the title or one of the other members of the “big 5” has a better than predicted season and top the table. It’s just for me, Buriram are mostly likely finish the season as champions.

 

Ex Port man Niran Hansson moved to Buriram preseason, I guess it wasn’t a kit based decision.

 

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The Sandpit 2021/22 Big Guess Up -Ratchaburi Mitr Phol

 

Ratchaburi are a team that intrigue me every season, as they typically seem to promise so much during the first-leg of the season, only to drop off in the second-leg and have you wondering what could’ve been. They’re a club that aren’t afraid to make spur of the moment decisions, ones that’ll have you scratching their head, but I’ll cut them some slack: they have a wonderful stadium. I guess one of the perks of being a semi-basketcase is the fact that you’ll get some slack cut due to being able to offer a great matchday experience. Take note clubs with running tracks.

I’m going to be quite blunt: they were poor in the Asian Champions League. So poor, in fact, that they terminated the contracts of Junior Mapuku and Vafa Hakhamaneshi, who were both new arrivals. Bar having a brilliant name, I didn’t think much of Mapuku’s CV, and if Ratchaburi wanted a ‘target man’ type of striker: they’d have been better off signing Jhonatan Bernardo. He spent the second-half of last season at Chiangmai last season, and was quite impressive with the way he was not only able to score goals, but also bring his teammates into the play too. Vafa was quite unfortunate in my opinion [the entire backline was poor in the ACL], but he mustn’t have ‘clicked’ well enough for the club to think of him as part of their long-term plans.

It’s been an off-season filled with departures for Ratchaburi, with key players Roller and Karaboué leaving, whilst bit-part and forgotten players such as Patiño, Porteria, Santipap, and Apiwat departing too. I was quite surprised that they didn’t give OJ Porteria more chances, but it is what it is. He’s now back in the Philippines, where I’m sure he’ll obliterate the league once again.

 

Head Coach – Somchai Maiwilai

Somchai has been at the club on-off since 2009, which is quite incredible really. In that times, he’s had 6 spells as the head coach, 3 of which were on a ‘caretaker’ basis, whilst he’s also had 2 spells as the assistant coach. There was a 4-year spell [2014-18] where he wasn’t at the club, which also coincided with a short period where the club did quite well in the Thai Premier League/Thai League 1. Whilst I’m not a big fan of a 4-3-3 set-up personally [I find it a bit boring], Ratchaburi tend to sign the right players to play it the way it should be played, and a lot of that can go down to the help that his Director of Football [Robert Procureur] gives him too.

I don’t think that Somchai is a brilliant coach, but I also don’t think that he’s a bad coach either. He’s your stock standard coach that’ll get the team set-up, and although he won’t get every decision right: he’s got their best intentions at heart. Ratchaburi have had a few personnel losses over the course of the off-season, which hasn’t helped them out, but I’m still of the opinion that they’ve got enough about them where they’ll manage a top-6 finish.

 

Somchai Maiwilai in standard manager pointing pose

 

Key Player – Steeven Langil

It’s the Martinique international winger that’s the key man, with his pace and trickery obliterating most of the Thai League 1 left-backs since his arrival in the Land of Smiles. He’s got the perfect blend of pace, trickery, and end product to boot, and he’s one of the better imports within the league. If you want an example of the quality of his delivery, have a look at the first goal Ratchaburi scored against the Scum a few years back:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tSdVPAZaG_E

The highlight in that video [for me] was the comical goalkeeping talent of Đặng Văn Lâm, and the shambolic defending for Ratchaburi’s second goal. I sure hope you Scummers never change!

Now, back to Langil, he doesn’t quite have as good a striker/target to aim for this season, with Ratchaburi losing Boli last season, and replacing him with Derley this season. I know there’ll be a lot of clowns that get upset by this, but the stats back it up: Boli scores more goals than Derley. Therefore: Boli is a better striker. Hopefully Langil-Derley are on the same page early on, as they’re the duo that will keep The Dragons close-ish to the top of the table.

 

Steeven Langil hes rather good

 

My Prediction – Top-6

Ratchaburi are one of the few clubs to have not filled their entire foreign quota, and I’m not including the ASEAN rule in that. I think they’ll make a few big moves during the mid-season window, especially if it begins to get a bit easier to bring in players from abroad, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them shoot right up the table in the second-leg. It’d make for a nice change anyway! They look a top-6 team for me, but looks can be deceptive, but if they make a few solid additions during the next transfer window: they could certainly nail down their spot.

They’ve got a solid enough core to the squad, and I actually quite like some of their additions. A move away from Bangkok United might allow us to see less petulance from Sanrawat, do on his day: is a quality player. If he’s afforded the freedom to move about as he pleases, we could see a big season from him. Hopefully: there’s better barbers in Ratchaburi too! The return of Jakkapan, the addition of Wüthrich, and the drive from Kritsananon… there’s plenty to like in that midfield. I think we’ll see Woodland feature as a central-defender alongside Pawee, and I’m curious as to whether Schipmann will get many opportunities in goal too. There’s a host of puns we can use if he does, so I’m hoping that he’ll get a plenty of chances over the course of the season.

But, what I really want to know is this: will Phakin Khamwilaisak get some meaningful game-time!?

 

 

 

The Sandpit 2021/22 Big Guess Up – Khonkaen United

Khonkaen United capped off a meteoric rise for themselves, with them securing back-to-back-to-back promotions via the playoffs last season. It’s quite incredible in the sense that it could’ve been Nakhon Pathom coming up instead, and you could say the exact same thing about them too! Regardless, it was the King Cobras who were promoted due to their superiority from the penalty spot, and personally: I’m very intrigued by how they’ll fare. I’m going to be honest: I felt their recruitment was… lacklustre. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve signed a few good players during the off-season [Ibson Melo for one], but I also feel they’ve signed players that showed last season that they weren’t good enough to be playing in the top tier of Thai football.

I’ll admit that I don’t know too much about the Thai players at the club, but it appears that a fair few of them have [at one stage] played for the underage Thai national teams, although considering the way the national teams are selected at times… it doesn’t say too much either. I think it’s simply a “wait and see” approach that I’ll take to the squad, but of the players that I am aware of: very few impress me. First things first, let me just say that I think re-signing Douglas Cobo, and bringing in Ibson Melo are two very smart moves for the club. They’re quality players, and if Ibson can stay fit: he’s worth 6-9 points over the course of the season.

It’s the signings of Alef, Joshua Grommen, and Yashir Islame that I have major reservations over. Two of them didn’t exactly set the world alight last season in Thai League 1 last season, and I’m sure there’ll be plenty of excuses as to why, whilst the other has had an up-and-down time elsewhere in the region over the course of his career. Personally, I would’ve found it more interesting to see how the players who got them promoted would’ve fared, as bar Ibson Melo: I don’t think their new signings are any better than the players they’ve replaced.

 

Carlos Eduardo Parreira in holding scarf shot

Head Coach – Carlos Eduardo Parreira

Khonkaen United has had a host of head coaches since their return to the Thai League structure, with Wikipedia [great source, right!?] saying that Carlos Eduardo Parreira is their 6TH head coach since 2018. I remember at the end of last season, they seemed to begin to panic, with Sugao Kambe being sacked, with his replacement eventually steering them to promotion via the playoffs. He’s since been redesignated to another role, and although it was speculated that Sirisak Yodyardthai would take charge, Parreira was announced not long after.

He seems to have had a great mixture of success and failure during his time in Thailand, and it’ll be interesting to see how this pans out. Would it have been wiser to get an experienced Thai League 1 coach in? Probably. Would that have even been possible? Maybe not. Good luck to the Brazilian, although if history is anything to go by, he better win a few games quickly, or he’ll be on the lookout for a new job!

 

Key Player – Douglas Cobo

To me: Douglas is ‘Mr Khonkaen United’. He signed for the club in 2018 when they were in Thai League 4, and he’s been with them ever since. He’s the captain of the club, a fantastic professional, and he’s the glue of the squad. I was pleased to see him playing at the base of the midfield last season, and although he’s just as comfortable as a central-defender: it’s midfield where I think he’s of most value to the team. He can read the game well, recycle possession, and not to mention: he takes a good penalty too! With Douglas in the midfield, the King Cobras are in safe hands, and I’m happy to see him lining up for the club in Thai League 1. When you consider how little loyalty there is to foreign players from clubs at times [and vice versa, of course], it’s great to see a player remain in one place for so long, and enjoy so much success in the process. Well done to all involved!

Another player worth mentioning is also Ibson Melo, who [if he can keep fit] should bang in quite a few goals over the course of the season. He’s replacing Paulo Conrado, who scored a hell of a lot of goals for the club, so he’s got big boots to fill. I was actually quite surprised to see Conrado depart the club, and we’ll have to wait and see if this decision will be vindicated.

 

Douglas Cobo and friends

 

My Prediction – Relegation battle

I just can’t get past how horrendous the recruitment of defensive players has been for the club. Alef didn’t set the world alight at Suphanburi last season, narrowly avoiding relegation, whilst Filipino central-defender Joshua Grommen was a key player in a side that WAS relegated. I’m not saying it was personally his fault, but if you’re a key member of a defence with the third-worst defensive record in the league AND the club is relegated: you haven’t exactly done your job very well either. It’s simply a case of they’re going to have to score a hell of a lot of goals in order to win games this season, as I can’t see them keeping many cleansheets.

There’s a good chance that Khonkaen United become a yo-yo club between Thai League 1 and Thai League 2, as I do think that if they do go down: they’ll know what’s required in order to come back up. I’d like them to do well, as I want to do an away game there, but there’s just too many question marks for me. Regardless: good luck to them!

 

Khonkaen United Kobra Kai esk

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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.

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The Sandpit 2021/22 Big Guess Up – PT Prachuap

I’ve always quite liked PT Prachuap since their arrival in Thai League 1 in 2018, with their strike force of Jonatan Reis and Lonsana Doumbouya shaking things up and capturing my attention. They didn’t hang around too long, and it was no surprise that in their 2ND season in the league they dropped 3-places on the table, but they did manage to bring the Thai League Cup back to the seaside. The recruitment for season 2020-21 had appeared so promising, with the likes of William Henrique, and Bruno Mezenga definitely having me think “they’re going to try and challenge for a top-4 place this time around.” They complemented the Brazilian duo with the likes of Yoo Jun-soo, Baihakki Khaizan, and Iain Ramsay, with only the signing of Ramsay going on to be a success.

I think it’s fair to say that William Henrique was a disappointment for the club last season, and this time around: they’ve taken a bit more of a backseat approach. In my opinion, I feel like they’re going to see how they fare in the first-leg with the players that they have, and if things aren’t going as well as they’d hoped: they’ll ring in the changes during the mid-season window to ensure that they preserve their status in the league. I’m genuinely quite intrigued by them, but I’m not expecting much from the at the same time.

All I ask is that they do well enough to stay up, as an away day in Prachuap is one I haven’t been able to do yet, and I’d rather head there than to say… Suphanburi! I wish them the best of luck, but I think they’re going to have their work cut out for them.

 

The killa wasp – scary nickname lovely fans

 

Head Coach – Masami Taki

Prachuap moved on from Thawatchai Damrong-Ongtrakul at the end of last season, which was a bit of a surprise to me, as he’d been at the club for quite a while, but they’ve got themselves a solid replacement in Masami Taki. He’s got a bit about him, having had the Chiangrai United job at the start of the season, so it was astonishing to see him land at Rayong in November, 2020. I bet he couldn’t believe his luck [or lack of it] when he arrived at Rayong, and although he managed to get a few solid results for the club: there was no chance that they were ever going to secure survival. With that being said, he did do quite well with some of the young Thai players at the club, and I’m quite pleased to see that he’ll be working with Mehti Sarakham again.

Below are his stats from the 2020-21 season:

GAMESWINSDRAWSLOSSESWIN %
321051731.25

 

Obviously, the win column is helped by his short spell with Chiangrai United, but I’ll cut him some slack: the Rayong team he inherited was undoubtedly one of the worst Thai League 1 teams that I’ve seen in recent years. It’s a concern when your foreign players are genuinely worse than your local players, and bar Goshi Okubo: the foreign players at Rayong last season were abysmal.

Masami Taki – keeping it seaside as he moves from Rayong to Prachuap

Key Player – Adnan Orahovac

I’d been quite tempted to go with Willen Mota as the key player for Prachuap this season, as his goals were crucial in their survival last season, but I feel that it’ll be defensively that’ll decide whether or not the club secures Thai League 1 survival again. It must be a relief for Masami Taki that he can call upon a competent foreign central-defender this time around, and not one that spends half his time on social media trying to convince people that he’s a quality player. Here’s a tip: if you have to tell people you’re great, there’s a good chance that you’re completely useless.

Getting back to Orahovac, his influence on the team was clear for all to see upon his return to the starting-11 in the second-leg last season, with him featuring in 14-games: his team winning half of them, and drawing two. There were a couple of games that finished as blowouts, but honestly: Prachuap were a bit all over the shop last season. I actually thought they’d challenge for a top-4 finish in pre-season, due to their off-season signings, but obviously… we know how that ended!

 

Adnan Orahovac league cup winner

 

My Prediction – Lower table

I think this squad is solid enough, but not spectacular in the slightest, and considering how their ‘glamour’ signings fared last season: maybe this is the new direction the club is headed. Willen Mota showed that he can score goals, and plenty of them, so I think it’s a case of the club seeing if lightning will strike twice with the signing of Tauã dos Santos. He was fantastic for Nakhon Pathom last season, and if he can find the back of the net at a similar rate: watch out! He’s also a very handy penalty taker, so don’t be too surprised if the Prachuap players are falling over in the box at a rapid rate over the course of the season.

Taki is a solid hire for the club, and by giving him a squad with considerably more talent than the Rayong squad that he inherited: the results he gets should be quite a lot better too. With that being said, I don’t think the club will be able to mount a push for the top-half of the table, but they could pick up a few results that make us sit up and take notice.