Thai Premier League Preview
The Thai Premier League season is just about to get underway and it has been all change for many clubs in the top tier of Thai football.
Reigning TPL champions Muangthong United have been busier than most. They parted ways with coach Rene Desaeyere and replaced him with Carlos Roberto de Carvalho who had formerly been at TPL team Bangkok Glass.
The Muangthong United playing squad also received a radical overhaul with no fewer than 13 players moving out and nine replacements coming. The most high profile arrivals were former Fulham defenders Toni Kallio and Zesh Rehman who will both bring some much needed height to the backline.
No fewer than seven Muangthong players moved to Bangkok rivals BEC Tero including former club captain Jetsada Jitsawad and Teeratap Winothai, the poster boy of Thai football who once spent time at Everton.
Muangthong also lost striker Mohamed Koné who has moved to KV Mechelen in Belgium and it will be interesting to see whether the new look squad will be good enough to win the TPL for the third consecutive year.
The main competition is likely to come from last year's runners up Buriram PEA. The team used to be based in Ayutthaya until it was purchased by politican Newin Chidchob and moved 200 miles to Buriram.
Once Chidchop has brought himself a team he then invested in a set of supporters with local people offered financial incentives to attend Buriram PEA games. The results have been instantaneous with impressive crowds turning out to support the team both in its new home and at away games.
Buriram PEA have had a surprisingly quiet transfer window. Four players have been loaned out to Buriram FC, which is owned by Newin's wife Karuna, while another has been unceremoniously axed from the squad for refusing to make a loan move to Buriram FC.
Thai striker Kirati Kiawsombut looks set to miss the start of the season in order to spend time training with Leicester City but the squad has been bolstered by a handful of arrivals including youngster Jakkraphan Kaewprom who has been signed from Muangthong.
Chonburi won the FA Cup last season and got off to a winning start this time around by beating a disjointed Muanghtong 2-1 in the Kor Royal Cup, the Thai equivalent of the Charity Shield. The star of the show was Therdsak Chaiman who demonstrated that even aged 37 he can still be a force to be reckoned with in Thai football. Chonburi's team were also bolstered by the arrival of Japanese midfielder Kazuto Kushida.
Last season's top three, Muangthong, Buriram PEA and Chonburi, look to be head and shoulders above the competition but BEC Tero could be the surprise package of the season.
They are managed by former West Ham defender Peter Butler and he has brought in almost 20 new players. Defender Chris Brandon has been signed from Bradford City while former Munagthong strikers Ronnachai Rangsiyo and Winothai are likely to form a fairly potent strikeforce. Young Thai players Mika Chunuonsee and Samuel Cunningham have also arrived and will be looking to break into the BEC Tero first team.
Among the most newsworthy transfers of the Summer was striker Sarayoot Chaikamdee's decision to swap Thai Port for Bangkok Glass. He has an outstanding goalscoring record, both in domestic and international football, and Bangkok Glass will be hoping that his goals will help them break into the top three. Thai Port's most significant signing was Steven Robb from St Mirren in a surprise move which made headlines in Scotland.
With such hectic transfer activity it is almost impossible to keep track of all the comings and goings at TPL clubs and we won't know until the season starts on February 12th just how effective each team's transfer policy has been.
All eyes will also be on the Thai FA this season after last season's fixture congestion seriously undermined the national team's chances of success and Muangthong United's AFC Cup campaign. The Thai League Cup did not get underway until late in the season meaning that Muangthong, who reached the semi finals of the AFC Cup, found themselves with an impossible schedule of fixtures.
Fatigue probably contributed to Thailand's disappointing Suzuki Cup campaign as manager Bryan Robson felt he had no option other than to rest key players for the opening fixture against Laos which Thailand drew.
Last season saw a series of unsavoury incidents at matches which culminated in Nakhon Pathom being banned from football for two years after their fans attacked a referee. There is also a probe underway into unspecified allegations of corruption surrounding the appointment of referees.
There is scarcely a dull moment in Thai football and the 2011 TPL season looks set to be no exception. Can Buriram PEA or Chonburi can break Muangthong's run of league title wins, or will Carvalho pick up where Desaeyere left off and make it three TPL wins in a row?
© James Goyder & Soccerphile.com