It’s been a great start so far in Japan for the golden boy of Thai football.
It was one of the best goals of the past weekend in the J.League – a 16-pass move that started deep inside their own half before the ball found Consadole Sapporo’s Thai star Chanathip Songkrasin lurking near the top of the box after having zigged and zagged to throw off his markers and find his way into free space.
Receiving the ball midway between the ‘D’ and the edge of the box on his left foot he tapped it forward a couple of times before looking up and seeing the tightest of windows open ever so narrowly and moving to his right he lasered a perfectly weighted ball that pierced the gap between no fewer than four defenders.
Teenager Daiki Suga met the ball and poked it past the home keeper but this was all about the exquisite pass that made it possible and in that brief moment we were reminded once again of just what a special player the young Thai star is.
In just his second league match not only did Chanathip play the full 90 minutes but he also registered that first assist in another excellent all-round showing that also included a rasping 53rd minute shot that was only kept out by sharp reflexes from Cerezo Osaka’s Korean national keeper Kim Jin-hyeon.
One man that’s surprised by just how quickly Chanathip has adapted to life in Japanese football is one of his best friends – and an outstanding Thai national team player in his own right – in Welsh born defender Mika Chunuonsee.
A key cog in a Bangkok United side that is blazing a trail as the most in-form club team anywhere in Southeast Asia, FOX Sports Asia caught up with Chunuonsee this week to gauge his thoughts on Chanathip’s outstanding start to life in the J.League.
Mika Chunuonsee (right) and Chanathip (centre) on Thailand duty.
FSA: Mika, thanks for speaking with FOX Sports Asia. You and Chanathip have been close friends for many years now – how did that relationship start?
Mika Chunuonsee: We were both at Thai club BEC Tero about six years ago when I was in the first team and he was with the youth side.
He came on trial with the U18s and when I first saw him I couldn’t believe it, I thought he was just this cute little kid who was so small, even smaller than he is now but you could see already he had such ability.
We became close at that time and I tried to help him as much as I could, buying him supplements and things like that and we’ve stayed in touch ever since then.
FSA: Have you been surprised at just how quickly he’s settled into the J.League when so many players from Southeast Asia have struggled there?
MC: I follow all his games and we talk often, we actually spoke just earlier today, and he always asks me how I thought that he went and what he did – for me I always knew that he had the potential to play abroad, especially in Japan where the league is very technical and fast and that suits him because he has that in abundance.
In Thailand he’s on par with the better foreigners in the league and so I’m really proud with how he’s doing and even though I knew he’d do well I didn’t think that it would come this early because you think it would take a month or so to get used to things.
So I don’t want to say that I’m shocked but just more surprised at how well he’s done in such a short space of time.
FSA: Even though it’s early days he’s already showed that he belongs in what many regard as Asia’s best league – is it too early to perhaps even start thinking that he’s good enough to make it in Europe?
MC: He’s got so much potential and if you see the things that he does in training you know that this guy can go so, so far.
I spoke to him about a move to Europe last week but the thing with Chanathip is that in most places in Europe that if you’re not big or strong I think it’s very difficult and even with such good technical skills it’s so physically demanding in Europe.
I think Japan suits him well and even though they’re physically stronger it’s not considerably stronger so he can get away with his pace, his skills and his attributes but in Europe it might be difficult to get clubs to look at him and not just look at the size.
I asked him now that you’ve been there in Japan for a while how do you feel your ability is compared to the players that you train with and play against and he’s such a very humble guy but he said that he feels he can do well and even be an important member of the team going forward.
He thought that Japan would not necessarily be more difficult but he didn’t think that he could adjust this early and he believes in his abilities.
For me though I’m sure he can do even better in the future in a bigger league or at a bigger club.
FSA: Finally, does the success that Chanathip is having reflect well on Thai football more broadly and open the door for others, perhaps yourself, to follow in his footsteps?
MC: The results in World Cup qualifiers and also friendly games that Thailand has been involved in over the past few years and not forgetting the two SEA Games titles that we’ve won shows the strength in Thai football at the moment – the whole league and the whole nation has really moved forward such a long way in a short space of time.
If you look at the foreigners in the league now these are top, top players and the Thai players are pretty much on par with those foreign players which isn’t always the case in many leagues where the foreigners are the standout players but if you look at the likes of Teerasil, Teerathon and before Chanathip they are all top players and stand out as much as the foreigners and that speaks volumes to the quality in the league and the national team.
I think people underestimate how good these players are and I’ve seen first hand back in England how good the players are and now that I’ve seen some of the players here every day in training and with the national team I can say that they are really top, top players and those three that I mentioned – Teerasil, Teerathon and Chanathip can not only easily play in Japan but can also stand out in Japan.