The new football season kicks off today with the perennial title contenders attempting to send out messages to both fans and foes by using creative catchwords. Since the restructuring of the country’s top flight of football, which recently acquired the new name of Thai League One, SCG Muang Thong United and Buriram United are the only two teams to have lifted the coveted trophy, winning the crown four times each.
Once again, the two giants will enter the fray as pre-season favourites with a few others pretending to be genuine contenders, a handful of clubs attempting to look relevant and the rest praying to avoid to avoid the drop.
Muang Thong are banking on an army of Thailand internationals and portraying their title bid as a “War of Heroes”, while arch rivals Buriram are turning their desire to “Strike Back” into a rallying cry.
Muang Thong coach Totchtawan Sripan has a large number of international players at his disposal, including skipper Teerasil Dangda, Thailand’s top striker who forms a lethal partnership with Brazilian Cleiton Silva, the top scorer in the league last year.
A strong challenge is expected from four-time champions Buriram United. The Thunder Castle outfit had a disappointing run last year and they seem desperate to “Strike Back”.
They finished fourth in the Thai League behind Muang Thong United, Bangkok United and Bangkok Glass in the 2016 season.
Buriram’s only silverware last year was the League Cup, which they had to share with bitter foes Muang Thong after all local football matches were called off to mourn the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej on Oct 13.
They are hoping to salvage their lost pride under Serbian coach Ranko Popovic, who joined the team in August last year.
They have signed some new players including Brazilian midfielder Rogerio Coutinho from leading United Arab Emirates club Al Wasi.
Brazilian Diogo Luis Santo remains their main striker but with promising youngsters Supachok and Supachai looking to break into the team.
Buriram president Newin Chidchob is predicting that this year his team will perform “much better than last season”. It is highly unlikely that their campaign will be hit by such a large number of catastrophic injuries which they had to endure last season.
Chiang Rai United have shot into prominence after paying a princely sum for Tanaboon and many are seeing them as one of the title contenders this season.
They have spent about 300 million baht to rebuild the team and new arrivals include a quartet of Brazilians: Henrique Silva from Australia’s Adelaide United, Rafael Coelho from Goa in India, Felipe Azevedo from Ponte Preta (Brazil), and Vander Luiz Silva Vitoria from El Salvador.
Their coach is Alexander Gama, who led Buriram to the Thai League title in 2015.
Last year’s runners-up Bangkok United are also hoping to win the Thai League this season.
However, they had an unremarkable start to the year as they were knocked out of contention for the ACL group stage in the second play-off round, losing to Malaysia’s Johor Darul Ta’zim in a penalty shoot-out.
Bangkok United have strengthened the squad by adding Pokklaw A-Nan from Chonburi and Portuguese defender Yohan Tavares from Estoril in Portugal.
Bangkok United chairman Kajorn Chearavanont is expecting his team to claim their first ever major trophy this year.
Chonburi, one of the best Thai League teams, finished 2016 empty-handed and settled for fifth place in the league. Their best effort last year was reaching the semi-finals of the FA Cup.
The Sharks will be chasing a top-four finish this year after acquiring Renan Marques from Sukhothai. Marques will team up with Fode Diakite, who has returned to Chonburi after spending two seasons at BEC Tero Sasana, who have changed their name to Police Tero.
Therdsak Chaiman will continue to be the player-coach of Chonburi despite some indifferent results under his leadership last year.
Among the dark horses are Bangkok Glass, who have spent 150 million baht to prepare their team, and Ratchaburi.
Sukhothai had a good season last year, but their dreams of making the group stage of this year’s ACL were mercilessly shattered by big-spending Chinese club Shanghai SIPG this week.
Police Tero are the product of a recent merger between Police United and BEC Tero Sasana with national police chief Chakthip Chaijinda being a co-chairman.
With an available budget of 100 million baht, they are expecting to finish among the top four this year.
Suphanburi have never looked like genuine title contenders and that perception sticks to the club this year as well.
They have recently signed former Thailand international Anawin Jujeen from Buriram United to join their two other national team players, Sinthaweechai Hathairattanakool and Charyl Chappuis.
Newcomers Ubon UMT United look capable of springing a few surprises.
They have built a new 6,000-seat stadium and have an impressive budget of 200 million baht.
Their key player will be Thailand striker Sirod Chatthong, who scored two goals in the second leg of the Suzuki Cup final last year to help the country beat Indonesia.
Si Sa Ket will be once again trying to convince everyone that they belong to the top flight and the same with Nakhon Ratchasima.
Port are celebrating their quick return to the Thai League One with a lofty aim of finishing among the top 10 with the help of Thailand striker Tana Chanaboot and their new signing, Brazilian midfielder Sergio Suarez, from Songkhla United.
Super Power Samut Prakarn, backed by popular rocker Sek Loso, should be content if they are able to avoid relegation at the end of the season.
Under coach Chalermwut Sanga-pol, The Power could become a popular side as the club plan to ask Sek to help lure fans to the stadium.
Navy and Pattaya United, along with newcomers Thai-Honda Ladkrabang, will be facing tough battles to prolong their stay in the top flight.
(Source: Bangkok Post)