Thailand is only slightly larger than Spain and a place where football is just beginning to emerge as the nation’s favourite sport. This tropical heaven with its Premier League is becoming more and more attractive to foreign footballers.
Football was introduced to Thailand in 1897 but the professional football leagues are a novelty for the Thai people. Actually the 1st professional league season started in 1996 and it was officially known as the Johnnie Walker Thailand Soccer League. Before that the highest level of club football was the Kor Royal Cup which was contested in a tournament format from 1916 to 1995. The league acquired its current name in 2006 and is run by the Football Association of Thailand with its rather long official name “The Football Association of Thailand under Patronage of His Majesty the King.”
Toyota Thai Premier League comprises of 20 teams in 2014 for the first time, it used to have 18 clubs in the previous season and only 10 to 12 clubs until 2007 when it was expanded to 16 clubs. In the last year only Pattaya United was relegated to the Thai Division 1 League or “Yamaha League-1” (2nd division league in Thai football league system) and three teams joined the Premier League. Promoted clubs were Division one League champions Air Force Central, runners-up Singhtaraua and third place club PTT Rayong.
AFC Champions League is the prize for two best clubs
At the end of each season, the bottom five clubs are relegated to the 2nd division, third and fourth club on the league table qualify for the group stage of the ASEAN Super League, runner-up competes in AFC Champions League qualifiers and the winner competes in the group stage of AFC Champions League.
Air Force Central
BEC Tero Sasana
Buriram United are the last season champions and have won two league titles so far, therefore the club is now level with BEC Tero Sasana, Air Force Central and Krung Thai Bank clubs. The most successful club is the Muangthong United with three league victories.
Tropical climate and good salaries
If you are interested in joining one of the 20 teams, you can do so during the transfer window that lasts from 29th November to 28th February. So how much can a football player earn during the season? Average range of annual salaries in the 1st division is approximately 30,000 €. The season runs from March to October. The local climate is tropical and characterized by monsoons and the football season doesn’t avoid the rainy, warm, and cloudy southwest monsoon that lasts from mid-May to September.
Most of what progress has been made in South-east Asian football has come at club level where money can have a bigger and faster impact and some leagues are starting to be taken seriously. Thai Premier League is definitely among those.
Muangthong United has proved to be a well-run, well-financed and well-supported club. Situated just north of Bangkok Muangthong is setting new standards in the Thai Premier League along with Buriram United. Buriram is owned by a well-known politician, Newin Chidchob, and reached the last eight of the Asian Champions League last season, disposing of Australian Brisbane Roar in the playoffs before finishing above Japan’s Vegalta Sendai and China’s Jiangsu Sainty. Then Uzbek powerhouse Bunyodkor was beaten in the second round …
It’s no wonder that the number of foreign players is swelling although the maximum number is restricted to seven per team, with only five foreigners allowed on the game sheet in each game. A team can use four foreign players on the field in each game, including at least one player from the AFC country. Top scorer in the 2013 season was former Sporting Gijón player Carmelo González. He scored 23 times for the Thai champions.
Fieldoo was the reason why youth and first team player of Scotland’s 1st division FC Hearts, who returned to Slovenia where he played for the 1st division clubs, finally made a breakthrough. With the use of Fieldoo, his talent was noticed by a football agent Saša Ćuk. Matej Rapnik accepted an agent’s offer to try himself in the Thai Premier League champion Muangthong United and he is still a member of the club, currently on loan and playing for Insee Police United from Thai Premier League.
Leading the football development in South-east Asia
Thailand is providing optimism for football development in South-east Asia. Standards are rising and there are some young talents developing although good coaching at youth levels is still rather rare. Thai Premier League on the other hand is becoming the heaven for foreign players that are not affected by the lack of youth development. Who knows, maybe still unknown, new local football heroes may rise up in a couple of years as well.