Southeast Asia

Examining The Guardian’s Top Talents From South-East Asia

In recent years, The Guardian have been working on a recurring feature on profiling and presenting the top talents from across the world every season. Since it began in 2016, six players from South-East Asia have made the list, all chosen by Asian football expert John Duerden. Their most recent edition, released just three days ago, included Malaysia’s Luqman Hakim and Thailand’s Suphanat Muenta, once again sparking interest in the region. Today, Football Tribe’s Gian Chansrichawla and Krishna Sadhana take a look at these six players and analyze how things have gone for them since their selection:

2014 (Born 1997) - Irfan Fandi - Singapore - Center Back 

Five years after his original mention on the Guardian’s list, the towering center-back spent this season helping BG Pathum United return to T1 with ease. His power in the air and his excellent ball-playing ability has made everyone in Thailand sit up and take notice, and will be an exciting addition to the Thai League’s top division next year. A year after he was picked, the youngster looked to make his breakthrough at Chilean side Universidad de Catolica but had to return to Singapore for national service. Since then, he has played all of his club football in Southeast Asia, first in Singapore and now for BG. Additionally, he is already a mainstay in the Singapore national team.

2014 (Born 1997) - Phan Thanh Hau - Vietnam - Midfielder

Coming through at the Arsenal affiliated JMG Academy that has produced many of Vietnam’s current Golden Generation, injuries have prevented Phan Thanh Hau from fulfilling his potential. Interestingly, he is the same age as Vietnam’s current biggest star Nguyen Quang Hai, who would have also been eligible for the Guardian’s 2014 list. Thanh Hau would have been part of a team that went on to reach the finals of the AFC U23 Championships and the semi-finals of the Asian Games in 2018, as well as win the 2018 AFF Cup and reach the quarter-finals of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup. Instead, his fitness issues mean that he still hasn’t been capped at either the U23 or senior team.

2016 (Born 1999) - Sittichok Phaso - Thailand - Forward

Established as Thailand’s brightest future star at age 17, Sittichok came through at Chonburi, a club that is known to value youth development very highly. Unfortunately, his career took a turn for the worse in 2017 when the youngster struggled on loan for J3 side Kagoshima United. Unable to adapt to the environment and reportedly homesick, the attacker returned to Chonburi overweight and derailed from the trajectory expected of his development. Additionally, he has had to compete for the limelight with many other players of a similar age and in a similar position, such as Supachok Sarachart and Ekanit Panya, who are already in the first team. However, Sittichok is now working to fulfill his massive potential again. He could take a big step by forcing himself into Thailand’s U23 side for the upcoming SEA Games and AFC U23 Championships.

2017 (Born 2000) - Egy Maulana Vikri - Indonesia - Forward

Egy rose to prominence during the 2016 Gothia Cup competition, where he and his ASIOP Apacinti team (representing Indonesia) won the U-15s title. Scoring 28 goals en route to the title, Egy was subsequently awarded as the competition’s best player by the Gothia Cup organizers. One year later in 2017, Egy once again caught the eye of international audiences as he participated in that year’s Toulon Tournament alongside the Indonesian U-19 national team. Even though his Indonesian side ended up crashing in the group stages after losing all 3 of their games, Egy was awarded the prestigious Jouer Revelation Trophee, an award given to the tournament’s breakout player. Previous winners of the award include Zinedine Zidane and Cristiano Ronaldo, a true testament to how the world is highly rating Egy’s talent on the field. This attracted the attention of numerous overseas clubs, from Thailand’s Chainat Hornbill (who arranged trials for Egy with German clubs), Australia’s Brisbane Roar, Malaysia’s Selangor FA, and even European giants like Portuguese duo Benfica and Sporting CP, as well as Ajax Amsterdam of the Netherlands. However, Egy decided to sign his first professional contract with Polish Ekstraklasa outfit Lechia Gdansk, who guaranteed him a place in the club. He made his debut on December 22nd, 2018 as a substitute against Gornik Zabrze. The Medan-born attacker was impressive for Lechia’s reserve team though, making 21 appearances for Lechia Gdansk II and scoring 16 goals. He even came off the bench in Lechia’s 2019 Polish Supercup triumph against Piast Gliwice. Whilst trying to make a mark for himself in Lechia, Egy has represented the Indonesian national team in all age groups, though mainly he now plays for the U-23 team.

2019 (Born 2002) - Luqman Hakim - Malaysia - Striker

September 20th, 2019 was a historic date for 17-year old Luqman Hakim bin Shamsudin.The 17-year old Kota Bharu-born attacker was officially contracted by Belgian Pro League side KV Kortrijk, owned by Malaysian businessman Vincent Tan. Luqman was contracted on the back of an impressive showing at the 2019 AFF U-19 Youth Championship, where he helped Malaysia U-19 reach the final. The Mokhtar Dahari Academy graduate scored 4 goals as Malaysia U-19 became runners-up of the tournament, attracting the attention of several J-League clubs. However Tan beat them to the punch, offering Luqman a contract with Kortrijk, which will become valid once he turns 18. In the meantime, Luqman will hone his skills in Malaysia, before setting off to South Wales in January 2020 to train with EFL Championship side Cardiff City, another club owned by Tan. Luqman is yet to make his debut for the senior Harimau Malaya squad, however, if he steps up his performances, a call-up from head coach Tan Cheng Hoe is a possibility. 

2019 (Born 2002) - Suphanat Mueanta - Thailand - Striker

Suphanat Mueanta is the real deal. The striker came through the ranks at defending Thai League champions Buriram United, he became the Thai League’s youngest over goalscorer in May 2018, finding the net against Air Force Central at just 15 years and 9 months old. He also became the youngest ever player to score in the AFC Champions League the following season in a match against Beijing Guoan. With the club’s recruitment of foreign strikers waning in recent years, Suphanat has proven repeatedly that he is in the team not just because he is preferred as a local youngster, and that he genuinely deserves to be in the first team. Unlike many players his age, Suphanat is all about end product. His eye for goal is what separates him from most other players in the country, regularly applying finishing touches more typical of seasoned strikers twice his age. He also made his debut for Thailand in a friendly against Vietnam in the 2019 King’s Cup.