Football Tribe SEA Editor
The breakout star of Thailand’s AFC U23 Championships wasn’t Supachok Sarachart, or Suphanat Mueanta, or Supachai Jaided, or Anon Amornlerdsak. It wasn’t even anyone who had played top division Thai football within the past year. That title must go to Muangthong United’s Sorawit Panthong – a player who wasn’t even on many people’s lists to make the squad, let alone the starting eleven.
A graduate of the Muangthong United academy pipeline, Sorawit made his debut for the side in 2016, turning out for just 9 minutes against Pattaya United in Muangthong’s title-winning season. Fighting for a spot in a midfield full of creative talents, he found himself behind established internationals like Sarach Yooyen and Charyl Chappuis in the pecking order, making four appearances for the club in 2017 before being loaned out to relegation battling Sisaket for the second half of that campaign.
Struggling to nail down a place, Sorawit was shuffled around consistently to fill gaps in the squad in 2018, playing as a ‘Number Six’ under Santi Chaiyaphuak one day, then as a number ‘Number Ten’ under Radovan Curcic. Unlike most other midfielders from Muangthong’s academy, Sorawit was not the multifunctional stop-gap his coaches hoped he would be, and struggled to find his character in the harsh environment of coach rotation at Muangthong.
Disaster struck in 2019 as an injury ruled Sorawit out for the entirety of the first half of the season, and he was forced to drop in T2 in a loan spell with Police Tero to find game time. After eleven appearances in the second leg with the Fire Dragons, it came as a complete shock when Akira Nishino selected the midfielder for the AFC U23 Championships squad.
With the likes of Buriram regular Rattanakorn Maikami and Chainat’s rising star Chatmongkol Thongkiri available in midfield, somebody would have to be crazy to look at Sorawit’s record and think he was a better choice for the final squad at such a crucial time. However, this decision shows what makes Akira Nishino such an exceptional coach – instead of going with the ‘bigger name’ and asking him to adapt his skillset, the Japanese boss looked to an injured player from T2 to give him the specific characteristics that he needed, demonstrating a remarkable amount of trust in both his own ability to improve Sorawit and the midfielder’s capacity to respond. Like with many of Nishino’s gambles, this one paid off in spectacular fashion, and the once discarded creator has emerged from this tournament as one of the country’s hottest properties.
His performances beg the question: what now for Sorawit Panthong?
The characteristics and ability he showed during the competition earmark him as a potential future replacement for Muangthong’s creative hub Sarach Yooyen. While coach Alexandre Gama did speak highly of Sorawit, he confirmed that the club will be looking to send him for another season on loan with Police Tero, who are now back in T1 themselves.
If the move does come off, it will be critical that Sorawit is able to find his feet in a stable environment and under a coach which believes in him. Boss Rangsan Viwatchaichok will be beginning his third season with Tero (a spell which was interrupted by Totchtawan Sripan who oversaw the club’s relegation) and should’ve won enough favor amongst the club’s hierarchy after their successful promotion campaign. Joining up with the Fire Dragons once again could do the midfielder a world of good, and if he can carry this same form into the upcoming T1 campaign, he could make the newly-promoted side a formidable force this season.
Muangthong have let enough of their talented young players prematurely move away before having remarkable campaigns over at other clubs. Sorawit has shown that he has the ability to one day match former Muangthong academy graduates like Thitipan, Phitiwat, Siwakorn, and Peeradol – it is imperative now that the Kirin hold on to this remarkable player that the didn’t know they had and prevent another top-class talent from slipping through the cracks.