Football Tribe Thailand
As a football fan, there is no better feeling than spotting a young talent, seeing him have a breakthrough season, establish himself as a first-team starter, hopefully play for the national team, then retire as a respected professional. Unfortunately, not every youngster you root for will fulfill their promises – but that won’t stop fans, myself included, from dreaming.
In the last two seasons, both of my “Young Player to Watch” picks, Supachai Jaided (2018) and Ekanit Panya (2019), went on to achieve great things for clubs and country. Yes, this is a brag, and I am back for more predictions in 2020.
Supachai and Ekanit weren’t the only youngsters to have a breakout year between 2018 and 2019 – Korawich Tasa, Jaroensak Wonggorn or Suphanat Mueanta, just to name a few, all burst onto the scene to become household names. So in order to make things more interesting, we’ll be counting down four honorable mentions before unveiling 2020’s Thai League Young Players to Watch.
5 - Kanokpon Buspakom
Club: Police Tero FC
Kanokpon Buspakom, son of legendary head coach Attaphol, played an important role in Police Tero FC's return to the top tier of Thai football. At the time of writing, he has featured in four full 90-minute games in T1, including a win over Buriram United on opening day. The diligent midfielder is an industrious worker but also balances that aspect of his game with good technical ability.
4 - Jiraaut Wingwon
Club: Samut Prakan City
The 19-year-old was playing 4th tier football with Bankunmae FC before he was discovered by Samut Prakan City who snatched him up for the 2020 Thai League. Quick and never afraid to run at defenders, Jiraaut does not look out of place at all playing alongside teammates who essentially have been together for a couple of years. To describe Jiraaut’s style of play, we can say he is somewhat of a mix between fellow Sea Fang attackers Picha Autra and Jaroensak Wonggorn - not a bad combination at all.
3 - Jirawat Thongsaengphrao
Club: Suphanburi FC
I was quite surprised Ratchaburi FC let Jirawat Thongsaengphrao leave but the Dragon’s loss is Suphanburi FC’s gain. In Jirawat, Adebayo Gbadebo has a tough-tackling left-back who can cross, is a set-piece specialist and useful in the air thanks to his height and leap. Acceleration is Jirawat’s biggest weakness which can make him vulnerable when he gets run at by pacey wingers. Still, this is a coachable area of his game and the 21-year-old should be safe in Adebayo Gbadebo’s deep defending tactic.
2 - Nattawut Suksum
Club: Bangkok United
Nattawut Suksum marked his return from Japan with a beautiful goal in Bangkok United’s season opener against PT Prachuap FC. Don’t expect the 22-year-old to be doing stepovers or rainbow flicks. Instead, focus on his work off the ball as he timed his runs to attack the space behind the opposition defense. Nattawut just missed out from the AFC U23 Championship squad in January - he is still an unpolished talent but certainly one to keep an eye on.
1 - Wattanakorn Sawatlakhorn
Club: Muangthong United
Following the footsteps of Supachai Jaided and Ekanit Panya for my pick as the Young Player to Watch is Muangthong United’s academy graduate Wattanakorn Sawatlakhorn. Comfortable everywhere across the left-flank, Wattanakorn is blessed with speed, flair, and a fearless mentality. He is not the best at reading situations thus can be beaten easily by tricky wingers but also have the pace to recover back quickly. The 21-year-old can be slightly reckless at times, which could put the team and himself under pressure, but the same could have also be said about the young Theerathon Bunmathan (I’m not saying he IS the new-Theerathon) - Wattanakorn will only trim this out of his game through experience i.e. by playing.
With Daisuke Sato's poor injury record and the Kirin lack of established left-back, expect Wattanakorn to get plenty of game time. The key is to be consistent (a challenge for every youngster) and avoid major injury. If Wattanakorn can keep this up, 2020 could be a massive year for him.