Football Tribe SEA Editor
After letting major players go in the offseason, Muangthong United are looking set for another ‘transitional season’ under coach Alexandre Gama. The Brazilian was bought to the club to get them back in the hunt for the league title, but that task has been made rather difficult with the side’s harsh cuts to the wage budget. Muangthong have now stumbled into a youth development-orientated strategy, and will need to balance blooding in the next generation with their aim to get back into the expanded AFC Champions League.
Wonderkid – Wattanakorn Sawatlakhon
Ever since the departures of Theerathon Bunmathan and Tristan Do, Muangthong has struggled to find viable left-backs. One of the strongest parts of the side’s game quickly became one of the weakest. The Kirin thought they had solved the issue with the arrival of Daisuke Sato at left-back, but a long-term injury to the Philippines international left the side back at square one.
Thankfully, Muangthong had youngster Wattanakorn waiting in the wings, and the budding left-back has made the most of his chance thus far. While still weak defensively, the youngster has an attacking mindset and sweet left foot which may begin to remind fans of a less refined version of his famous predecessor. Wattanakorn has already demonstrated his penchant for whipping in excellent early crosses, which could be crucial in supplying the side’s physically imposing forwards.
Key Signing – Sardor Mirzaev
Before the start of the season, coach Alexandre Gama admitted in an interview to Football Tribe that his most important signing will be the club’s ‘new number 10.’ The coach described an energetic, attack-minded midfielder who can link the side’s attacking play together and step up with vital goals.
Despite having limited time to settle in at his new club, so far Uzbekistan international Sardor Mirzaev has looked the part and could be the missing link in Muangthong’s team. The 29-year-old has now had the better part of a month to gel with his new side due to the enforced break, and could be the difference-maker for the side if he hits the ground running.
Team Leader – Sarach Yooyen
Beginning his third season since taking on the club’s captaincy, Sarach is the only remaining Kirin starter to have been a part of the side’s last title win in 2016. Now surrounded by young players and a squad in transition, the creative midfielder will have to step up once again and show leadership, using his experience to lead the side through this difficult time.
As the most senior player in the side’s midfield, this might be the most difficult season yet for the Thai international. Sarach will need to focus on getting the most out of his own game, something which he arguably hasn’t done since the departure of coach Totchtawan Sripan back in 2018, while also motivating the players around him when times get tough. His individual role will likely be crucial if Muangthong are to succeed this season.