Southeast Asia Thailand

Is Bernie Ibini the man to reignite PT Prachuap FC’s firepower?

Coming off their League Cup triumph, 2020 was meant to be a big year for PT Prachuap FC – a year where they could build on from the club’s first major trophy success. However, things didn’t go to plan as the Killer Wasps endured a poor start, picking up three defeats from their first four games before the league was interrupted by the Covid-19 crisis.

Their once fearsome attack is long gone but head coach Thawatchai Damrong-Ongtrakul is yet to give up and still determined to revive the magic that pushed them to a 6th place finish in their T1 debut season. 

Singaporean international, Baihakki Khaizan, and former Brazil U17 striker, Bruno Mezenga, have left the club during the break, but the reason behind both exits seems to be for financial reasons, rather than footballing ones. A new foreign attacker was promised; the fans had to wait a while, but it looks like the board may have kept their words as rumour with Australian winger Bernie Ibini surfaced. 

To understand what Prachuap might expect from Bernie Ibini, we must first rewind to 2017, in the club’s promotional season. It was Thawatchai Damrong-Ongtrakul’s debut season with the club, and spearheaded by a trio of Brazilian forwards, Prachuap met their target of promotion via a third-place finish. 

Despite scoring 17 times, Willen Mota, a quick, slightly lanky, Brazilian striker was let go at the end of the season, along with the entire foreign frontline.

Replacing Willen and co is T2 topscorer Jonatan Reis, winger Amorn Thammanarm, and the French-born, Guinea international, Lonsana Doumbouya. Supplying the front-3 with through passes is Chitpanya Tisud, an elegant playmaker who never did fulfil his potential with bigger clubs such as Buriram United or BG Pathum United. Thus the Killer Wasp’s fantastic 4 was born.

Sticking to Thawatchai’s pragmatic approach and lethal counter-attacks, his team burst onto the Thai League (T1) in style, finishing 6th and putting on the division’s second-best home record. 

Prachuap also finished 5th in the league’s goals for ranking. Targetman Lonsana Doumbouya and the skilful Jonatan Reis were together responsible for 42 of the 56 goals scored, making them the T1 joint-best forward duo alongside Diogo Luis Santo and Edgar from champions Buriram United.

Unfortunately, good things couldn’t last and soon cracks started to appear. Doumbouya, returning from injury and wanting to build up his confidence, demanded to take a penalty, which was won by Reis, despite the Brazilian being the side’s designated spot-kick taker. Fans were forced to endure an awkward and uncomfortable argument between two of their biggest stars with a frustrated Reis signalling to be substituted at one point. 

Only one league victory followed in the next 6 games. To nobody’s surprise, Doumbouya and Reis departed at the end of the campaign.  

75% of Prachuap’s goal in 2018 is scored by Lonsana Doumbouya and Jonatan Reis. Credit:@PrachuapFc2011

Since then, Prachuap has recruited 3 Brazilian forwards and one French target man but none could recreate what the fantastic 4 did a year before. Which brings us back to the Bernie Ibini transfer rumour and why, if it materialises, could boost Prachuap’s attack.

“There was a time about four years ago where he was at the peak of his game playing for Sydney FC. Dynamic winger, had blistering pace, his touch was ok but not great. But capable of being a very good player.” Paul Williams of The Asian Game told Football-Tribe before adding “[Bernie Ibini] had a few injuries, and took the chance to go overseas and just made the wrong moves. Hasn’t worked out for him.”

That failed transfer abroad was to Club Brugge in Belgium where Ibini suffered a horrible injury soon after his arrival. The former-Australian youth international has since recovered, returned for a brief stint with Sydney FC, played abroad for MLS side Vancouver Whitecaps FC and K League powerhouse Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC

Matthew Binns, Jeonbuk columnist for K League United, offered a similar summary of the player, praising Ibini’s “decent level of pace and a few good crosses,” but adding that he didn’t play “enough minutes to offer enough evidence.”

Ibini made little impact at Jeonbuk and was mostly third on the pecking order when it came to wingers. Injuries, limited game time and playing wide could explain the 27-year-old’s lack of end product in his last few clubs.

Statistically speaking, Ibini does not seem like an encouraging target for Prachuap. It’s no surprise fans are crying out for a proven goalscorer considering that the club’s 2020 marquee signing is William Henrique, an unbelievably quick wide forward, who, despite his quality, doesn’t guarantee you two-figure goals like Doumbouya or Reis did. 

Signing William Henrique from reigning champions Chiangrai United is a massive steal for the Wasp Killer Credit:@PrachuapFc2011

Yet, if we shift our perspective just slightly, we might notice that Thawatchai is trying to evolve the side rather than recreate the 2018 fantastic four. The dearth of pace and invention up front was clear for everyone to see from Prachuap’s previous matches. Adding another quick outlet like Ibini on the opposite flank could lessen Prachuap’s attacking dependence on William. 

Other signs that suggest Thawatchai may be tinkering with the squad is the recruitment of Kittisak Hochin and Panudech Maiwong, two lively central midfielders with neat passing ability. Iain Ramsay, a new SEA slot transfer from Sukhothai FC, adds runs from deep Prachuap rarely got from Chitpanya.

On the other hand, Peerapat Kaminthong, a young wide forward, formerly of Buriram United and Bangkok United, is another interesting acquisition – one who is expected to be the long term replacement for the ageing Amorn Thammanarm. 

In the striker position, Supot Jodjam has been given plenty of chances and seems to be doing alright so far. Whether Supot keeps his place down the middle or is shifted to the flanks if, or when, Ibini comes remains unknown. Still, it’s unusual for Thawatchai to be relying on a Thai striker and it may have something to do with Supot’s ability to get behind opposition defenders. 

We suspect Thawatchai is keeping his rock-solid defensive setup but tweaking his offensive elements; ditching the “big number nine plus two pacey wide forwards” approach for a counter-attacking approach which utilises a quick front two with support from midfield. How and where Thawatchai employs Ibini, or whoever the new foreign signing is, will decide whether or not there is truth to this speculation.