Southeast Asia Thailand

Masatada Ishii finding value in the bizarre and chaotic world of Thai League’s transfer market

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused massive disruption to all clubs throughout the Thai football pyramid. The extra financial burden meant hundreds of players are released while the incoming transfers have to face countless safety hurdles because arriving. Many clubs are worst off than they were, however, Samut Prakan City may be one of the few clubs which could return to football with a stronger and more well-rounded squad than they did before the break. This is a story of how head coach Masatada Ishii found value in the market, exploited rival club’s transfer oversight and was able to strengthen during these difficult times.

Before we dive into Ishii’s work, we must turn our attention to Port FC and BG Pathum United – 2 of Thai League’s most active clubs during the break who, thanks to their financial muscle, was able to take advantage and sign a handful of key players from their direct rivals.

A rift between Muangthong United’s management and 2 senior players appeared out of nowhere and as a result; club captain Sarach Yooyen and defender Adisorn Promrak were put on sale. Not to be one up by Muangthong United, 7 times Thai League champions Buriram United also parted ways with club captain Andres Tunez when the Venezuelan international decided not to extend his contract with the Thunder Castles.

Sarach and Tunez were snatched up by BG Pathum United while Adisorn headed to Port FC. The latter, somewhat of a shopaholic, couldn’t hold back their urge to spend, went on the signed Police Tero’s Aksornsri twins for a fee rumoured to be worth between 30-40 million baht – adding to their overflowing lists of defenders.

These 5 transfers from 2 clubs were enough to cause a stir in today’s delicate market. But new players meant a few old faces may have to leave – and this is where Samut Prakan City and Ishii comes in.

Coming off a strong performance at the AFC U23 Asian Championship in January, Thitathorn Aksornsri’s stock rapidly rose from your regular youngster to one of the country’s top prospect. The sale of Thitathorn and his older twin, Thitawee, was enough to stabilize Police Tero’s financial position. The Silver Shields Dragons needed to sell but, truth is, Port FC didn’t need to buy. Upon his arrival, Thitathorn is the Lions‘s 5th left-back option. 5th.

What’s more, Port FC had just signed Jaturapat Sattham, another highly rated Thai U23 left-back, at the start of the season.

Knowing Port FC is looking offload, Samut Prakan City made their move and quickly seal the deal, taking Jaturapat on a season-long loan. Taking into consideration The Sea Fang shift to a back-4 formation under Ishii and the side lack of dependable left-backs, excluding Ernesto Phumipha, it is safe to say Jaturapat is an obvious upgrade.

Singaporean goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud, recently let go by Trat FC due to financial issue as a result of Covid-19, is another name being linked with Samut Prakan City. The club struggled hard when no.1 Patiwat Khammai was ruled out at the second-leg of the 2019 season. Having spent the last 2 years in Thailand, Izwan Mahbud wouldn’t need much time to adapt and with his experience at the international level, Izwan can surely challenge Patiwat – benefiting the team as a whole.

Building depth may be the objectives for defence but things are more complicated at the attacking end where Ishii seems to be looking for a specific type of players who must compliment the overall tactical setup above anything else.

Pedro Junior second shot at Thai football ended in another disappointment as the Brazilian striker failing to find the back of the net, was left out of matchday 4’s squad, and released via mutual contract termination. The problem with Pedro Junior it seems is that nobody knows exactly where he plays. Is he a winger? A second striker? Or the one leading the lines? And I am not even sure the player himself knows!

Was Ishii right to go for Barros Tardeli and not Ricardo Bueno? Credit – Buriram United Official

Ricardo Bueno, another former Buriram United striker, and even Robinho (yes, the one who used to do a hundred step over at the Santiago Bernabeu) was linked before the club unveil Barros Tardeli as Pedro Junior’s official replacement. Despite creating chances after chances and having a squad packed with creative offensive players, Samut Prakan City somehow scored only 3 goals from their first 4 matches.

Unlike Pedro Junior, Barros Tardeli is a pure number 9 – his game is all about goals as evidence by 39 he manage in 2 years in the second-tier. Signed on a season-long loan from BG Pathum United, Tardeli was The Rabbits’ golden boot winner as they lifted the Thai League 2 trophy. Supported by Chayawat Srinawong, a regular starter in Ishii’s front-2, Tardeli can expect plenty of service in terms of through passes.

Adding even more pace to attack is electric winger Chakkit Laptrakul who joined on a permanent deal from BG Pathum United.

Speaking about his failed contract negotiation and reasons for joining Samut Prakan City, Chakkit quotes “I want to be in a club that trust me and let me [prove myself through my performance]. And that was not what they (BGPU) were thinking about me.”

Ishii is equally pleased to secure this transfer and hinted at how the 25 years old may fit into his formation “Jack (Chakkit) is blessed with excellent individual quality. He is quick on the ball, comfortable playing from either flank or even behind the striker. I hope he can be a massive help for the team.”

Picha Autra returning to Muangthong United, where he started his career, is a big loss for Ishii but to be fair the attacking midfielder may not be as suitable for Ishii’s system as some had hoped. Quick, technical and inventive. The 2017 Sea Games gold medalist resembles a playmaker rather than a conventional winger that looks to sprint to the byline and put a cross in. Playing in the number 10 role, Picha was the heart of Muangthong United’s U19 Coke Cup-winning team but hasn’t been used there since the Pattaya United days.

Given time, Picha can definitely adapt as a left-winger in Ishii’s system but it seems the 2016 J1 League winner prefer to play with 2 pure wingers down both flanks. This is backed by the fact that Jaroensak Wonggorn, a predominantly right-footed winger who specialise in outpacing his direct opponents, has played the full 360 minutes of possible league games so far. 19 years old Jiraaut Wingwon, a winger of similar mould to Jaroensak, were also handed plenty of game time. Picha one the other hand only completed 1 full 90 minutes game and was taken off in 2 of his 3 starts.

Picha offers intricate touch and ability to unlock the deep defensive setup whereas Chakkit is more direct and suited to press from the front – a key attribute which Ishii looks for in his team.

Pre-2020 it would be difficult to see Samut Prakan City signing talents such as Chakkit, Tardeli and Jaturapat in one transfer window and with relatively few issue. Port FC and BG Pathum United’s galacticos mentality forced themselves into offloading players and Ishii took full advantage of that. Recruiting from the domestic market meant new arrivals do not need to go through quarantine (which could be a bit of a hassle) and are already adjusted to Thailand. The former Kashima Antlers manager is yet to claim his first league victory but with a stronger and more tailored squad ready for when football resume, Ishii may not have to wait for long.