The Big 3
Pundits on clique ridden football chat shows regularly state that it's more difficult for a club to retain a title than it is to win one. Well, currently Buriram hold three titles - TPL, FA Cup and Toyota League Cup - and repeating this feat would be a remarkable achievement. Buriram PEA lost just one game last season with their unbeaten streak stretching all the way back to June of last year. There is no doubting that Buriram PEA had the best crop of foreign players in the league last season. They've managed to hold on to the pick of that talent and have added to their already strong squad by taking the best Thai players from Buriram FC. The Thunder Castle will start the season as strong favorites for the title but they may be hindered by a tough AFC Champions League group, and surely exhaustion will creep in at some point due to a lack of proper rest during the close season.
2011 was a disappointing campaign for Muangthong. They gave up their titles from 2009 and 2010 with barely a whimper as the finished an unacceptable 25 points behind winners Buriram PEA. Nevertheless, big things are expected this year as the Twin Kirins recently signed a lucrative sponsorship deal with the SCG Cement group. The latest coach ordained to the MTU hot-seat is the highly rated Slavisa Jokanovic. The Serb will be Muangthong's fifth foreign coach in barely over a year and you wonder if he'll last past Songkran if the opening results don't go his way. Muangthong still have the spine of their successful title winning team of 2010 with Kawin, Nattaporn, Datsakorn, Teerasil and Dagno Siaka still around. There is a lot of expectation on the new boys, Adnan Barakat and Mario Gjurovski, to help the Nontaburi side win back the TPL title that the Muangthong Ultras believe is rightfully theirs.
Last year's runners-up will be aiming to go one step further this season by lifting their first title since 2007. Last season, the Sharks possibly had the best selection of home grown players to pick from, but they seemed to suffer from having a poor stable of foreigners. That's been addressed for this season as all the foreigners bar Kazuto Kushida have been moved on. As far as arrivals go, Chonburi will be hoping that Ludovik Takem has brought his 2010 goal scoring boots from Pattaya and not his 2011 ones. Anderson Dos Santos and Diakite will add stability at the back and in Bireme Diouf they have signed a budding crowd pleaser if he can find some consistency. Chonburi should certainly finish in the top three but winning the league might just be a little bit out of their reach. Their best chance of success may be winning one of the domestic cups or reaching the latter stages in the AFC Cup.
Wuachon United (Fighting Bull United)
Wuachon United are the product of the failed metamorphosis of Buriram FC into Songkla FC. The story behind the formation of this club is a tedious tale of Thai "pu yai" stubbornness mixed with large splashings of face saving and I honestly can't be bothered going into it. On the playing front nobody quite knows how Wuachon will fair this season. They could finish anywhere between 4th and 18th. When you look at the players they have picked up, there is plenty of TPL experience with signings mainly coming from Chonburi or from last season's Buriram conglomerate. At this moment in time, it is still unclear where Wuachon will play their home games. Word on the street is that they'll eventually end up in Songkla just as they initially planned!!
Chainat followed up earning promotion from the second division in 2010 by securing their TPL slot after finishing runners up in Division 1 in 2011. The Horn Bills have already shown us last season that they can mix it up with the TPL big boys. They knocked Chiang Rai United out of the FA Cup and in the quarter finals they took Army United all the way to penalties before eventually losing on spot kicks. The TPL new boys have made some astute signings from home and abroad as they've indicated that they are aiming for more than just survival. Chainat will be hoping to emulate Chaing Rai United's feat of finishing mid-table last year as they begin their maiden season in the TPL.
This could be a long season for BBCU if the second half of last season is anything to go by. They had an impressive start to the campaign but from July onwards they stuttered and just made it over the promotion finishing line. The club have a small but loyal fan base who regularly turn up at games to dance along to the beat of the musical band whilst banging long inflatable tubes together. BBCU can no longer use the Army Stadium so they'll use the 65,000 Rajamangala Stadium instead. Their 13 new signings include Moussa Sylla from Bangkok Glass and the unpredictable Jacob Aikionbare from Thai Port. Head coach Kiatisuk 'Zico' Senamuang will be looking to new striker Pichet In-Bang and last season's top scorer Chainarong to net his side some valuable goals.
The Bangkok Boys
It's been a quiet few months up at the Leo Stadium. In the last couple of seasons, Bangkok Glass have invested heavily in their squad, but this time around only 3 new players have arrived. The signings of the Thai schoolgirl's favorite, Leesaw, coupled with Valery Hiek and Elias Ferreira Miranda should be good additions. BG will be strong enough for another top 6 finish but not many outside of the Leo Stadium will consider them as realistic title challengers.
It's been another transfer window at the PAT Stadium where the revolving players door has seen more departures than arrivals. Last season's two best players, Ekkapoom and Moise, have left and will be a big loss as will the improving duo of Mongkol and Todsapol who joined Ekkapoom at Muangthong. Thai Port though have made a couple of canny signings with Olof Watson and Alex Ruella coming in to provide that bit of spark that was missing in the attacking third last year. The tall Korean defender, Whoo Hyun, has joined from Police United and should fit into the spot vacated be Moise. Some are predicting that the Klong Toei side will be involved in the relegation battle this term. I don't think this will happen as there appears to be a good spirit in the camp and Port should be capable of another mid-table finish.
BEC Tero Sasana
The Fire Dragons will be managed this season by young Englishman Andrew Ord who will almost certainly be guided by the watchful eye of ex Muangthong United general manager, Robert Procureur. It's been a busy transfer window at the Thephasadin with about 20 new players arriving. Even though there has been an abundance of new additions, Tero have managed to hold on to their best players such as Ronnachai, Gilbert Koomson, Prat and Pisan from last year. Incoming players include experienced Thais Ekaphan (Chonburi) and Rangsan (Buriram PEA) while potential match winner, Cleiton da Silva, has been snapped up from Osotspa The attack minded pair of Karim Rouani and Tekenori Hayashi have been brought in from abroad. With this depth of talent, BEC Tero will be striving to break into the recent top three stranglehold of the TPL.
Last season's early Brazilian buzz fizzled out as Army United eventually dropped to finish in 13th spot. It was disappointing considering that the Army were the early season pace setters. Despite scoring 18 goals last season, Brazilian Leandro has been made surplus to requirements and has been replaced with Sarayoot from Bangkok Glass who himself weighed in with 15 goals at BG. Most of the other Brazilians have also been shown the exit door as Army have signed a various assortment of foreigners with an Estonian, three Argentinians, a German and an Australian all arriving. Army will consider a top 6 finish as being attainable this time out.
In the build up to last season, the ongoing dispute between TOT and CAT made it look unlikely that there would even be a team representing the communications company. The dispute was eventually solved days before the transfer window was set to close and a squad was hastily assembled. TOT's start was horrendous as they looked relegation certainties during the first few weeks. Things did eventually improve as they climbed out the relegation berths. The club also made a welcome return to their home stadium in Chaeng Wattana last August after a few years of exile. This time around, with a proper planned pre-season and a home stadium of their own, TOT will be looking to finish in the comfort zone of mid-table. The loss of last season's top scorer, Kone Mohamed, is a blow, but TOT have enough to avoid a second consecutive relegation fight. I can see them finishing in lower mid-table.
At the midway point of last season, Pattaya United were on the periphery of the relegation fight. However, hardly anybody would have predicted their second half to the season as they hauled themselves up to a fourth placed finish. It was a remarkable accomplishment considering they had one of the smallest budgets in the league. The Dolphins have kept the nucleus of the 2011 squad together as they aspire to build on the progress made towards the latter end of last season.
In the last four seasons, Osotspa have finished 4th, 5th, 7th and 6th. They are one of those teams that appear capable of beating the top teams one week and then losing to a weaker side the next. They just seem like they're not quite ready to make that next leap forward. Nonetheless, they should be strong enough to secure another top half finish. Incoming players contain Dudu from Buriram and from overseas they've picked up Brazilian Douglas Alexandre Rosa and ex Kaiser Chiefs player, Sandile Michael Suge.
It's was a challenging second half to the season for Police United both on and off the field last season. After a dozen or so games, they were comfortably in the top 5 but poor form from June onwards saw them slide down the league ladder. Their Thammasart Stadium fell victim to the floods of 2011 and they had to play the last few home games in Suphanburi. Even now the Thammasart isn't ready for action, so Police will start the season off playing at the IPE Stadium in Chonburi. They've made a couple of bold signings with Leandro Dos Santos joining from Army United and the former highly rated youth player, Samir El Gaaouiri, coming in from the Netherlands. For me, Police have mid-table written all over them.
It been a remarkable three years for Chiang Rai United. They were founded in 2009 and worked their way through the Thai football set-up before securing a respectable 10th place in their first TPL campaign last year. Their Brazilian coach, Stefano Cuggura, will no doubt be eyeing a top half finish this time out in their second season in the TPL.The colorful Brazilians, Edvaldo and Alonso Jose Carvalho have left and have been replaced with Franco Hita, Adrian Caceres and Liberian international, Murphy Komunple Nagbe. The Orange Power will also be hoping that goal hawk, Wasan, can repeat his scoring exploits of 2011.
TTM Chiang Mai
The Thailand Tobacco Monopoly are on the move again, this time to the northern city of Chiang Mai. Their brief two year tenure in Phichit proved to be nothing more than two seasons of mid-table anonymity. The club will be hoping to entice supporters from local second division side Chiang Mai FC who are regularly watched by five figure crowds. TTM still have most of their South Koreans from last season and new head coach Somchai Chuayboonchum will be hoping his foreign clan offer more this season. Also the addition of Giorgi Tsimakuridze should add some entertainment on the pitch although not necessarily for footballing reasons. The ex TOT man is reportedly earning a tasty 300,000 baht per month.
The club formerly known as Sisaket FC have moved to Ubon Ratchathani and will now be called Isan United. Not surprisingly, the move has proven very unpopular with the diehard Kouprey fans and even today there is still lots of bitterness hanging over this move. Sisaket endured a 12 game winless streak at the end of the 2011season and the new Isan United supporters will be hoping that the transition of the club sees an upturn of form. The Ubon side will be looking towards incoming Brazilian striker Cheyene Santos to provide the goals to fire them away from any relegation danger.
Last season Samut Songkhram, backed by sponsors SCG, only secured their TPL status on the last day of the season. This time around they have no major sponsors as SCG have jumped ship and put their backing behind the more lucrative Muangthong United. Things are looking bleak for the Mae Khlong side and without any major financial support concerns are being raised over the future of the club. With several departing players from the 2011 squad and with no new signings of any note, it seems there is one one outcome for the Crazy Mackerels this year.