Having already turned down a loan move to the J-League last year, Chanathip Songkrasin now says if there is another offer from abroad, he won't let it slip through his fingers...
This time last year, there were mixed emotions from Thailand's young gun Chanathip Songkrasin after he was named at No.50 in FourFourTwo’s feature series on the 50 Best Asian Players of 2015.
Obviously I don’t want to be criticised that my performance was below my standard
From the outside it appeared a year full of positives for the man commonly known as ‘Jay’ Chanathip, named the AFF men’s player of the year for leading the Thai national team to a SEA Games gold medal and playing a key role in the War Elephants’ progress towards the final round of 2018 World Cup qualification.
But on a more personal level, he was forced to leave his beloved Thai club BEC Tero Sassana after he couldn’t prevent it from getting relegated to the second division. He then shifted to Muangthong United on loan.
“I put in some mixed performances last year, because we were tired from a very busy schedule,” Chanathip begins in a conversation with FourFourTwo at a coffee shop near Muangthong United’s home ground. "But I am now able to keep good form and continuously develop it.
“Obviously I don’t want to be criticised that my performance was below my standard. But if people feel I really need to be criticised, I know I have to improve myself.”
Chanathip admits that the number of fixtures for both club and country affected him and his club teammates who were also playing dual roles.
A number of changes to the Tero line-up between 2014 and 2015 also led to a lack of consistency within the Fire Dragons’ squad.
It was very unfortunate that Tero Sassana had poor results, which was in contrast with the national team
“I don’t want to blame anything for the poor performances in 2015 because BEC Tero Sassana is my club and I loved my boss (Tero president Brian Marcar),” Jay says.
“But I thought the foreign players we brought in when Jose (Alves Borges) was the coach were very good players, but after we changed the coach, everything changed too.
“So the good players such as Georgie (Welcome) and Daiki (Iwamasa) were sold. Furthermore, my Thai teammates and I had to play for the national team frequently, so we didn't have enough time to rest. It made us very tired.
"It was very unfortunate that Tero Sassana had poor results, which was in contrast with the national team. This made many fans misunderstand, thinking I concentrated more for the national team than my club.
“OK I was tired but I thought I played to my standard when I played for Tero. If you carefully look at those games, you will see that we were unlucky – we could win some matches or draw but we would concede a goal before the end – it wasn’t because we didn’t play well.
“To be honest, I still don’t know what happened until now.”
Although Chanathip and BEC Tero Sassana won their last match of the season 5-0 over Chiangrai United, it wasn’t enough to save them from relegation.
I never wanted to leave Tero, except to play abroad
Marcar later decided to sell club, which had a big impact upon Chanathip.
“On that day, I had an exam at Thammasart University. I remembered that I left the class room at 11am. Mr. Man (Tero manager Thanya Wongnak) called me and told me ‘Jay, you have to go to Muangthong now to play AFC Champions League with them’.
“I thought ‘I have to leave Tero really?’ I don’t know what the executives talked about with this deal, but I never wanted to leave Tero, except to play abroad.
“I felt that we are a family. It hurt me and made me sad."
In the blink of an eye Chanatip was on his way to Muangthong in a one-season loan deal.
But he eventually picked himself up from the disappointment and accepted the challenge as a new member of the ‘Twin Kirins’ along with his Tero teammates – Adisak Kraisorn, Peerapat Notchaiya, Tanaboon Kesarat and Tristan Do.
They all linked up at the SCG Stadium with Thachatawan Sripan, one of the more talented young coaches in Thai football.
“I thought if I come here (to Muangthong), how will it help me me progress?” Jay wondered.
“Although Tero helped me to progress, I was also happy to play with the seniors in the national team – I really enjoy playing with them.
“But if you ask me the question of whether I’m happy with anything else, I feel that I owe boss Brian. I gave him 100 per cent, but a career path brought me to Muangthong. I’ve come here to play football; this is what professional football is like.
“I think Ban (Thachatawan Sripan) is similar to Zico (national coach Kiatisuk Senamuang). They are top coaches and focus on discipline. Training time may not be long, but it’s full of quality. I’m delighted to work with these two legends.”
While his immediate target is to lead Muangthong United to domestic titles, he also aims to prove that he is one of the top Asian players in the final round of qualification for the 2018 World Cup.
He feels that is the ideal way to earn his ultimate goal – a chance to play professionally in Japan.