The Thai starlet tells Kazira Hans about his football upbringing, being compared to Messi and wanting to play in Europe...
Fans call you “Messi Jay” because your stature and style is similar to his. Are you a fan of Lionel Messi?
My father likes Diego Maradona. He thought I could be like Maradona and I like him too but we’re in the era of Messi. So when the fans think of comparing me to someone, they called me Messi Jay. Personally I'm happy to be compared to Messi because he's a great footballer but I don't think I'm anything close to the real Messi. He's a much, much better player. If I could choose, I would want to be Jay Chanathip. There is Messi this and Messi that in every country but there's only one Chanathip. But it would be cool to have someone call their young players Chanathip this or Chanathip that one day though. I would like to be someone they look up and compare themselves to.
You're a football star but you said you don't watch football much and you don't follow any particular team. So where do your techniques and skills come from?
No, I don't watch football much. I mean, I can watch, but I don't have any favourite team in particular. I have footballers that I like, some of whom are my idols. My role models are Maradona, Messi and Steven Gerrard. They are my football idols, not just their game on the field but for their life outside the field too. Maybe not Maradona's though! (laughs)
Your father was your first coach. What is the most valuable thing he taught you that you still remember till this day?
My father played football too, but he was not very good. (laughs) My father is a big believer of basics. The first thing he taught me was the most important part of football is the basics. He trained me when I was very young, I think I was about four, and all I trained was the basics — how to control and handle the ball. I trained with him like that from four until Grade 9, when I was around 15. What I learned from that was football is like studying, if you have good basics [skills] you can proceed to the next level or try new tricks successfully, but without basics, it's almost impossible to get to the next level. One of the most important thing he taught me was to play smart because I am small, I can't get physical with anyone. Then with all the things he taught me, when I'm on that football field, I'm on my own.
As the star man for the Thai national team, how do you handle the stress before a game?
I don't feel it. I don't think of it as stress. Before I go onto the field I try to keep my head clear. I would never think of the stress or the things people say about anything. Every time I go in the field, I play and I enjoy it, because football is what makes me happy — the source of my joy. The only thing in my head is that I'm only a young boy, I have a lot to learn. I still have to grow and to learn. I can't think that I'm bigger than the team. Football is a team sport, all about teamwork, it's not something someone can do all by themselves. You can't depend on just one guy, it's the whole team playing together.
Three North Korean defenders couldn’t stop you... Is there anything an opponent can do to halt you in your tracks?
I didn't think about being stopped, in fact I didn't think of anything at all. Football is about possession and control of the ball. If you lose the ball easily then there must be something wrong. When I have the ball, the only thing in my head is to hold on, and to see how can I give my teammates an advantage [over the opponent]. If I can't play it, I have to try and pass it to someone who can because football is [about] teamwork. If they stop me, my teammates will be there to carry on.
We’ve seen so much in the news about Raheem Sterling wanting to leave Liverpool for a team that can win trophies. You’re about the same age as him, which way would you lean towards as a young footballer? Staying loyal to a club that gave you your first chance or exploring new horizons?
You’re asking me? (Laughs) I just extended my contract until 2018! Personally, moving to a new team is like starting over again, it can't always be moonlight and roses. There is no way we can predict what could happen. I think starting with a new team is not easy. You will have new teammates, you don't know what they think, you don't know how to operate, you would need to learn new things, especially if you move to another league, another country. But for me personally, if this place is the team I rose with, my breeding ground, I'm happy here. It wouldn't be all about money or trophies, it's the place you are happy to be a part of, and to play football [there]. I think that's the one thing about footballers, whether we decide to stay or go, we need to be where we are happy and for me, I 'm happy anywhere I can play football. I'm happy here but I still keep my eyes open, keep my options open, because I want to try going to a foreign league.
When did you first feel "Hey, this is it! I'm a professional football player?”
My first game against Muang Thong United. It was not my debut, but my first game in the starting lineup. I was 17 at that time and it was the first time that I had made the first 11 with the BEC Tero first team.
What was your most memorable game?
Without a doubt, the Toyota League Cup 2014. Buriram United were 2013 champions and we were title contenders. The pressure was tremendous. We came back in the second half, scored two goals. I didn't score myself, but I managed an assist for our second goal.
Earlier in your football career, being young and much smaller than other people at 1.6m tall, did you ever get turned down? We always see you having a good laugh about your height, but have you ever been discouraged by your size?
When I was turned down, they said I was too small, that I could never keep up. I felt bad, I felt hurt but it never made me want to quit. I would never quit because I wanted it so much. The only time I wanted to quit football was at age six. That was when I trained with my father, all I did was train, the basics, ball control. I didn't get to go run around playing football with other kids. I didn't get to play with friends so I wanted to quit because I didn't know why I was doing that. But now, I know. I have worked so hard, I have been through so much to give up. It's almost like I'm destined to be a football player, to do what I love. So I never wanted to quit, even when they turned me down.
What are your thoughts on Teerasil Dangda’s move to UD Almeria and return home shortly after? Was it inspirational or does it make you rethink your options?
I'm proud of him, as a footballer, a brother. It was great that he got to that point. He is a great football player, though a little bit of a private person and too shy. (laugh) When he went to Almeria, I truly believed he could make it. He was that great, he just didn't get enough of an opportunity to play. If he got to play more often, more regularly, gained some confidence over time, he would have done great. Personally, I think whenever Thai players go abroad, most people will look down on us. They don’t believe we can play. That's what we have to do, we have to think of how to show them otherwise and we have to show them that we can play.
Do you think Thai footballers fit in better in Europe or other parts of Asia? Will this affect your decision if and when you make a big move abroad?
Everyone might think I'm small, I can never play in Europe, and I must go to the J. League. I hear what they said, I know about it. But they are not playing, I am. To be able to play or not, it's up to me to go out there and try and play. Only then will we know. Personally, at this point I have proved to the Thai people that I can play, though it's just the beginning. I still want to prove to the world that I can play. I want them to know that I can play. I want to go to the J. League, yes. But most of all, I want to go to Europe. There are small players in Europe too. If they can play, why can't I? I haven’t even tried yet. You see Shinji Kagawa at Borussia Dortmund, he's not all that big, right? I think football is all about understanding how to play [the] ball.
We heard that you fielded offers from several J. League teams after the AFF Suzuki Cup but no move eventuated. Are you still chasing the dream of making it big abroad?
Hypothetical question? I'm for real. I have a dream. One day I want to go to Barcelona, train and play with the likes of Messi, Neymar, Dani Alves, Andres Iniesta and Suarez. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I want to do it. Maybe I can train with them for a month or two, to know what real football is like. I don't know if it will be possible, but if I can, I will.
Last year you were also linked with Shimizu S Pulse, Hamburg and even a K.League team but you recently extended your contract with BEC Tero to 2018. What does this mean for your hopes of a big move in the near future? There was also a link with Incheon UTD, is that still a possibility?
Oh, it would be a tough choice. All those talks could still be on the table, I want to go to those teams. But my first choice would be S Pulse. A few years ago I spent two weeks training at S Pulse, it was a great experience — the system, the professionalism, the league, all the teams, and the game too. It was amazing. It felt really good to be part of it.
What would you say was your best goal ever?
(Laughs and answers without a pause) The goal I scored against Malaysia in the second leg of the AFF Suzuki Cup final in Malaysia. At that point the score was 3-1 in their favour and my goal sealed the championship. It was the best feeling.
How much does it mean to be named in FFT’s inaugural list of the best 50 Asian players, with the likes of Keisuke Honda and Son Heung Min? And to be the only Southeast Asian player in the list?
It's an honor. Thank you FourFourTwo for this great opportunity to be on the list. I would like to take this opportunity to thank my coaches, my father, my family and friends who are part of who I am today. I'm happy I made the FFT Asia 50 list, it's a sign that I'm on the right track, I'm doing it right. I will now work hard to improve and make a better spot in the list. My father has always said that I was born to break records, but I didn't think anyone would believe him, even myself. Now I’m starting to think he's right. This is my third year playing football professionally and I’ve won awards and broken records. I don't mean to be cocky, but I'm running out of places to put my trophies (laughs). Being in the FFT list is confirmation that now I must do better in the next year and the years to come. I have to move forward. There's no way I can stop now. Thank you FFT for this. I truly am honoured.
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