Asia 50 Exclusive: Chanathip's relentless pursuit of a J.League starting berth

In a few short weeks, Thai superstar Chanathip Songkrasin will finally make his way to Japan to compete in the J.League, and there are signs it could be a match made in heaven. 

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The man widely known as ‘Jay’ had an opportunity to join FC Tokyo 12 months ago, but it didn’t eventuate, with Hokkaido-based club Consadole Sapporo now his destination in July.

Perhaps it was meant to be.

“When I see the club badge, I’m impressed a lot,” Chanathip told FourFourTwo. “Their initials CS are the same as mine, so I think maybe this club is my destiny.

He is all about relentless improvement. When he wants to achieve a goal, he will ensure he reaches it … and now he is going to the J.League

- Andrew Ord

“Also my mother calls me Jay, so maybe it was her dream for me to play in the J.League.”

The first player to ever win consecutive MVP awards in the ASEAN Football Federation’s Suzuki Cup (2014, 2016), Chanathip sparked great excitement among Thai and Japanese media back in January when he announced his decision to move to Consadole on loan.

Pundits and fans alike are intrigued to know how the best player in the Southeast Asian region will perform in one of Asia’s most competitive leagues.

While he came close to moving to Japan last year, the 23-year-old is now an even better prospect.

“He is all about relentless improvement,” said Andrew Ord, a former coach at Chanathip’s first club, BEC Tero Sasana.

'Jay' helped his new club to a league and cup double in 2016

“When he wants to achieve a goal, he will improve himself to ensure he reaches it … and now he is going to play in the J.League.”

After shifting from Tero Sasana to Muangthong United in 2016, Chanathip’s game has continued to evolve and improve.

I decided for certain that we had to sign him when Japan played against Thailand ... you could see his talent and his skills

- Consadole director Hirokatsu Migami

Under Thai tactician Totchtawan Sripan at Muangthong, he only scored three goals last season, but added 11 assists in 27 league games as the Twin Qilins won a Thai Premier League and League Cup double.

He didn’t just make his mark in domestic competitions either, causing havoc for Australian defenders in a 2-2 draw in a 2018 World Cup Qualifier at Rajamangala Stadium last November.

That performance, as well as Chanathip’s efforts against Japan, convinced Consadole Sapporo director Hirokatsu Migami that he could cut it in the J.League.

“I decided for certain that we had to sign him when Japan played against Thailand,” Migami told FourFourTwo. “He was not the star of the match, but you could see his talent and his skills.

“Although he’s small, he has more agility than the others so it makes up for his size and it won’t be an obstacle for him in Japan.

“In the Australia match, some of their players were huge, but it wasn’t a problem for Jay ... he used his skills and agility and never gave up.”

Shortly after leading Thailand to a second straight Suzuki Cup title in December, Chanathip and Consadole agreed on an 18-month loan deal, beginning in the second half of the 2017 season.

“It’s not a problem for Jay to play in the second leg, somehow it’s even better because he will grow stronger through AFC Champions League (ACL) games (with Muangthong). I wanted him to play ACL first,” Migami said.

Chanathip will get a perfect warm-up for his move when Muangthong take on Kawasaki Frontale in the two-leg Champions League round of 16, starting later this month.

[NEXT: Encouragement from a Premier League standout]