Interviews

FFT SEA Awards: Player of the Year Chanathip's joy at being accepted by the Japanese fans

He is indisputably the best footballer in this region and when it came to our first ever Southeast Asian Football Awards, who else could win Player of the Year? Thai superstar Chanathip Songkrasin joined us for a chat and among the topics, we discussed how hard he found the adjustment to Japanese football..

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Following his groundbreaking move to J-League side Consadole Sapporo, Chanathip quickly established a regular starting role, helping his new club fight off the threat of relegation and eventually finish 11th in the 18-team top tier.

I think he tried to show everyone that he deserves to be here. He is a joyful, kind and friendly guy

- Shinji Ono

He also finished a comfortable winner for our first Player of the Year award, beating off competition from compatriot Teerasil Dangda, new Police Tero signing Aung Thu of Myanmar, the V-League's reigning player of the year Dinh Thanh Trung and Indonesian keeper Andritany Ardhiyasa.

Only promoted from J2 the previous season, Consadole had been widely predicted to drop straight back down in the 2017 campaign.

They didn’t invest in many new players, but one they did recruit was the 24-year-old Chanathip, who decided to leave his comfort zone in Thai football and test himself at a higher level.

He initially faced some criticism, as Southeast Asian players can when they get an opportunity in places like Japan, South Korea or Europe. There can be an assumption they are only moving for marketing or financial reasons.

Chanathip quickly became a fan favourite

Chanathip also naturally found it quite a big adjustment when he first arrived, but quickly set about proving himself to Consadole coach Shuhei Yomoda, his new teammates and the Hokkaido fans.

“I had to do my best,” Chanathip said as he commenced a chat with FourFourTwo. “I had to learn how Japanese football is played.”

With some fearing Chanathip would spend much of his first season on the bench, he instead was soon in the starting side

While Chanathip went through an adjustment period, his teammates also had to learn more about the playmaker. One who knew very little about him was Shinji Ono, a great of Japanese football and a teammate at Consadole.

But the decorated Ono, who has played in Europe and Australia and represented Japan at three World Cups, quickly became impressed with the Thai youngster’s ability.

“I think he tried to show everyone that he deserves to be here. He is a joyful, kind and friendly guy,” Ono told FourFourTwo.

“Quite frankly, I’d never seen him play before. But as I saw when I trained with him,  he moves quickly in every play. I really wanted to link up with him in a real match.

“It’s no wonder he is proving a success in Japan and I also wanted that to happen. The most important thing is he really believes he can do it.”

Shinji Ono

With some fearing Chanathip would spend much of his first season on the bench, he instead was soon in the starting side, taking just a few short weeks to win over his teammates and his coach.

He had shown his talents to the Japanese fans and demonstrated he could make a difference with his club

Ono acted like a big brother to the newcomer and could see some similarities in himself, having tested himself with Feyenoord in Europe from a young age.

Chanathip made his debut on July 26, 2017, coming off the bench in a game Consadole Sapporo lost to Cerezo Osaka in the J-League Cup.

Three days later, he was thrust into the starting 11, with his club defeating Urawa Red Diamonds 3-0.

Already he had shown his talents to the Japanese fans and demonstrated he could make a difference with his club.

From that point on he retained his place in the starting side.

[NEXT: Blazing a trail for his Thai teammates]