Interviews

Nattawut Sombatyotha: The Next ‘Charyl Chappuis’

A star in last year’s Nations Cup, Nattawut Sombayotha is slated to lead his side to glory at this upcoming SEA Games... 

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Remember AFF Suzuki Cup 2014 star Charyl Chappuis? The midfielder stole the hearts of many with his swagger on the pitch and he is still a popular figure in Thailand till date.

But the midfielder should look out, as behind him is a youngster who many believe can be as good as he was. Meet Nattawut Sombatyotha, the one many are saying could be the next Charyl Chappuis.

Who is he?

Nattawut Sombatyotha, or simply “Benz”, was born in Kalasin, a province in the northeastern region of Thailand, before moving to Chonburi.

As a kid, he never liked football. Instead, if he could choose between going for academic lessons and football, he chose the former.

But the turning point came when his elder brother, who weighed 100 kilogram at one point, asked to him play football together in order to shed some fats.

Agreeing initially only to accompany his sibling, Natthawat gradually began to enjoy the game.

With that came the desire to improve and before long, he was devastating many in his age group before joining the JMG Academy.

In middle school, he attended Bangkok Christian College, a school famed for producing many football talents and subsequently was called up to Thailand’s under-16s.

This forward did not like football initially

The invitation to join Buriram

It was there Natthawat actually started to build his reputation, especially after the AFF U-16 Youth Championship in Laos. The forward was instrumental in his side’s charge to the title, and he caught the eye of many scouts.

An invitation to trial for one of Thailand’s most reputable clubs, Buriram PEA (now known as Buriram United) Academy, was extended to the forward and it did not take much to convince the club to sign him on.

However, Nattawut’s Buriram adventure had to take a backseat, as he was then invited along with seven other Thai players to train for six months at Leicester City’s academy in 2011 under the ‘Road to Stardom’ project.

Despite his short time there, Nattawut believed his experience enriched him greatly. He believed that he had to progress as much as possible at Leicester City by learning the English language and experiencing professional lifestyle.

“I thought that us Thais had more skills than the English, that we were very good at playing in a tight space,” Nattawut recalled.

“But it’s different when you play in an 11-a-side game. You have to use more strength and fitness. The English game was about discipline and physical strength, and they press you relentlessly and I was forced to become stronger.”

Nattawut enjoyed his time in England

Back at Buriram

After finished the six-month stint, Nattawut returned to Thailand and was subsequently loaned out to Surin, Buriram’s ex-affiliate club in the third tier in 2014, where he scored four goals in 15 games as a mere 17-year-old.

Nattawut’s biggest break would come the same year, when Buriram unexpectedly allowed Chappuis to leave for Suphanburi.

Making his first team debut on June 25, 2014, the striker showed he was ready to fight for his place by scoring his first goal for Buriram against Songkhla F.C.

At 18 years, one month and 25 days old, he is among the 10 youngest scorer in the Thai League till date.

Nattawut said: “When I was promoted to the first team, I was quite afraid of senior players, I was not brave to wade by myself but they told me that I have to have confidence.

President Newin Chidchob added then after the match: “Obviously we lost Charyl Chappuis, but Nattawut Sombatyotha might be the right answer for Buriram United!”

He was once touted as Chappuis' successor

Leaving Buriram

In his maiden campaign, Nattawut played 12 matches and scored two goals.

But in 2015, he played only one match because there were many players competing for his position, while he also suffered a long-term injury.

When he finally returned to fitness, Nattawut was sent on loan to Navy to aid his recovery, when Tanawat Nitikarnchana, manager of Ratchaburi F.C, took his chance and asked if Buriram were willing to trade for Nattawut.

The Dragons had initially tried to sign Nattawut in previous years, but were rebuffed by Buriram.

Nattawut was a star for Thailand in the Nations Cup win last year

“I met Benz (Nattawut Sombatyotha) for the first time… right here (at Ratchaburi Stadium)” Ratchaburi’s manager Tanawat told FFT .

“Two years ago, I saw a skinhead boy play for Buriram United here (June 29). I didn’t know who he was, his acceleration, his dribbling, his first touch impressed me.

“But the most impressive was that he could take on Akekaluk Tongkrit, our left back. You can imagine that even the famous right wingers, the likes of Gilbert Koomson and Lazarus (Kaimbi) could not do that, so I tried to contact to Buriram, but they told that he was Chappuis’ successor.

“Then Benz had been seriously injured and sent to Navy, so I contacted Tadthep Pitakpoolsin and asked if it’s possible, so finally he came to join with us.”

The SEA Games

Nattawut has been continuing his football education since, becoming a first team regular in 2016.

He was called up for Thailand’s under-21 Nations Cup campaign that year where he scored Thailand’s first goal and helped the War Elephants claim yet another championship.

After helping Thailand qualify for the AFC U-23 Championship recently, Nattawut has set his sights on the gold medal in the 2017 SEA Games.

Once that is accomplished, only then Nattawut will target breaking into the national team. And you will not bet against him doing just that.