Thailand conquered, it's time for Theerathon to head East

Theerathon Bunmathan has emerged as a top-notch fullback for a wildly successful Buriram United club. But as John Duerden argues, it's time for him to leave Thailand and try his hand elsewhere...

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Not many people disagree with Newin Chidchob, especially up in Buriram and especially if you are a United fan. Why would you? This is a man who is personally responsible for the club being what it is today: the leading power in Southeast Asia.

This is a club that has done what few other regional teams – at domestic or international level – have done in the modern era. Buriram have become a continental force.

They do not just compete in the Asian Champions League, they are capable of getting to the latter stages. Ever since 2003, when BEC Tero Sasana reached the final of the inaugural tournament, teams from the region have been whipped more often than the bad guy in an Indiana Jones movie. But United are different.

They have shown what is possible. Without Newin, the club would literally not exist as he relocated Provincial Authority Football Club from Ayutthaya in 2010, but that was just the beginning. The investment, the passion, the building of the support and the stadium and all the rest has turned this part of Northeastern Thailand into something significant in football terms.

As impressive as the rise has been, however, it does not mean the owner is always right and there is one aspect at least in which Thaksin Shinwatra's former political ally is mistaken. He is wrong about Theerathon Bunmathan, one of the finest full-backs on the continent.

If the 25-year-old was a striker and not a left-back, agents with more interest in money than welfare (the opposite do exist) would have had the youngster off to Europe for trials, regardless of whether it was the right thing for the player or not.

Defenders are not quite as glamorous, even those that have an eye for goal and the sweetest of left foots.

That's OK, Europe is not the only place.  Recently Newin admitted that there had been interest from clubs in Japan and South Korea, not exactly a secret. But he also opined that as Buriram were doing well in the Asian Champions League every year, there was no reason to go to East Asia, especially if interested clubs were not in the continental competition.

In a sense, he's right. As a club, Buriram can hold their own against any in Japan and Korea. Earlier this year, the Thais were grouped with former Asian champions Seongnam FC and Gamba Osaka. All three finished on 10 points. 

Theerathon has been doing plenty of celebrating with club and country

But at this stage in the development of Thai football, going to Japan or Korea is the right thing for Theerathon to do. Ideally he joins a top team and appears in the Asian Champions League on an annual basis. But even if that is not the case, he should still go.

Buriram may be the best in Southeast Asia, but overall standards in Korea and Japan are still higher than in Thailand.

Every week, regardless of the club he joins, Theerathon will be playing against better opposition than he does at home and he won't be playing for a team that is as dominant as his current club. On and off the pitch, a stint in the Lands of the Rising Sun or the Morning Calm would help him grow as a player and a person.

While it would be a good move for the player, it could be a great one for his country.  In Southeast Asia, there is much talk of the growth of Thai football, but it has yet to penetrate far outside.

There is a general feeling, sustained by years of underachievement, that players from Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia et al are just not good enough to play in the best leagues in Asia. Thailand making it to the final round of World Cup qualification and then performing solidly once there will certainly start to change a few perceptions, especially if Buriram continue to do well on the continental stage.

But a few Thai players in the east are also needed. There has to be a first, a pioneer. There has to be a Piyapong Pue-on for the 21st century and that could be Theerathon.

Not only that but Korea and Japan know a good full-back when they see it. At the moment, the Taeguk Warriors have three left-backs that would walk into most Asian teams. There's Park Joo-ho of Borussia Dortmund, Hoffenheim's Kim Jin-su and Hong Chul of Suwon Bluewings. Cha Du-ri and Lee Young-pyo are already legends despite only recently retiring.

Japan have Yuto Nagatomo of Inter Milan, Schalke's Atsuto Uchida, Hiroki Sakai of Hannover 96 and plenty more besides. Become a standout full-back in East Asia and you can play anywhere.

It is time for Thailand's best to start broadening their horizons and there are only two major requirements: it has to be a step up and there has to be regular playing time. Japan and Korea meet the first and, compared to the big leagues of Europe, are much more likely to meet the second too. Someone has to be the flag-bearer and at this moment in time, it is Theerathon.

Go East, young Bunmathan, regardless of what the boss says.