There are a few Australians there already as the 2020-21 season prepares to finally restart next month and there is no reason why Thailand can’t be an increasingly popular port of call.
Fans down under can keep an eye on Iain Ramsay at PT Prachuap, Brandon O’Neill at Buriram United, Nakhon Ratchasima’s Jesse Curran and Josh Grommen among others as the old new season gets underway.
Brisbane-born defender Grommen has played for his home city as well as for clubs in Malaysia and the Philippines, the country he has represented at youth level. In July 2019, he left Petaling Jaya City in Malaysia to arrive in Thailand’s ancient capital to play for Sukhothai FC.
“My old team-mate and friend Iain Ramsey was playing at Sukhothai FC who needed a new centre back and I was recommended by him to them,” Grommen told The World Game. “They saw I was doing well in the Malaysian Premier League and offered me a contract to come over. For me it has been quite easy as the players at my club are very welcoming and try to speak to you in English even if they can’t.”
The 24 year-old has been impressed with the standards in the Lands of Smiles.”The Thai League is very fast and technical with a lot of great foreign and local talent that can play in any league in Asia. The way the league is run is very professional and well organised. Local players here are very good. I was surprised by the talent and technique some of the players have.”
Past meetings between Thai and Australian clubs in the AFC Champions League show that the Southeast Asians can handle themselves. “Top clubs here are very good and can compete with the A-League no problem,” said Grommen. “If you look at Melbourne Victory they drew 2-2 with Chiangrai United FC.
"The Thai league would be a great place for those who are good enough for the A-League but who just can’t seem to get the opportunity.”
For fans and journalists, more Aussie players is no bad thing.
“I think that Thai fans tend to have a pretty high opinion of Australian players,” said Gian Chansrichawla, journalist and co-founder of Thai League Central, an English-language site that covers football in the country. “They’re eligible for the AFC Quota but often they bring characteristics and playing styles that are different from other Asian countries. I’m surprised that we haven’t seen more Australian players in the league actually.”
For Chansrichawla, the best performer from down under in recent years was a defender. “The first name that comes to mind for me is Matt Smith, formerly of Bangkok Glass (now BG Pathum United). He joined BG shortly after I began following the league closely. He was an incredible player for them.
"In recent years, I think Iain Ramsay has been a very consistent performer with Sukhothai and Prachuap. I’m excited to see what Brandon O’Neill can do with Buriram since he comes with a good reputation and looks like a very physical and versatile box-to-box midfielder. Muangthong also have Australian-Filipino Jesse Curran on their books, currently on loan with Nakhon Ratchasima who looks like a very exciting prospect.”
Thailand have overtaken Australia's allocation in the AFC Champions League and could have no less than four teams in the 2021 edition. “The quality is improving on average. The division is more competitive than it has ever been, with the quality gap between the top and bottom teams shrinking.”
Chansrichawla believes however that while the level has improved overall, the best teams are not quite at the level of the teams of Buriram and Muangthong of 2014-15 and 2016-17 respectively. “Some reasons for this are probably the diffusion of top players across the league and fewer foreign players allowed per team. However, the current young players coming up are very strong and we could see them raise the quality of the league and national team in the years to come.”
In the short-term, the focus is on getting the league restarted, hopefully, next month. “The main difficulty the Thai League is facing is the fact that travelling between certain provinces and regions requires self-quarantining, which the government just introduced to try and stop the spread of COVID-19. For now, we have to wait for the case numbers to go down and those restrictions to be relaxed before we can look forward to the league returning.”