English Premiership

English clubs to go Thai?

2015-02-13 11:43
EPL logo (File)

Bangkok - The highway leading from downtown Bangkok to the northern reaches of the metropolis and the home of Thai Premier League club Bangkok Glass is strewn with billboards featuring English teams. Thailand has long loved English football and is increasingly backing that affection with investment.

When Dejphon Chansiri, whose family owns major canned tuna producer Thai Union Group, bought Sheffield Wednesday in January, he became the latest in a succession of Thai club owners. Leicester City, a Premier League team, is owned by duty free retail giant King Power while in 2014, a consortium led by Sasima Srivikorn took control of second-tier Reading. The first and most famous Thai owner was Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister of Thailand who bought Manchester City in 2007 before selling a year later.

As well as owning a football club, Bangkok Glass is a large glass container manufacturer and a subsidiary of Boon Rawd brewery, producers of Singha beer, which has sponsorship and signage deals with several Premier League clubs.

Singha's local rival Chang beer is the chief sponsor of Everton. Singha is open to increasing its investment in English football, but no plans are imminent.

"In the past five years, we have been approached by a number of clubs in England who have asked us if we were interested in becoming shareholders or investing," Pavin Bhirombhakdi, the president of Bangkok Glass football club and director of the parent company that shares the same name, told Associated Press. "For us, the timing has not been right."

The president understands the motivations of businessmen and companies that have become involved in English football.

"For the Thai owners of English clubs, these are guys who are in their fifties and sixties and financially they have no issues. If they were to start a club in Thailand, it would take years of work and investment but these clubs in England are ready-made. It's true that they can help market a company but it's about the passion too and the excitement and when you have that then you want to be involved. This is human nature."

"At the moment however, we want to make Thai players in Thailand."

Bangkok Glass is one of an increasing number of corporations, businessmen and politicians choosing to invest in the Thai Premier League, rather than the English version, and standards are rising.

On February 10, Glass defeated Malaysia's Johor Darul Ta'zim 3-0 in a play-off for the 2015 Asian Champions League.

Bangkok now takes on Chinese powerhouse Beijing Guoan in a final play-off next Tuesday with a place in the group stage of continent's premier club competition on offer. It is possible that there could be as many as three Thai teams in the tournament. Buriram United is already assured of a place; the Thai league title holders reached the quarterfinal of the 2013 continental competition.

Bangkok's comprehensive win over Johor of Malaysia, a big-spending and ambitious club, was another sign that Thailand is improving. The national team, full of young players with a young coach at the helm, impressed in December in winning the AFF Suzuki Cup, Southeast Asia's biennial championship.

At the moment however, Thailand finds itself stuck between being Southeast Asia's premier team and trying to become a continental power. More investment and more teams playing in the Asian Champions League can help make that next step.

"This tournament is great for us," said Bangkok's Spanish coach Ricardo Rodriguez. "We can test ourselves against teams from other countries and see where we are and how far we still have to go. It is also good for the club. But this is an exciting time in Thai football, the national team has had a change in philosophy. There is a young coach and a new generation of young players and they have a bright future."

So popular is the English game in Thailand, where Premier League telecasts conveniently begin at prime time, that the high-speed style is mimicked at local level. However that style is particularly unsuitable for the hot, humid local conditions, and more coaches are trying to introduce a more patient approach.

"The game here is influenced from the English game," Rodriguez, 40, said. "Most of the fans want to attack very quickly. The Thai players like to play fast too and the players are quick and technically very good. Spanish football is slower and more technical and we are trying to introduce that philosophy too."

While the local league is making strides, and the national team showing promise, Bhirombhakdi believes the English game will remain the focus for ambitious investors in the near term.

"There is a new generation coming through of club owners, presidents and businessmen in Thailand and most of them are young and were educated in England," Bhirombhakdi said. "They were brought up with football being almost a religion and that is something that stays with you."

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