TPL ready to kickoff (11/02/2011)

With the evergrowing budget of each team, another exciting season appears in store when Thailand Premier League, the country's topflight division, kicks off tomorrow, with a clash between BEC Tero Sasana and Buriram PEA the highlight of the opening week .

Over the past few years, the TPL competition has grown rapidly to such an extent that a budget for a club is not less than Bt30 million, a figure that not so long ago seemed unthinkable when the league struggled to draw public attention.

The turnaround in the league's fortunes was largely down to the Asian Football Confederation with the initiative to promote professionalism in the region. As a result of major reform, there were no longer stateowned clubs and the teams became more localised, resulting in dramatic surge of the fans' numbers.

Suddenly, the TPL became the market in which many companies wanted to tap so it came as little of a surprise to see money in the form of sponsorship deals pouring into the league. Buriram, who have de facto Bhum Jai Thai party leader Newin Chidchob as the club president, reportedly have the biggest budget - as much as Bt120 million - followed by champions Muang Thong United at Bt90 million, while the average budget for the rest was between Bt40 million.

Given such huge financial resources, Buriram, who finished third last term, are widely considered as the main challenger to end Muang Thong's twoyear reign as the league champions. However, their title credentials would be put to a stern test early when they visit twotime champions BEC, who also spent heavily in strengthening their squad.

If either of the two sides come away with a victory in the match, they would steal a march over Muang Thong, who are not in league action this week. The TPL champions would face Sriwijaya in Indonesia on the same day in the first leg of the AFC Champions League playoff, with a berth in the group stage at stake.

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