Influx of foreign players (27/03/2011)

The Thai Premier League has become popular not only for local fans but also for foreign players.

There are now 121 overseas players in the TPL this season, thanks to a new regulation which allows each club to have seven foreign players on its books and a maximum five in one match (7+5).

The rule was introduced by the Football Association of Thailand and Thai Premier League Co last season.

It was reported that certain big clubs pushed for the new regulation which initially upset small teams who could not match the big guns' spending power.

But now most clubs in the 18-team TPL have a maximum seven foreign players on their books. They are from 26 countries including Brazil, Cameroon, Japan, South Korea, Britain, Ivory Coast, Pakistan, Finland and Laos.

Understandably, Brazilians form the biggest foreign contingent in the TPL with 26 players. Other major suppliers include Cameroon with 13 stars, Japan (12), South Korea (12), Britain (7) and Ivorians (7).

While many officials say their clubs have been better off with foreign players who they believe are more skilful than local players, some coaches argue that the influx of foreign players could hurt the national side and football development here.

Chonburi FC manager Witthaya Laohakul says the current 7+5 system is not beneficial to Thai football particularly its national team.

"There are too many foreigners in the TPL and worse is that they are not grade-A players from their countries," said the former Thailand coach who is a vocal critic of the FAT.

Although a maximum five foreign players are allowed on the pitch at the same time, the ex-Thailand midfielder says most clubs have seven on their books.

"Home-grown players get less chances to play. It will affect the national team in the long run because we will not be able to produce our own players," said Witthaya.

At continental club competitions, Thai teams have not fared well probably because of the 7+5 rule.

Witthaya says Muang Thong United were eliminated in the AFC Champions League because the TPL's rule is different from that of the Asian Football Confederation.

The AFC allows only four foreigners (three non-Asians and one Asian) for each club in one match in its continental club competitions.

Witthaya argues that most foreign players in the TPL are not much better than local players so it is not likely for Thais to learn from them.

"Indeed, I think many Thai players have better basics and they need chances to play to make progress. Unfortunately, most Thai players also get lower wages than the foreigners," said Witthaya who played for clubs in Germany and Japan.

But Chonburi also have a maximum seven foreign players on their books. They are Darko Rakocevic and Vladimir Ribic of Serbia, Japanese duo Kazuto Kushida and Daiki Higuchi, Brazilian striker Ney Fabiano, Nigeria's Kenneth Akpueze and Belgian Nlome Ndebi Berlin.

Fabiano has been one of the best foreigners in TPL history. He helped Chonburi win the league crown in 2007 and then moved to Melbourne Victory.

After an unsuccessful spell in Australia he returned to Thailand to play for Bangkok Glass before returning to Chonburi this year.

Ronnarit Suewaja, general manager of two-time defending TPL champions Muang Thong, has a different view.

"If local players are good enough, they should be able to book their places in their teams," he said.

"In all, we have 117 teams in Thailand. The whole local league still needs foreigners because we do not have enough local players in terms of both quality and quantity."

Muang Thong have seven foreign players, three from Ivory Coast and one each from Finland, Britain, Slovenia and Nigeria.

"The seven foreign players rule is okay. We can change later if it does not work," he said.

Ronnarit says the quality of the foreign players in the TPL probably depends on their prices.

"If you are willing to pay more then you are likely to get better players," he said.

"One important thing is that these foreign players help make our league more interesting and stronger. Our players can learn from them."

One of their best foreigners is Christian Kouakou of Ivory Coast who has featured in the first team this season.

One of the clubs who benefits most from their foreign players is Army United.

Army used only Thai players last season because according to their bosses they represent the Royal Thai Army.

But they performed poorly and were originally relegated at the end of the last season. However, they remain in the top flight through the play-offs after the authorities suddenly increased the number of teams from 16 to 18.

This season, they are a contender for the title at this stage of the season thanks in part to their foreign players.

"We bought the foreign players after getting the green light from Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha," said Thanadej Fuprasert, coach of Army who have five Brazilians, one Japanese and one Cameroonian on their books.

"In general, footballers from South America and Europe are more professional than Asians," he said.

"They get higher wages than some local players but they are not too high."

The signings were recommended by the club's technical chief and manager Pongpan Wongsuwan, who is brother of Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan.

Army are one of the surprise packages this season and recently hammered Muang Thong 3-0. Their Brazilian star Leandro Dos Santos is one of the hottest strikers with four goals in as many games.

Insee Police United coach Thawatchai Dumrong-ongtrakul admits clubs have too many players with the 7+5 regulation.

But the former Thailand international argues that clubs need them to help make local players improve.

Thawatchai oversees seven foreign players _ five South Koreans, one Brazilian and one British-born Singaporean in John Wilkinson who is the club's captain.

"Korean players are faster and more powerful while Brazilian and Africans are more skilful," he said.

TTM FC Phichit are dubbed "Korea FC" because they have six Korean players and are coached by Korean Myung Ho Bae.

With several Korean players from both teams, a recently match between Insee Police and TTM was labelled as "Battle of Princes of Kimji."

TTM's Korean players are certainly not too bad with Yeon Gisung a leading striker this season.

Team manager Kovit Rungsawang says he is satisfied with the Korean players not only because of their performance but also their commitment.

"Their football skills are second to none. They also have discipline and responsibility and this is very important," said Kovit.

"I want them to show their Thai colleagues how to be good players."

Kovit says each get at least 100,000 baht a month. TTM can have another foreign player and not surprisingly Kovit is looking for another Korean.

"When you have many players from the same country, it is good because they will feel at home," he said.

TTM finished 13th last season and with their in-form Korean players they target a higher finish this term .

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