|Teerathep takes sound first step on road to fame|
|By ..Wanchai Rujawongsanti , Bangkok Post January 30, 2002 Edition|
teenage prodigy Teerathep ``Leesaw'' Winothai moved a step closer this
week to becoming a professional soccer player when he agreed to a
scholarship contract offered by English First Division club Crystal
Under the three-year deal expected to be signed in July, Teerathep will train for around 20 hours a week and attend school for about 10 hours a week.
Palace, who have a chance of winning promotion to the Premiership this season, will be responsible for Teerathep's tuition fees and accommodation.
The team will also pay him 75-a-week (4,600 baht) _ not bad for a Thai teenager.
Initially, it was reported that Palace might sign him as a full professional, thereby following in the footsteps _ although hopefully with much more success _ of Kiatisak ``Zico'' Senamuang, who spent a short and unhappy time on the books of another English club, Huddersfield Town.
As it turns out, Teerathep's scholarship deal seems a better bet than a full professional contract at this stage of his career.
It is true that a number of top players turned professional and made their names at the tender age of 16 or 17 years old.
At 16, Diego Maradona almost made it into the Argentina side that won the World Cup in 1978 and Brazilian great Pele won the first of his three World Cup titles when he was just 17.
But not many players are that good. In fact, most of the players who enter the professional scene at a young age fail to reach stardom and many cannot even make a living playing football.
Teerathep is a good player _ probably the most talented Thai footballer ever. But if he becomes a professional at this moment, there is no guarantee of success.
Who knows what the future holds? Leesaw may or may not make the grade in the vigorous English league.
With a scholarship deal, at least he will have an education to fall back on and can pursue another career if he fails in football world.
His father Thepchai, a sports writer, has seen several talented young players fail to make the grade _ so he has given priority to his son's education.
As for Teerathep, he should know by now that the more famous he becomes, the more the press will scrutinise him.
He may well have listened to the song ``Every Breath You Take,'' a big hit for the British band Police, which goes ``Every breath you take, every move you make, I'll be watching you''.
When he played against Burma in an Asean Under-20 Championship match last week, he argued with a Burmese player who had kicked one of his team-mates. The next day, the Thai press criticised Leesaw for poor sportsmanship and over-acting.
Frankly, I do not see anything wrong with players trading words, as long as they do not exchange punches or kicks.
Leesaw was initially scheduled to return to England after the Asean Under-20 Championship. But he reportedly will extend his stay in Thailand because a number of television programmes want a piece of him.
Again, the press criticised him for being ``unprofessional'' by agreeing to appear on these shows and not immediately returning to London.
Again, I don't see anything wrong with this as long as he gets the green light from Palace.
Expectations for Teerathep to become a successful player in England are even higher than when Kiatisak went to Huddersfield.
The burden on his young shoulders will be heavy as Teerathep must behave and continue to climb the ladder to reach his full potential.
If he proves successful it will not only be good for himself and his family _ but also for Thai football as a whole.
His success would certainly pave the way for other Thai aspirants. It could lure European scouts to look for Thai talent instead of just going to Japan, South Korea or China.
Who knows, Leesaw may one day receive praise as the pioneer for Thai footballers in Britain. But first he has to deliver.