Registered online journal
Auth. n.197 by the Court of Milan on 25th June 2015
MUANGTHONG UNITED FC, THAILAND’S PEARL
It isn’t rare to see a nation’s destiny crossing between sports and geopolitics. Football always reminds us how these roads can intertwine, and maybe the strongest sign in 2016-17 season came from a magic land like Thailand. In October 2016, the country has lost its king Bhumibol Adulyadej (the longest reign in the history of Thailand: 70 years): a sincere loss, so much that government declared a one-year mourning, halting Thai League season with three games to play. However, the national team plays wonderfully and they already achieved 2019 qualification to AFC Asian Cup.
If results don’t support anymore the other king of the country – called Zico, who actually is Kiatisuk Senamuang, the all-time record-man for caps and goals with The War Elephants –, Thailand fans can count on another surprise: Muangthong United FC have reached the round of 16 in the AFC Champions League for their first time ever.
Muang Thong Thani is a large housing estate in Pak Kret, the 7th most populous city in Thailand, which is part of the huge Bangkok Metropolitan Region, where the capital is located. There you can find one of the most winning and richest sides of Thai League; however, this hasn’t happened by accident.
Muang Thong Thani means “Golden City”: Bangkok Land opted to transform it at the end of the 80s, with the intent of making it an upper-middle class suburb of Bangkok, only 25 kilometers far from the MTT. Despite the economic crisis of 1997, the project kept going to realize the majestic Impact Arena.
When the latter was opened in 2000, this commercial complex – formed by an arena, convention centre and exhibition halls – facilitated the transformation of surrounding area. Suddenly, Nonthaburi Province – always known for his agriculture and durian plantation, a tropical fruit known for its spiky appearance and strong smell – was the centre of a great progress, which didn’t stop only to its citizens, but also extended to its structures.
It was in Muang Thong Thani that SCG Stadium was opened to host Muangthong United Football Club since 2007 – it’s the first stadium in Thailand to be conceived only for football.
In the club logo, you can find two Twin Qilins, which are actually mythical creatures in Asian culture, with a deer’s body and a horse’s head, surmounted by a horn. When they appear, it’s a good sign concerning the upcoming arrival of a knowledgeable man. This myth has Chinese influences, but it’s a historical asset, arrived intact to today’s Thailand.
Yet, it wasn’t easy from the start for Muangthong United. Founded in 1989 by Worawi Makudi (who was a member in FIFA Council from 1997 to 2015, before being suspended by FIFA Ethics Committee), the club initially was registered as Norgjorg Pittayanusorn Football Club, then became FC Norgjorg Black Pearl.
The moment to shine never seemed to be on its way.
The real change, though, came in 2007: Siam Sport Syndicate bought the club, changing its name (in Muangthong United FC) and relocating it at SCG Stadium. MUFC history changed all of the sudden, since the club immediately triumphed in the third division, climbing the hierarchy of Thai football. But silverwares aren’t over.
In 2008, Muangthong United also won the second division with several games left, finally reaching Thai Premier League in blistering times.
Surprises weren’t over, though, because MUFC found a way to sign some of the most interesting talents of Thai football, like Teeratep Winothai (on loan from Lierse), Ronnachai Rangsiyo (once a member of Everton youth ranks) and mostly Teerasil Dangda, who was also a Manchester City player and now is still one of MUFC pillars.
SCG contribute – Siam Cement, the biggest cement company in South East Asia – did the rest. The history of this company started because of king Vajiravudh (or Rama VI), who founded in 1913 and today the Royal Family still owns it for 30% of its actions. Muangthong United’s status remained the same: since 2010, the club won three out of the last seven championships, promoting several players and managers. Not only Teerasil Dangda, but also coaches like Slaviša Jokanović (who did a good job before coming to Europe). Despite being 8th in the AFC Club Rankings, Muangthong United always missed a greater prize: a good result in AFC Champions League.
Until some years ago, Thailand wasn’t in top club football in East Asia. So Thai national champions could only feature in AFC Champions League playoffs, with the possibility of losing and getting in AFC Cup. Muangthong United lost four playoffs, getting stuck in different hurdles (from losing on PKs against Singapore champions of Singapore Armed Forces Football Club to being crushed by Shanghai SIPG).
Only twice MUFC reached group phase in AFC Champions League.
Firstly in 2013: qualified as Thailand champions, Muangthong United were matched with Guangzhou Evergrande, Kashima Antlers and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. An iron group, with only one point obtained (in the first ever game on AFC CL), four goals scored and 17 conceded.
Their 2017 participation is really different: with Thailand being 5th on East Asia rankings, Thai League now has the chance of one direct spot to group phase plus two in the playoffs. MUFC qualified to group stage and are now amazing everyone. For now, Thai champions are ahead in Group E, they defeated at home both Kashima Antlers and Ulsan Hyundai and their victory over Brisbane Roar they’ve qualified for the next phase.
Credit goes to Totchtawan Sripan, who dragged Saraburi up to Thai Premier League and then gifted MUFC their first win in AFC Champions League. Credit also goes to foreigns, who rapidly settled in Thai football, like Japanese defender Naoaki Aoyama and Spanish forward Xisco. The whole Thai squad core, which is also the spine of Thailand national team, has of course been essential: not only captain Teerasil Dangda, but also Tristan Do, Sarach Yooyen, Theerathon Bunmathan, Adisak Kraisorn and Kawin Thamsatchanan.
The dream appears clear now: go as far as possible in the AFC Champions League and maybe getting the 5th league title, equalling rivals Burinam United for the highest number of silverware in Thai Premier League.
Cover photo and training ©Muangthong United Football Club
Photo King Bhumibol’s celebration and Worawi Makudi ©LaPresse
Photo SCG Stadium ©Filacrosse.com
Photo Teerasil Dangda ©Curro Vallejo/Marca
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