Predicting the hopelessly unpredictable

Picture: Official CMFC

Thai League
M150 Championship
2021/2022 Predictions

With the new 2021/2022 season due to start on 4 September it is time to rub the old crystal ball and make this season’s predictions.

The 2020/2021 season took over a year to complete; starting on 16 February 2020 and finishing on 31 March 2021. Many games were played behind closed doors or with reduced capacity crowds.

It was to the credit of the League, players and officials that the League was completed – albeit after a crazy last two months which saw Chiang Mai FC (and all the other League 2 clubs) play sixteen games in just two months.

The transfer window for this season closed on 17 August; squads have been finalized and the players want to get started.

Since matches cannot be played in stadia that are in “deep red” provinces the Bangkok-based clubs are having to play their initial games either as away games or as a home game at a non-deep-red venue – if that makes sense? So far, the League has only released its fixture schedule for September.

First of all the changes from last season:

Rayong, Sukhothai and Trat were relegated from League 1 where they were replaced by Nongbua Pitchaya, Chiang Mai United and Khon Kaen United.

Sisaket, Uthai Thani (big shame; one of my favorite places to visit) and Samut Sakhon were relegated and have been replaced by Lamphun Warriors, Muangkan United and Rajpracha FC, all promoted from League 3.

MOF Customs United are now known as Customs Ladkrabang United FC. Udon Thani FC have relocated to the SAT Stadium some distance east of the city.

Some of the clubs have changed or separated from their patron. Udon Thani FC are no longer managed by SCG Muangthong and Lampang appear to have become the support club for Nongbua Pitchaya.

Chiang Mai FC remains part of the BG Empire. The good news is that this provides the club with some financial stability; the bad news is that our destiny is once again largely out of the control of the players and management. Rajpracha FC and Khon Kaen FC are also part of the BG structure.

A handful of last year’s predictions were pretty much on the mark – for both Chiang Mai clubs and Nongbua. But my Sisaket prediction was a shining example of why this should not be taken too seriously.

In what could become a battle of mediocrity there really is no standout side in the Championship this season. This should make for a very competitive league; low on quality but high on unpredictability.

So here we go – alphabetically!

My first problem is Ayutthaya United. They were one of last season’s surprises. Rock bottom after the first four games they used the first Covid shutdown to rebuild their team and finished 9th.

Today they barely have a squad and have made no new overseas signings; the mountainous Filipovic has moved to CMFC. Yet they appear to now be managed under SCG Muangthong who will presumably help with players and budgets. This did not work especially well for Udon Thani last year. With so much uncertainty I fear 18th.

Chainat Hornbill FC finished 6th last season – good enough for a play off spot. They have a young Thai squad led by Warayut, their top scorer last season. They have made some interesting additions. Douglas joined from Navy. His old legs are unlikely to last 90 minutes but he could score important goals. Wellington has joined from Trat and Bardar Al -Alawi from Ranong. The Trinidadian centre-back, Daneil Cyrus, has joined from Erbil in the Iraqi Premier League and may be one of the season’s better, and relieved, acquisitions. Prediction – 3rd.

It is hard to write about Chiang Mai FC without banging my head against the table. A decent squad of players was let go at the end of the season. Their replacements, with maybe one notable exception, are either not of the same quality or are BG Pathum United youth players sent north for some competitive experience. Two new overseas strikers have joined in Kabaev from relegated Sisaket and Danilo from Customs.

Kabaev is, I suspect, more about impact than stamina. He likes speed – you will need to look up why that is – but it meant a hasty exit from Estonia to Honduras and onto Thailand. He could be fun to watch.

Velijko Filipovic looks the pick of the new squad. At 1.97 he looks like a granite mountain and was outstanding for Ayutthaya in their 1-0 win on the road at Chiang Mai (Doi Saket) United.

Seiya Sugishita scored regularly for Khon Kaen FC. Phommin Kaeosanga also joins CMFC from Khon Kaen – he will have happy memories of his fabulous goal at the Tessabaan last season in a 1-1 draw.

Meedech is club captain and will, as always, lead by example.

I think, sadly, that this squad will struggle. An injection of new talent may be needed mid-season. Prediction. Mid table safe. 12th. That may be optimistic without mid-season changes.

Onto Customs LadKrabang United FC. Mixed Thai/German Nico Bergold joins from Nonthaburi Utd as centre-back. The Brazilian, Elias, come from the Ibri club in Oman. The Greek forward, Evangelos Skraparas, has arrived from the 4th tier of German football. Finally the young Swedish/Afghani forward Moshtaq Ahmadi has joined the club. Ex-Ranong manager Damian Bellon is now in charge after a few successful seasons with Ranong.  Customs were 13th last season – they will struggle again but should be  safe. 14th.

Kasetsart are another Bangkok based side with limited ambition. New hires include a big Brazilian centre half in Celio Santos and the well-traveled Serbian striker Nikola Komazec. Ambition appears very limited. Prediction. 16th.

Khon Kaen FC finished 10th last season. TransferMarkt currently shows seven centre-backs in the squad – their focus appears to be more defensive than offensive. They will be resilient at home but may not travel as well. Their facebook page promotes everything from cakes to a fine-looking fitness club.

Koki Narita, a Japanese center forward has arrived from Phitsanulok FC and Milan Bubalo, whose Thai should be fluent by now, has joined from Ayutthaya.

KKFC engage with their fans (CMFC take note) and would be a fun club to support locally. This season 10th.

I always look forward to the away weekend at Lampang FC. Then when I get there, I realise how much I hate their shoddy stadium and the appalling fire hazard that masquerades as the away supporters stand. I do not know the details of their relationship with Nongbua but it does appear that the clubs are now connected. New strikers include the Korean Jun-ho Heo and Selwan al-Jaberi who joins from Ranong. 12th last season and always a difficult place to play – 13th this season.

Lamphun Warriors is one of the three promoted clubs. The club is mired in some controversy now with questions raised about the club’s new owner and the source of the funds used purchase the club. Others will note that this was just another day in Thai football!

Last season the promoted teams finished 3rd, 5th and 6th. Ambition matters in this league and Lamphun made some eye catching signings. None more so than Aly Cissokho; once of Liverpool, Valencia, FC Porto and Aston Villa. The burning question is whether the club can afford what could well be the highest wage-bill in the League.

Add to that the Venezuelan Jeffren who joins from Al-Dhaia, in the UAE emirate of Sharjah, and Tiago Chulapa from Police Tero in League 1. The Chiang Mai goalscoring legend Ronnachai is also now at Lamphun.

The best new hire might be the big goalkeeper, Samuel Cunningham, who has joined from the Swatcats. Although fans may miss Adisak’s freekick cameos. I did think that Lamphun were ambitious enough for a play-off spot. But with all the uncertainty who know what the club will look like by mid-season. Prediction 11th.

Muangkan United, from Kanchanaburi, is another of the promoted sides with ambition. They have brought in some players with good League 1 experience in Caion (Suphanburi), Jonatan Reis (Trat) Artyom Filiposyan (Prachuap) and Martin Steuble (Port). It appears that the club will have to change home stadium mid-season with some disruption but they appear well organized. 6th place and a play-off spot would be a fine return from their first season in League 2.

Nakhon Pathom United finished third last season. Under-invested they may miss out on a play-off spot this season. Mark Lester Blanco has joined from Phrae and Kongnateechai from CMFC. 7th place.

Navy’s best hire is the Japanese midfielder Yuki Bamba after an excellent season with Chiang Mai FC. He joins fellow Japanese Tatsuya Sakai from Samut Prakan. This season Navy looks more an Auxiliary Oiler than a Fast Frigate. 15th place awaits.

Phrae United have kept much of last yearห squad. Kyaw Ko has arrived from Chiang Mai United where he was underused last season. Rodrigo Maranhão arrives as centre forward having spent most of the last six years building up frequent flyer miles between clubs in Brazil and Thailand. He will partner Wellington Adao up front.

Phrae should be fun to watch – stronger in attack than defense. They are a good squad; appear to be well coached and have made their home stadium into one of the more fun grounds to visit and one of the more difficult places to get a result. Prediction: A play-off spot 5th.

Newly promoted Rajpracha FC are under the stewardship of BG Pathum United with access to their first class facilities. They will play home games at BG’s Leo Stadium, by some distance the best playing surface in Thailand. They were to be coached by Dusit Chalermson who coached BG to the League 1 title last season. His coaching record at BG was outstanding: P 72; W 54; D 11; L 10. The demotion cannot have sat well with him as Dusit has now returned for a second stint at Port FC.

Douglas Ferreira has joined from Nongbua Pitchaya. Angello Machuca will bring his old head and weary legs back to a warm welcome in Chiang Mai. The midfield will be built around the experience of Peerapong Pichitchotirat, one of a number of ex Bangkok Glass players. (Update: five days after I wrote this Peerapong has moved back to BG.) It does look like the League’s Dad’s Army squad and the shortened season and frequency of matches could take their toll. Prediction 8th.

I have strong personal reasons for wanting Grand Andaman Ranong United to struggle. Though I do like the city. Home advantage is important for the club. It is a long way to travel and not the easiest of stadiums to play in. Their respective disadvantage is the distances they have to travel for away games.  The two Cameroon defenders, Nzola and Mardochee, remain from last season. The Korean Gi-sung Yeon joins as centre-forward. He was previously at Chamchuri United. Ranong have lost their better players and have scraped the lower divisions to add to their squad. They look likely to struggle. Such a shame. Prediction 17th.

Rayong FC were relegated from League 1 last season. They have added some new talent in the wonderfully named Adalgisio Pitbull, Ramon Rodriques, the experienced Goshi Okuno from Navy FC and the Spaniard David Cueva from Khon Kaen United.  Prediction 4th.

Also relegated after an extended stay in League 1 were Sukothai FC. They were managed by Surapong Kongthep, who in the last two seasons has managed the relegation of both Chiang Mai FC and Sukhothai. He is now manager of Chiang Mai United. Failure has its rewards.

Sukhothai are now managed by Dennis Amato who was with Chiang Mai United last season. They have added a good number of players that look like a United Nations convention. Niclas Velez (Argentina and Italy) joins from League 1 in Indonesia. Osman Sow (Senegal and Sweden) joins from Dundee FC – he might enjoy the climate change. Hwang Do Yoon was a centre back in the Korean League. Jeong Woo-geun joins from Chiang Mai United; Saharat is also from CMU, and Maximilian Steinbauer from SCG Muanthong. I think Sukhothai have enough desire, support and cash to go back up to League 1. Prediction: 1st.

Trat FC should score a hatful of goals. Relegated from League 1 the club has added Jhonaton Bernardo from Chiang Mai FC, last season’s leading scorer in League 2 – Paulo Conrado from Khon Kaen United, Marco Babo from Sisaket, Zaw Min Tun from Sukhothai and Parc Jong-oh from Uthai Thani. Conrado, despite or because of the length of his shorts, was League 2’s leading goalscorer last season.  Prediction 2nd.

After a 15th place finish and escaping relegation on the last day of the season Udon Thani FC have freed themselves from the shackles of being owned by SCG Muangthong; have moved stadium, have a new local investor and are looking for a top ten finish this season.

Plenty of renewed contracts from last season; Thales Lima, Arnold Suew and Aleksander Kapisoda among their foreign contingent. New adds include Soukaphone Vongchiengkham from Uthai Thani and young left winger Ritthidet Phensawat on loan from Chonburi.

Argentinian  Daniel Blanco, once of Army United, is now head coach at Udon Thani.

This is a club that with success could be so much better supported and which already has a good English language social media coverage. Prediction a strong 9th.

So there are my 2021/2022 predictions – the main lessons being that football in Thailand has rarely been so uncertain or unpredictable; and that in these difficult times the League, our club and our players need our support more than ever.

Enjoy the season.

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