The more things change the more they stay the same?

Thai League 2
Second half preview

Atthawit Sukchuai who is returning to Chiang Mai but in red rather than blue – picture @official cmfc

Let the fun and games begin. Thai League 2 is like two school terms separated by a four week holiday.

The first term is not taken too seriously; no one ever reads mid-year reports. The mid-season break then allows football clubs, like good students, to have a chance to reset their course.

Four weeks to hire and fire; to chastise and motivate. Or for some to decide that little if any change if needed; if it is not broken don’t try to change it.

The second term is where the real business is done and where the tough examinations will be sat. But it is a marathon and not a sprint – and teams that peak too early can lose momentum in the heat, humidity and smog of March and April. Just look at the falls of Trat FC and Udon Thani FC last season.

Any of the top 13 teams could reach at least the playoffs – with apologies to Kasetsart, Chainat (despite some interesting new hires), Krabi, Ranong and Udon Thani.

The transfer window does not close until 17 January – so as I write this on 5 January there are almost two weeks to go. I suspect most of the big changes have been made, but not necessarily announced, before tomorrow’s restart.

The hard part is keeping track of all the changes; some clubs are better than others at reporting new arrivals; fewer are interested in reporting their departures. There is also the small issue of a language barrier. Google Translate is not the name of NakhonSi’s newest striker.

So it is only when the team sheets are published this weekend that some changes can be confirmed.

But here we go with some of the more notable changes over the last few weeks.

Of the clubs that are easier to track the nominees for most players released are Chainat and Kasetsart, each with ten, Uthai Thani and Krabi with eight each and Krabi with seven. It is no surprise that the clubs that have struggled most are the clubs to make most changes to their squads. But other clubs such as Udon Thani and Ayutthaya have also released a number of players.

The changes also mean that there are a number of decent players that have quickly found new homes. Greg Houla joined Chainat from Udon Thani. Joao Paulo went to Suphanburi from Trat. David Haas from Udon Thani to Trat. There may still be some T1 players that come available over the next two weeks.

Of the top teams midway through last season only Udon Thani fell out of the top six; Phrae who were 7th mid-season finished 6th.

The top clubs also look stable this season:  at the top of the table Nakhon Si have made limited reinforcements rather than changes. Goalkeeper Samuel Cunningham arrived after spending last season with Lamphun. Arriving on loan are Kroekit from Chonburi and Petcharat from PT Prachuap.  

In breaking news as I write this Nakhon Si United have signed two strikers: Filipino forward and international Mark Hartman joins from United City FC. He is making a return to Thailand after playing in T1 in 2019.

Afghanistan international (who grew up in Finland) Fareed Sadat has joined from Phnom Penh Crown FC.

With Evandro Paulista and Phillerson both retained Nakhon Si have plenty of attacking options.

Suphanburi have recruited the striker Joao Paulo from Trat. Seiya Kojima has moved on. But for now the club appears happy with the existing squad.

Nakhon Pathom in third place are clearly looking to improve their goalscoring with Jhonaton Bernardo (once of Chiang Mai FC) arriving from Samut Songkhram together with the young right winger Obed Kofi Sam from the Ghanaian League. An interesting loan hire is Kritsada Wongkaeo, captain of the men’s Thai futsal team – on loan from Chonburi BlueWave. 

Ayutthaya, looking for at least a playoff spot, announced eight new hires two days ago; including Poonsak Masuk, once of Chiang Mai United and then Udon Thani, and Tossapol Chomchon, who was a much-loved warhorse at Chiang Mai FC and has more recently played with BGPU and Khon Kaen United.

Phrae United in fifth is another club that has made few changes; two players with T1 experience will be expected to keep the club competitive; Tanapong (Swatcats) and Sukhot (Sukhothai).

Rajpracha finished the first half of the season in sixth place; surprising many. Their trio of Malians may have all left the club; it is unclear. Diawara is reported to have joined Samut Prakan City. Too many departures and too few arrivals will see Rajpracha struggle through the remainder of the season. That would open up a play-off place.

Chiang Mai United have plundered three players from Lampang including the Brazilian striker Deyvison who did so much to push Lampang to promotion last season. What that means for Bill is unclear. But Deyvison and de Leeuw upfront could be the strongest attack in T2.

They will get good support from Atthawit (ex Rajpracha and returning to Chiang Mai albeit to the red zone); together with Nattachai (Swatcats) and Saharat (Swatcats),who is also returning to Chiang Mai.

Chainat have brought back Wellington Priori (they should never have let him go), brought in Greg Houla from Udon Thani, and the goalkeeper Pathomtat from Rajpracha. All positive changes.

Samut Prakan City released their underperforming foreign trio, Aneni, Leuca and Renan Costa. As mentioned above Diawara joins from Rajpracha together with Mohammed Toure, from AS Mansa in Mali. Kitikai and Phanudej also move across town from Rajpracha.

Rayong is another club short on goals. Rafael Galhardo, a Brazilian striker who played for Valour FC (Winnipeg/”Winterpeg”) in the Canadian Premier League, has arrived presumably in search of warmer weather.  Tiago Chulapa, ten clubs in six years in Thailand, has also joined the club.  A major push for the playoffs seems unlikely.

Chiang Mai FC returned four players to BGPU including the strikers Stenio Junior and Patrik Gustavsson, and received three in return. It will be interesting to see how Yuta Hirayama makes the transition from the Australian NPL. For CMFC fans the changes are underwhelming.

Customs United added one more loan player from their Port parent. But appear to have made no additional announcements.

Kasetsart released ten players and at the time of writing have found seven additions. Perhaps the most interesting is Esoh Paul Omogba the Nigerian midfielder who has played most of his football in Cambodia and Myanmar most recently for National Police in the Cambodian Second tier.

Trat FC also seem to have also decided that mid table survival is sufficient.

Uthai Thani are another club with multiple departures but only one announced arrival – notably Steeven Langil, the Martinique born winger, once of Ratchaburi FC. More announcements will presumably follow.

The three teams in 16th to 18th place midway through last season finished 16th to 18th at the end of the season. That could easily be repeated.

Krabi have hired a whole new team; twelve players; including the Korean Choi Ho Ju from Chainat and the Iranian defender Hamed Bakhtiari. Good luck to them all as they seek to take Krabi out of the relegation zone.

Ranong have added the Brazilian Gabriel do Carmo; he was without a club for almost two years after a year in Indonesia. The Swedish/Iraqi striker Selwan Al-Jaberi has returned to the club. Ranong may need a miracle rather than a pair of used forwards.

Finally Udon Thani FC. Udon Thani host Phrae United on Friday evening (6 January). At least ten players have left and the only new player announcement is Phipat Saengwong, parachuted in from Royal Thai Airforce FC.

It is also unclear whether goalkeeper Korrakot Pipatnadda has been recalled to SCG Muangthong.

New Brazilian coach, Mavi Lopes, has a mountain to climb. December friendlies suggest that there will be a team tomorrow; it is strange that names have not be announced and this must be deeply frustrating for their supporters.

That is all for now. A rather long summary; and at times rather vague for which I apologise. More changes will be announced but hopefully the restart will see squads quickly settled and the focus can be on the football.

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