Having failed to impress in his first Japanese stint and previous European sojourns, veteran Thailand striker Teerasil Dangda’s permanent transfer to struggling J1 League side Shimizu S-Pulse represents the final throw of the dice to make an impact overseas and slow down the inevitable slide in club and national team football.
(Main photo credit: Facebook/Shimizu S-Pulse – Thai Language)
On 23 February 2020, Teerasil Dangda marked his latest overseas stint debut with a goal as he opened the scoring for his newest foreign employers, J1 League side Shimizu S-Pulse, two minutes into the second half in their eventual 1-3 home loss to FC Tokyo on the opening match day of the new Japanese top-flight season.
Finding the back of the net has been second nature for the 31-year-old Thailand striker since he made his professional debut for the Royal Thai Air Force in 2005. He has cemented himself as the finest Thai forward of his generation, starring for club and country in various domestic and international tournaments.
A deep-lying forward who is adept playing on the left wing, Teerasil relishes playing in from deep when positioned in the final third. Possessing a sound first touch and ruthless predatory instinct inside the box, his game intelligence is one of the best in the 21st-century Thai football scene.
While he has enjoyed prolific spells turning out for various local clubs, notably for his previous club Muang Thong United, and the Thailand national team with distinction, the same could not be said in his few ventures abroad.
AseanBola explores why the Thai international centurion has struggled to replicate his undoubted attacking talents in his previous foreign sojourns and whether he could turn it around in a possible all-or-nothing gamble in his Shimizu transfer.
Wide-Eyed First Overseas Adventure
Teerasil had his first crack in a possible overseas venture in the second half of 2007 when he was part of a trio of promising Thai footballers invited for a training stint at English side Manchester City, which was then owned by former Thai Prime Minister-turned-political fugitive Thaksin Shinawarta.
Failure to land a British work permit saw hopes of a permanent transfer to the Citizens dashed, so he moved to Swiss club Grasshoppers on loan at the start of 2008. He struggled to make an impression at his new side, failing to achieve a start in a paltry six league appearances for their second team in the Swiss fourth-tier in the second half of the 2007-08 season.
Despite the struggles in his first European stint, the then-young striker returned to his homeland a stronger and better player after his release from City in October 2008.
For the next seven years after his return, he established himself as the undisputed leading striker for club and country as he helped Muang Thong win three top-flight championships and a Kor Royal Cup, as well as achieve two Asean Football Federation Championship runners-up finishes for Thailand.
La Liga Nightmare for Teerasil at Almeria
While Teerasil’s first European adventure was a relatively quiet, modest affair given his rookie professional status, his second move, this time to Spain, in 2014 was a different story.
By now an established Thai football star, he was the subject of a historic season-long move, which would commence in the summer, from Muang Thong to Spanish side UD Almeria, who were then competing in the top-flight La Liga, on 21 February.
Unlike his previous stints at City and Grasshoppers, there was intense attention in Thailand during his stint at the Andalusian club, with media dispatched to follow his every move in Spain and Almeria matches involving him broadcast on local television.
Teerasil became the first Thai – and Southeast Asian – footballer to compete at the highest level of Spanish club league football on 23 August when he replaced Fernando Soriano on 66 minutes for his Almeria debut in their 1-1 home draw with Espanyol.
Despite making his long-awaited European first-team debut, the Thai international found himself well down the pecking order in the club’s attacking department. Almeria managers that season, Francisco and, later, Juan Ignacio Martinez preferred the African physical prowess of Thievy Bifouma and Jonathan Zongo over his finer technical attributes to complement their first-choice striker Tomer Hemed in the team’s ill-fated struggle against the inevitable La Liga relegation.
He never made a start, coming off the bench in all six Spanish top-flight appearances but enjoyed better fortunes in the Copa del Rey, making three starts in four appearances in the cup competition. His solitary Almeria goal came on 5 December when he netted in their 4-3 away win over Real Betis in the fourth round first leg encounter.
Teerasil’s inability to make a consistent breakthrough into the manager’s first-team plans eventually saw his miserable Spanish stint cut short with a return to Muang Thong in January 2015.
Overseas First-Team Role Remains Elusive Despite More Appearances in Hiroshima
The J.League’s opening of the ASEAN import quota for league clubs in 2017 provided the opening for Southeast Asian professional footballers to venture into one of the best leagues in Asia.
Prior to the advent of the professionalization of the Japanese league in 1993, Withaya Laohakul was the most successful Thai footballer in the country, having had stints with Yanmar Diesel (now Cerezo Osaka) and Matsushita (now Gamba Osaka) in two separate spells in the 1970s and 1980s.
With talented attacking midfielder Chanatip Songkrasin making an impression with Consadole Sapporo in the second half of 2017, Teerasil and Theerathon Bunmathan were the next notable Thai footballers to make their moves to Japan the next year.
For Teerasil, it was his third overseas move, and his first Asian adventure outside of Thailand, as he joined Sanfreece Hiroshima in a season-long move from Muang Thong.
He made an immediate impact on his Hiroshima and J1 League debut with a goal against Sapporo on 24 February. While he enjoyed substantial playing time in Japan compared to Europe and contributed to their eventual league runners-up finish, he struggled to establish himself as a first-team regular.
Under Hiroshi Jofuku, the Thai striker was used frequently as an impact second-half substitute. That limited his ability to influence the game as he eventually netted seven goals and contributed three assists in 1,854 minutes from 37 appearances in the J1 League and J.League Cup competitions.
Unlike Chanatip, who eventually sealed a permanent transfer to Sapporo, and Theerathon, who was undaunted by a modest Vissel Kobe stint to feature prominently in Yokohama F. Marino’s league success in 2019, Teerasil returned home following yet another underwhelming foreign stint.
Torrid 2019 Signals Possible Beginning of the End
Compared to his previous returns to Muang Thong after two failed overseas stints in Europe, Teerasil did not bounce back after a better, but yet much-to-be-desired first Japanese sojourn in 2019.
He endured a tough year for club and country last season. At club level, even as Muang Thong struggled in a turbulent domestic campaign, on-pitch issues and injuries limited his impact as a veteran club statesman.
A start-stop season in the Thai league saw him record his first seasonal single-digit goal return in local club football in a decade as he scored a paltry seven goals from 20 league and cup appearances.
Teerasil fared little better donning the War Elephants jersey that year as he scored only three goals in nine international appearances, including one in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup finals in the United Arab Emirates.
Initially overlooked by present Thailand national head coach Akira Nishino, he made his first appearance under the new honcho in a home FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifier against the United Arab Emirates on 15 October 2019, scoring the opening goal after 26 minutes in their 2-1 win.
Despite making further full appearances in November’s away qualifiers in Malaysia and Vietnam, his notable on-pitch contributions came in the form of yellow cards instead of goals as Thailand failed to win either match that month.
Emerging Sensation Suphanat Threatens Teerasil’s Crown
At the same time, the emergence of precocious teenage striker Suphanat Mueanta into the professional ranks for club and country has cast a huge shadow over Teerasil’s future on both fronts.
The 17-year-old Buriram United player made his first-team club debut in 2018 and scored his first league goal at the age of 15. Featured as one of the top 60 global teenage talents by British online newspaper the Guardian, his talent has attracted the attention of the top clubs in the East Asian big three of China, South Korea and Japan.
Having made his full international debut for Thailand in June 2019, the teenager has been a regular presence in the War Elephants senior side under Nishino and contributed to their run to the quarter-finals in January’s AFC Under-23 Championship finals on home soil.
His impressive displays in the final third for club and country has given the 2018 World Cup head coach food for thought as the latter plots to rejuvenate the attacking line-up for senior international football in the short to mid-term.
Just as how Teerasil entered as a teenage starlet when Kiatisuk Senamuang was heading into the international sunset in the 2007 Asian Cup finals, Suphanat’s entry and undoubted potential at the highest level of Asian football could herald the start of the inevitable drawing of curtains for him.
Now or Never for Teerasil
Unlike previous overseas moves which gave him the safety of returning to the comforts at Muang Thong, Teerasil’s move to Shimizu was a permanent transfer, which was confirmed by his new side on 31 January. For both parties, especially for the player, it was an all-or-nothing gamble. There is no turning back this time.
For Shimizu, they hope his signing will help them cope better in what is expected to be another season of struggle against the drop in the Japanese top-flight after a tough 2019 campaign. For Teerasil, this is his last throw of the dice to make this foreign transfer work.
Having witnessed how his international teammates Chanatip and Theerathon flourish as foreign stalwarts in a competitive J.League environment, 2020 represents a now-or-never campaign for him as he has never experienced at any point of his career.
Keep banging in the goals for the S-Pulse as he did for his new club’s debut, he could contribute positively to their J1 survival quest and also extend his longevity at the highest level of Asian club football for at least the next couple of years.
Fail and his future in both club and national team football would only head in one direction from there on: south.