When the Thai League 3 season kicks off this weekend, all eyes will be on MuangKan United after their recruitment drive brought in several former Thai League (T1) champions, including Cameroon’s Florent Obama.
Centre-back Obama won the 2011 title with Buriram United, and he is reunited at MuangKan with the legendary midfielder Suchao Nuchnum, who is still going strong at the age of 37, and attacker Chakrit Rawanprakone, who was also at Buriram in 2011.
Defender Korawit Namviset is another former T1 champion and Thailand international, having also played alongside Suchao at Buriram, while striker Bireme Diouf has enjoyed a long career in Thailand’s top tier, featuring for the likes of Chonburi, Suphanburi and Sukhothai.
Obama’s career has had an unusual trajectory since leaving Buriram and, at the age of 28, he is relatively young compared to his fellow new recruits. However, when Obama spoke exclusively to ThaiLeagueCentral, he made it clear that he is determined to make his mark at MuangKan as the club attempts to make the tourist town of Kanchanaburi known for more than its links to World War II.
Relishing the challenge
“I don’t like playing at clubs that have no ambition, whether this is in T1 or T2,” said Obama. “If the club has no ambition, it doesn’t give much motivation. If I play with a smaller club that has plans to move up the divisions, that enables me to develop as a player.
“If I play at a club that just wants to stand still, I can’t really improve. All of the clubs I have played with have been clubs with something to prove and this is the same reason why I accepted an offer from MuangKan.”
With the significant investment that has gone into the playing squad, expectations are high, and there is pressure on the team to make an immediate impact by ensuring that they are playing at a higher level next season. Beyond that, they are looking to go even further.
“The first target is promotion to T2,” said Obama. “I think we have a squad that can do it. We have a group of players and a team of staff that are ready to give their all to help the club achieve its goals.
“Longer term, the club has ambitions to compete in T1. We are building a squad that can help us achieve that.”
Building for the future.
All the indications are that club president Issaret Ratsameeruekset is laying long-term foundations, even if signing proven players in their mid-late thirties is a more short-term policy.
“We are still playing in the provincial stadium, but I believe they are in the process of locating a site where they can build a stadium for the club,” said Obama.
“We have had training camps to get ready for the new season, and I’m very happy with the way the club is run. This is just my eighth month at the club but I can only go by what I saw before the season was suspended.”
While the facilities and resources have impressed Obama, getting the locals onside in a province that is well known for its natural beauty and tourist attractions is an ongoing challenge.
“It’s not yet a town where football is considered particularly important,” Obama admitted. “In contrast, when I was in Buriram, it felt like a party every time there was a home match and that the whole town was behind us.
“In Kanchanaburi, we’re nowhere near that. But I have seen that the president has been working on projects to try and bring more supporters to the stadium. I am sure we will see decent crowds once the season starts and with the big names they have signed, it will help to promote the club’s profile.”
Obama knows what it means to take on a challenge, having come through the famed L’Ecole de Football Brasseries de Cameroun, which is one of the top football academies in the country. Other footballers who have come through the academy include Samuel Eto’o, Rigobert Song, Nicolas Nkoulou and Stephane Mbia.
At just 19 years of age, he took a huge gamble by swapping Cameroon for Thailand.
“To be honest, I had never thought about playing in Thailand,” Obama said. “I always thought that after my time in the academy, I would go to Europe. But my agent told me about Thailand and he explained that as a central defender at 19 years of age, it would be very difficult to get a contract in Europe, whereas it was much easier for attacking players.
“He suggested Thailand and I agreed, though at the time, no one really knew much about Buriram. But I accepted the offer to come and I am still here.”
Obama spent two years at the Thunder Castle before a loan move to Chainat. His career then became much travelled as he played for Sukhothai and then headed back to Africa to play for Moghreb Tetouan in Morocco for 18 months before a return to Thailand with Udon Thani.
Obama clearly enjoyed his time playing football in northeast Thailand with both Buriram and Udon.
“The best memories at Buriram are of titles that we won and the great fans who always helped lift the players,” he said. “The fans weren’t just there to watch a game, they were there to encourage the players and they had a good understanding of football. They also had a club president who was very generous.
“When I arrived at Udon, I knew it was a football town. I knew that on matchdays, the town came alive. I was very happy in my first and second season, but things turned sour in my third year. They released me at the last minute because they decided to use the foreign quota for attacking players.”
Absence of young African talent in Thailand
Obama began his career in Thailand at a time when the country welcomed many talented young African players. He was a team-mate of Ghana international Franck Acheampong at Buriram, while the likes of Nigeria’s Adefolarin Durosinmi and Ivorians Diouf, Dagno Siaka and Amadou Ouatarra also arrived at a young age and built their careers in Southeast Asia.
Nowadays, however, forces beyond football dictate that it is very difficult for African players to take this route to footballing success.
“The biggest problem is with visas,” said Obama. “For players from Cameroon, there is no Thai embassy in the country. We have to go to Nigeria to get a visa. You can only get a three-month visa for Thailand and the club has to provide all the necessary documents when you get to the country to extend.
“But if you don’t have all of the necessary documents, you have to return to Africa and try again. It was much easier 10 years ago when I first came to Thailand.”
If he can stay fit, Obama should still have plenty of years to keep alive the legacy of that rich vein of African talent. Time will tell if he can make it back to T1 with his new club.
MuangKan United kickoff their T3 campaign at Samut Songkhram on Sunday October 4th.