Back in 2019, Philippines winger Patrick Reichelt was starring for Melaka United in the Malaysia Super League.
At the end of a season in which he was the club’s top scorer, German-born Reichelt had the option to stay on at Melaka or go to some other clubs in Malaysia.
However, the lure of the Thai League meant that the 32-year-old would return for a second spell in Thailand, having played for Port FC in 2013.
“I had an extension offer from Melaka and had some inquiries from other teams,” Reichelt told ThaiLeagueCentral. “But Thailand is still the biggest challenge for Southeast Asian players because of the league and the format here.
“Thailand is more technical than Malaysia because there is a higher number of local talents. There are 16 teams in the top tier, and if you add the top four or five teams from the second tier, you have about 20 very competitive teams.
“In Malaysia, there is obviously JDT, but you can’t beat JDT – you can’t beat their budget. You have 12 teams, but the depth is not like in Thailand. In Thailand, any team can beat any other team on a good day.
“You do have good local players in Malaysia, but not as many as in Thailand where they are spread across all the teams.”
Another key factor in Reichelt’s decision to return to Thailand was the determination that his club showed in trying to attract him to the province to the north-west of Bangkok.
“Suphanburi made a lot of efforts to sign me, even before I signed for Melaka,” said Reichelt. “After the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup, Suphanburi got in touch with me but at that time I had already made the decision to go to Malaysia.
“Suphanburi kept monitoring me, and I really appreciate the efforts they made. At the end of 2019, I decided it was the best step for me to go back to Thailand and join Suphanburi.”
Suphanburi have been rewarded for their persistence with Reichelt their joint top scorer in the league with four goals and three assists in 12 games.
But there would be an inauspicious start to Reichelt’s second stint in Thailand as an injury forced him out of the vital pre-season preparations. However, while the first Covid-enforced T1 suspension was a blow to most, there was a silver lining for Reichelt.
“I did have some struggles at the beginning,” he said. “I fractured my face in the first friendly match we had, and I missed the whole pre-season. It’s not easy coming as a new player and then missing the whole pre-season – basically two months.
“I just had to sit back and wait for my turn as Suphanburi made a surprisingly good start to the season. But I knew that if I waited for my chance, I was ready as I had trained well.
“When the Covid suspension came, it was more of a blessing for me because I was able to get my fitness back and show the coaches that they needed me and that I belonged in the first XI.”
Suphanburi had looked set for a better year than 2019 when they were only spared relegation by the demise of PTT Rayong. However, an arduous run of fixtures saw them lose four matches in a row before the second league suspension. The War Elephant now sit in 13th place – just three points above the relegation zone.
In their defence, Suphanburi did have to play the Top Two away from home, as well as in-form Ratchaburi at home and then Muang Thong United away. However, Reichelt feels that the distraction created by the imminent opening of the mid-season transfer window may have played a part.
“These were very good teams that we played but we could have done better,” said Reichelt. “There’s no getting away from that. We conceded a lot of goals due to some individual mistakes.
“You have to play the top sides and if you have to play them in consecutive games, that’s fine, but we lost four goals against both Port and BG.
“We did have many changes to the team and three players had already decided that they were leaving the club during the transfer window. Maybe their heads were already at their new clubs. These are very good players but they had already decided to continue their careers at different teams.”
The attacking Brazilian pair of Eliandro and Felipe Amorin have moved elsewhere, along with defender Tinnakorn Asurin, but the arrival of two more Brazilians may provide Suphanburi with the lift they need to move out of danger.
Herlison Caion and Leandro Assumpcao are proven talents in T1 and Reichelt is confident that their quality and experience will give the club a boost.
“I really believe they can help us a lot,” he said. “They come with a big reputation and they want to show the people here that the reputation is not for no reason. You can see that we maybe have more firepower up front, which we might have lacked in the first round of the season.”
Reichelt is just one of many Filipino players to be attracted to the Thai League since the ASEAN quota of one player was introduced in 2018 and then increased to three players in 2019.
It seems to be a mutually beneficial arrangement, with T1 providing a more competitive league and better conditions for the players.
“Besides having quality teams, Thailand also has better financial conditions for us,” said Reichelt. “In the end, football players want to earn good money and in Thailand, there is a good number of teams with the budget to pay attractive salaries to ASEAN players.
“And unlike Indonesia and Malaysia, we do not have a strong local league to keep us in our home country.”
With the Filipino football community growing in Thailand, Reichelt had a readymade network of friends in the country when he arrived.
“I have been in touch from time to time with almost all the other Filipino players,” he said. “I am in touch with Daisuke Sato at Muang Thong a lot, and Kevin Ingreso at Buriram is also a very close friend. And I sometimes talk to the boys at Ratchaburi, where there are five of us now. And then there’s also Michael Falkesgaard at Bangkok United – we text and talk sometimes.”
Some of Reichelt’s most cherished memories as a player come from his experience with the Azkals, in particular the Asian Cup 2019 when the Philippines were managed by Sven-Goran Eriksson.
“Qualifying for the Asian Cup was very emotional,” said Reichelt. “At the tournament, playing in Dubai and sharing hotels with Japan and playing teams like South Korea was just a different level and different stage. In 10 years time, I can look back at that and be proud of myself.
“Everybody was very excited when we heard about Sven. We had started with him in the Suzuki Cup two months before the Asian Cup. We had all seen him on TV before, coaching England and some top sides all over the world.
“Sven was nice. Maybe he was more at the end stage of his career than he had been with England and Manchester City and all those big-name clubs. It’s different when you’ve got Patrick Reichelt in front of you instead of David Beckham.
“I think he was more sitting back and relaxed and not so involved. We also had Scott Cooper who was doing great work at that time as an assistant coach, and is now head coach. Sven was not too vocal.”
Reichelt hopes his next international tournament experience will be the AFF Suzuki Cup later this year, with the tournament having been postponed for 12 months.
“For us Filipinos, the AFF Suzuki Cup is still the most realistic challenge,” he said. “I have played in three semifinals now, and I hope I can reach a final before the end of my career.”
In the more immediate future, Reichelt’s attention turns to the resumption of the T1 campaign on February 7th and a match they will be determined to win against relegation rivals Trat.