Nattawut Suksum: The solution to Thailand’s imminent goal drought?

Like most Southeast Asian nations, finding a reliable goalscorer for the national team has always been the main concern whenever international fixtures come around. This regional striker drought is a result of clubs fancying their chances with foreign imports and forcing local strikers into a secondary role, either as a winger or midfielder.

Luckily for Thailand, the presence of Teerasil Dangda has lessened the effect of this issue. But as the 5-time Thai League 1 (T1) champions trudges towards his 33rd birthday in June, fans are beginning to look for his replacement.

One name that often pops up in this discussion is Nattawut Suksum of Bangkok United. In this player analysis, we’ll be investigating Nattawut’s playing style, strengths, limitations and whether he’s got what it takes to step up as the War Elephant‘s star striker.

Walking the walk

What makes Nattawut such an interesting prospect can be boiled down to 3 points;

  1. Nattawut’s game time as a “number 9” at club level.
  2. His impressive minutes-per-goal stats compared to other Thai strikers.
  3. Lack of competition in his position on the national team level.

As we’ve established above, most SEA clubs tend to rely on foreign strikers for goals. Bangkok United is no different, having invested in high profile attackers such as El Salvador international Nelson Bonilla or the Samurai Blue Mike Havenaar. However, Nattawut is somewhat luckier than most local forwards as he been handed plenty of opportunities by head coaches Mano Polking, Danny Invincibile and Totchtawan Sripan.

Upon his return from a loan spell with FC Tokyo U23, Nattawut was given a chance to start up top for Mano Polking’s Bangkok United on the opening day. The young striker did not let his coach down, tucking in a neat side-footed shot into the far-post against Prachuap FC.

As a result of Bonilla’s departure and new-signing Brenner Marlos’ struggles for form, Nattawut found him playing regularly as the side’s number 9. He ended the season with 11 league goals from 1,764 minutes (29 games) – joint highest with Port FC’s Adisak Kraisorn among local players. Furthermore, Vander Luiz was the only Bangkok United attacker who registered more minutes than Nattawut.

Total Thai League 20/21 GoalsClubMinutes per goal
Adisak Kraisorn11Port FC125
Nattawut Suksum11Bangkok United159
Phillip Roller15Ratchaburi FC164
Chayawat Srinawong6Samut Prakan City FC169
Supachok Sarachat10Buriram United193
Chotipat Poomkaew6Chiangrai United238
Teeraphol Yoryoei6Samut Prakan City FC335
Fig 1. Minutes per goal for Thai attackers with 5 or more goals and/or 1000+ minutes in T1.

As demonstrated in Fig. 1 above, Nattawut Suksum’s minutes-per-goal 159, slightly lower than his direct competition for Thailand’s number 9 spot, Adisak Kraisorn (125 mpg). One interesting thing you might notice from Fig. 1 is the lack of what football fans might call “an out-and-out striker”.

Phillip Roller is an attack-minded wingback who scores most of his goals from the penalty spot, while both Supachok Sarachat and Chotipat Poomkaew are wingers. While Chayawat Srinawong often found his role switching between a midfielder or a second-striker, depending on the coach tactics.

Apart from Adisak and Nattawut, Teeraphol Yoryoei is the closest player on Fig. 1 that fits the “out-and-out striker” profile. Having said that, Teeraphol’s 335 minutes-per-goal is average at best. Automatically, this makes Adisak and Nattawut better options for Akira Nishino if he’s looking for a goalscorer.

To sum it up, Nattawut found himself in a lucky situation with Bangkok United and managed to seize his opportunity. He’s got good minutes-per-goal stats. And is one of the few Thai players who gets to spearhead his team’s attack.

A true poacher

Now that we’ve established that Nattawut can walk the walk, let’s dive deeper into his style of play and try to figure out what exactly makes him so special.

In his tactical role, Nattawut’s main priority is to find the back of the net. He would often find himself as the furthest attacker for Bangkok United and was rarely involved in chance creation. This is reflected by his sole assist in the entire season, which he had to wait until Matchday 17 versus Samut Prakan City. You could even argue that it was Nattawut’s relentless pressing that earned him his one and only assist – not his vision or a deft piece of through-ball.

Shot Location # Cross AssistPass AssistThrough-ball AssistAfter Take-on/ DribbleDeflection
6 Yard Box651
Penalty Area4211
Outside of the box11
Total11
Fig 2. Shot location and type of assists for all of Nattawut’s goals this season.

If we were to categorise Nattawut’s style of play, he ticks all the boxes of a poacher; i.e. a striker who focuses his game on scoring rather than crafting chances for this teammates. This is backed by Fig. 2, which shows that Nattawut scored most of his goals inside the opposition area; 6 from the 6-yard box and 4 from the penalty area, and only one from distance.

The shot location is a nice stat but it is not enough to paint the whole picture. Fig. 2 only confirms that Nattawut is dangerous when he’s close to goal; exactly what you’d like your poacher to be.

Obviously, you’d expect a striker to score most of his goals closer to goal since…well, the closer they are, the easier it is to convert those chances.

To make things interesting, we look at the type of assist Nattawut feeds on. What we discover is that 5 of his 11 goals came from crosses. Furthermore, all 5 of those crosses were aimed towards Nattawut inside the 6-yard box, the area where he is most prolific.

Add to this, the fact that…

  • Nattawut scored 9 of his 11 goals when there was one or fewer opponents positioned directly between him and the goal.
  • Only once did Nattawut score after successfully taking-on an opponent.

This all further implies that Nattawut is a true poacher due to his positioning on the last line of the opposition defence, his clinical finishing from close-range and limited impact from his on-the-ball actions.

An eye-test (actually watching Nattawut play) help confirms the statement above.

Like most poacher-type strikers, Nattawut does most of this work off-the-ball. The “U shape movement” has become Nattawut’s trademark run and his secret to find that extra bit of space inside the opponent’s area.

An expert marksman

What separates Nattawut from your average Sunday league guy who camps in front of the opponent’s goal is his goal distribution – where Nattawut aim his shot.

Examining Fig. 3 you can notice straight away Nattawut’s preference in keeping his attempt low, making it difficult for goalkeepers react in time.

Remember how Nattawut feeds on crosses and from mostly point-blank range? That add an extra level of difficulty for the goalkeeper. And by keeping his attempt low, Nattawut automatically decreases his chance of missing the target. As for the 3 goals Nattawut aimed high, all were headers from inside the 6 Yard Box.

Fig 3. Nattawut Suksum’s goal distribution (Thai League 2020/21)

One aspect that cannot be overlooked when analysing Nattawut’s finishing is his shooting style. A side-foot finish allows for more control and accuracy. This is Nattawut’s go-to shooting style and one where he converted the majority of his chances with (see Fig 4). Followed by 4 headers which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering 5 of his 11 goals were assisted by crosses (Fig 2).

Shooting Style#Shot Height
Side-foot55 Low
Header43 High, 1 Low
Power/Instep21 Medium, 1 Low
Fig 4. Nattawut’s shooting style and shot height count (Thai League 2020/21)

Where a side-foot finish allow for more accuracy, an in-step shot (aka “shooting with your laces”) gives the most power. Nattawut netted only twice with an in-step shot. The first coming in Bangkok United’s home game versus Sukhothai FC – skipping past his man, Nattawut hit a powerful shot with his weaker left-foot across the keeper, straight into the far-post. This is the only time he scored by hitting a medium height shot and it’s fair to say that the keeper was beaten by power rather than the precision in Nattawut’s strike.

Nattawut’s second instep-goal came against Samut Prakan City – his only goal from outside of the penalty area.

Not the new-Teerasil…and that’s fine

We’ve briefly touched on Thailand’s need for a Teerasil replacement. However, if you’ve already made it this far, I think we can all agree that there are huge stylistic difference between Teerasil and Nattawut. The former is a more complete player, admired for his polished technical ability, not just a mere finisher, while the latter leans heavily towards being a pure poacher.

With his evident potential, Nattawut could be the one to fill Teerasil’s boots – particularly as Thailand’s goalscoring hope. Judging Nattawut with Teerasil’s strengths in mind could prove detrimental to Nattawut’s progress. Sure, Nattawut could learn a thing or two from Teerasil but he he should focus on his own game – develop into the best version of himself. Which brings me to my next point…

Be more involved

Despite my opinion that Nattawut should be careful not to mimic too much of Teerasil’s game, I do believe Nattawut needs to be more involved with team play in order to reach his full potential. This opinion is also shared by Bangkok United boss Totchtawan Sripan, who also coached Teerasil at Muangthong and even played alongside him when he first came on the scene with the Thai national team.

“The difference between [Nattawut] and [Teerasil] is [Nattawut]’s ability to find space and finishing inside the box but he still has to work on his his linkup play and individual technique.” Totchtawan told Goal TH. “Like we’ve said before, [Nattawut] needs to work on this [area of his game] in order to be a useful asset for the national team.”

1 assist from 1,749 minutes of football, spearheading a team like Bangkok United, who generally does most of the attacking in most games, is slightly disappointing.

As a poacher, Nattawut would often found himself as the furthest man forward, which means that there are supporting teammates just behind him in the mean time. And while his main objective is to get on the end of those crosses, that is not always possible. Therefore, Nattawut might want to work on his ability to play with his back-to-goal.

Game PhaseGoal-Involvement Counts (Goals + Assist)
Attacking-Possession8
Attacking-Transition (Counter-attack)3
Set Piece1
Fig 5. Nattawut’s goal-involvement during different game phase (Thai League 1 2020/21)

One more area of improvement needed in Nattawut’s game, which comes as a bit of a surprise, is his goal record during counter-attacking situations.

Fig. 5 describes Nattawut’s goal-involvement (goals and assists) from various game phases or situations. With Bangkok United being a possesion-based team under both Mano Polking and Totchtawan, its’ logical to see that Nattawut produced 8 of his 12 direct goal-involvements in the attacking-posession phase (i.e. When Bangkok United has control of possession and doing the attacking). His contribution during this phase shows Nattawut’s capability to unlock defenses and also reiterates our praise for his dangerous off-the-ball movement.

Meanwhile, Nattawut tallied up only 3 goal-involvements during attacking-transition (i.e. When Bangkok United wins possession back and is switching from defense to attack). This is a bit odd considering Nattawut’s nature to position himself alongside the last line of the opponent’s defense. Plus, there are usually more free spaces behind on the counter thus you’d expect someone with great off-the-ball movement like Nattawut to excel in this phase.

So why is Nattawut less efficective on the break?

My first speculation points to how rarely Bangkok United gets to play on the counter thereby less chances from this phase are open for Nattawut. Secondly, it may be down to Nattawut’s lack of speed over long distance although he possess good acceleration in short spaces and sharp turns.

We’ve never seen Nattawut playing week-in week-out in a counter-attack side therefore it’s unfair to pinpoint whether he’s really less effective on the counter or this is just a result of the club’s tactical approach.

So, is he ready?

So does Nattawut have what it takes to be the War Elephant‘s next star striker? Definitely, Nattawut is ready. But! Based on the numbers I’ve collected, it’s best for Nattawut and the team if he only start when Thailand comes up against a defensive-minded opposition. Chanathip Songkrasin, Jaroensak Wonggorn or Supachok Sarachat are just a few names from the list of talented attacking midfielders and winger available for Akira Nishino to cherry-pick from. Generally speaking, chances creation is not Thailand’s major concern hence there is no need for the striker to share creative responsibility.

Meanwhile, facing bigger sides where Thailand is likely to have less possession, Nattawut might be better suited for a super-sub role.

Stylistically, Nattawut is a unique talent amongst Thai strikers. He took his opportunity when his chance came up. He’s played at a club and under a head coach which has faith in his quality and potential. It’ll be interesting to see type of player Nattawut develops into 3-5 years from now. But if I have to bet, I have a feeling he’ll at least be in with a shout of starting for Thailand as a number 9.

obbdeewajin

Tactics nerd and founder of Tactictimes - Thailand's first football analysis blog. อ่านบทวิเคราะห์วิจารณ์ แทคติก ผู้เล่น และประเด็นที่น่าสนใจ รวมถึงพูดคุย แลกเปลี่ยนความคิดเห็น กันได้เสมอที่ tactictimes (แทคติกไทม์) facebook.com/tactictimes และ twitter ที่ @tactictimes

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