Chiangrai United reminded everyone of their knockout competition credentials by overcoming a young Chonburi FC side to lift the 2020 FA Cup, which was the club’s sixth cup trophy in four seasons. The Beetles also impressed in the 2021 AFC Champions League group stages with their lean squad and pragmatic approach.
The Northern outfit will want to improve on 2020/21’s fourth place finish, though Emerson Pereira will have to do so with a smaller budget than the other top six teams. Having the league’s third best defence in 2020/21 is a fantastic foundation to build on, but the team will want to step up their game at the other end of the pitch.
Doubters have pointed to potential risk of stagnation, but Chiangrai have proven many critics wrong with their continuous growth at the right pace. Continuity is their greatest asset. It will be interesting to see which direction the squad evolves, and which players will be the ones to propel the 2019 Thai League champions to the future.
Head Coach – Emerson Pereira
The Brazilian coach was part of the first-team backroom staff before stepping up into the head coach role following the club’s breakup with Masami Taki. Emerson kept things simple but effective, sticking to the squad’s strengths, and promptly improving Chiangrai’s results. Thus far, Emerson has done a great job with the balancing act between on-field coaching and communications with upper management.
Key Player – Siwakorn Tiatrakul
The hands-down standout Thai player from the ACL group stage, Siwakorn Tiatrakul has shown he’s ready to set the league ablaze. The midfield magician has lost a few pounds and looks to be in the best shape he’s ever been.
During the 2020-21 season, Chiangrai had the joint-worst goals scored record for a club in the top half – the solution for which should lie with their number 10. Siwakorn also seems to thrive with the freedom given to him by Emerson Pereira. There’s fire in his eyes, and it’s growing with every minute on the pitch. The playmaker has also attracted plenty of interest from abroad, and another stellar campaign could be the final nudge needed to convince foreign clubs to break the bank on him.
Key Player – Chotipat Poomkaew
6 goals and 4 assists from 29 appearances is a fine return for a wide-player. However, Chotipat’s is even more impressive when you put into perspective 17 of those games came as substitute; more than any other Chiangrai United player. Some of that was down to tactical reasons, but largely due to niggling injuries.
You’ll struggle to find a Thai League wingback this quick, who can also time his runs into the box with perfection, and contribute to his team’s goal scoring tally.
Rising Star – Pharadon Phatthaphon
The 19-year-old left-back was one of the six academy graduates promoted to the Chiangrai first-team squad halfway through the 2020/21 campaign. Pharadon had to wait, but then again, not every kid could say they made their professional debut against J1 League side Gamba Osaka in the ACL group stage.
Having represented Thailand at youth level, Pharadon was highlighted by U19 national coach Salva Valero Garcia as one of the talents to keep an eye out for; which makes total sense when you examine the youngster’s calmness on the continental stage. The departure of Chaiyawat Buran and absence of incoming transfers mean that Suriya Singmui is the only specialist left-back at the club. Hence, we could see more of Pharadon during the upcoming season when Suriya is unavailable and other utility players are preferred elsewhere.
Reason to Follow
Even though they couldn’t match other title-challengers financially, Chiangrai United will still head into the new season with positive momentum. Ekanit Panya, the club’s golden boy, has shaken off his injuries, and the club’s foreign players proved reliable even when tested in the ACL group stage. Meanwhile Siwakorn Tiatrakul and captain Phitiwat Sukjitthammakul look set to continue with the club for at least another campaign amidst growing interest.
In Chiangrai United, you’ve got a team capable of securing results. Yet, when faced with fellow top six clubs, they still hold the charm of an underdog team. The core Thai players, many of whom have been playing alongside one another when they broke through, adds an extra point.