Formerly serial title contenders, Muangthong United have finished outside the top four for back-to-back seasons. They have also lost every member of their last Thai League winning squad from 2016, and have largely promoted replacements from within their own academy due to budgetary constraints. The side’s long-term investment in youth development is set to be tested this season, and seeing whether they can still compete near the top with this group of players makes them an interesting watch.
Head Coach – Mario Gjurovski
A Kirin and Thai League legend as a player, Mario Gjurovski stepped into management last season, being promoted from the club’s Under-19 team to replace head coach Alexandre Gama. Now commencing his first full season, Mario has been given an uncharacteristically long three-year contract with the club, though his backing in the transfer market has been rather limited. Mario has committed to playing an exciting brand of possession football, hoping to create continuity between the senior team and the youth sides, from which he will need to draw a large portion of his squad.
Key Player – Sardor Mirzaev
Filling Muangthong’s AFC Quota slot, Uzbekistan international Sardor Mirzaev arrived at the start of 2020 from Lokomotiv Tashkent. Initially struggling due to fitness concerns, Mirzaev really hit form in the second leg, netting 11 goals and assisting a further three in his last 13 appearances. The attacking midfielder could be the difference maker for the Kirin this season, should he be able to maintain that form for an entire campaign. The fact that senior management moved quickly to secure the contracts of Mirzaev as well as Brazilians Willian Popp and Lucas Rocha for this season has been a welcome and much-needed positive for the fans.
Key Player – Weerathep Pomphan
After a stellar debut season in T1, Weerathep Pomphan has earned plenty of plaudits and a call-up to the senior national team for the recent World Cup Qualifiers. The playmaker is capable of accurate passes into the final third, but drew most attention for his excellent close control in tight spaces, often dribbling his way out of intense pressure to help Muangthong launch attacks. The 24-year-old has also established himself as a player for the big occasion, putting in some of his best performances in the Kirin’s toughest fixtures, such as away matches against Buriram and Bangkok United.
Rising Star – Wattanakorn Sawatlakhon
Another player who had a breakthrough campaign last season, Wattanakorn’s attacking contributions from left-back have made him a fan favorite at the SCG Stadium. His form truly kicked off in the second half of the campaign, where he registered 5 assists in 6 games in an excellent run. He finished the season as the tied highest-assisting defender, despite playing 12 less games than his counterpart Tristan Do. Now aged 23, Wattanakorn will be the undisputed first choice in his position this season, and will be looking to make an even bigger impact for the Kirin.
Reason to follow
For fans interested in seeing the next generation of young Thai talent develop, Muangthong is an exciting club to follow. The Kirin are now underdogs when compared to the rest of the top six, but Mario Gjurovski has insisted that expectations and ambitions have not been lowered. Whether or not the young coach can guide his young side back to their former glory will be one of the league’s most gripping questions.