Nakhon Ratchasima narrowly avoided relegation in 2019, and would have been just two points from the drop zone had PTT Rayong not dissolved that year. The Swatcats then appointed coach Teerasak Po-On with the hope of avoiding similar misery. The former Chiangrai United and PTT Rayong tactician tightened up the defence and led the side to a comfortable mid-table finish with the club’s record points per game in T1, adjusted for games played.
Staying up, and maybe a solid cup run, is within expectations. However, Teerasak will have to do so without the service of last years’ Golden Boot runner-up Dennis Murillo. Forwards Kwabena Appiah and Kwame Karikari are tasked with replacing Murillo’s offensive responsibilities, but they will need time to adjust to the new environment.
Head Coach – Teerasak Po-on
Survival is still Teerasak’s main priority in his second season in charge of Nakhon Ratchasima. Like all football clubs, the Swatcats were financially wounded by the Covid-19 pandemic. This has undoubtedly affected Teerasak’s shopping budget, and has forced the head coach to turn to youth and free-agent signings.
Last seasons’ numbers proved that ‘Coach Joe’ knows how to secure the defence and grind out results. The dilemma for 2021/22 is, do the squad try and evolve into a more proactive team and hopefully finish higher? Or stick to their solid foundation and aim for survival?
Key Player – Thanachai Noorach
One of the club’s breakout stars from 2021/22, Tanachai Noorach came out of nowhere to replace skipper Samuel Cunningham as the number one between the sticks. The 29-year-old is a reliable shot-stopper and saved the club a few points last season.
Key Player – Amadou Ouattara
This upcoming season will be the Ivorian’s third representing the club. Amadou Ouattara’s goal involvement may have dropped from 13 (5 goals and 8 assists) to 7 (3 goals and 4 assists) in Teerasak’s reign, but the attacker’s overall game is still vital to the team.
Chitchanok Xaysensourinthone, Leandro Assumpcao and Dennis Murillo have now left, meaning Ouattara will have to adapt to new teammates – and there is no guarantee that these changes will be a success. A lot is going against Ouattara, but this is a player who balances goal scoring and assists well; he’s the one remaining continuity in the Swatcat attacking trident and could be the one who ties the new forwards together.
Rising Star – Gideon Chukwuma Ndububa
Still just 20 years old, Ndububa possesses good pace and is technically solid. It’s still early days in the Thai-Nigerian’s development as a professional footballer, but he has shown great versatility, as he is able to operate at left-fullback, centre-back and defensive midfield. Ndububa was recently picked for the latest Thai U23 squad and has been training with the Swatcats first team in pre-season.
Don’t expect to see Ndububa start week-in-week-out, but coach Joe is never shy to throw youngsters into the mix if the quality and potential are there. Let’s not forget, this is a head coach who debuted Ekanit Panya as a 15-year-old! Many of the Korat’s defenders are already in their 30s, and Ndubaba could help freshen up the team’s backline.
Reason to Follow
Nakhon Ratchasima is a club with massive potential. Their geographical rival is the 7-time Thai League champions Buriram United, and their derby day atmosphere, in normal circumstances, never fails to disappoint. The club is coached by one of Thailand’s most highly rated managers, who has given time and space to work his magic. The Swatcats are likeable underdogs that are slowly gathering upward momentum.