Player to Watch: Chanathip Songkrasin (Thailand)

Kuala Lumpur: After a fine AFC Asian Cup™ 2019 campaign where he guided his nation to the knockout stages of the competition for the first time in 47 years, Chanathip Songkrasin will be keen to create more history with Thailand as the continental showpiece returns.

Thailand made a shaky start to the tournament four years ago with a 4-1 defeat to India leading to the departure of head coach Milovan Rajevac, but Chanathip scored in a 1-0 win against Bahrain in their second outing before a 1-1 draw with hosts United Arab Emirates sent them through. 

Finding themselves in a group featuring Saudi Arabia, Kyrgyz Republic and Oman this time around, the Southeast Asian nation, managed by Masatada Ishii, will need the 30-year-old attacking midfielder to deliver the goods again if they want to make a mark at the AFC Asian Cup Qatar 2023™. 

Name: Chanathip Songkrasin
Age: 30
Position: Attacking midfielder
Caps: 63
Goals: 12
Club: BG Pathum United (Thailand)

Chanathip burst onto the international scene as a 21-year-old, becoming the Most Valuable Player of the AFF (ASEAN Football Federation) Championship in 2014. The then BEC Tero Sasana youngster bagged two goals and two assists as the War Elephants won the ASEAN crown for the fourth time. 

Two years later, he once again played a pivotal role in helping Kiatisuk Senamuang’s team defend their AFF Championship title while also winning his second Southeast Asian Games gold medal in 2015 as he endeared himself to Thai football supporters and earned the moniker ‘Messi Jay’. 

“Of course, I am proud that people call me ‘Messi’, but, obviously, I am not Messi,” Chanathip said previously. “I am not anyone else. Chanathip is Chanathip. I am a representative of my country and I play to make the Thai people proud,” the Thailand international added. 

The year 2016 also saw Chanathip win the league and cup on loan at Muangthong United and after making his move to the Kirins permanent the following season, he put in some eye-catching displays in the AFC Champions League™ 2017 group stage which led to a loan move to Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo. 

Following in the footsteps of compatriots such as Kiatisuk and Teerasil Dangda in taking his game outside Thailand, Chanathip impressed in Japan and was a valuable addition at Sapporo where he finished runner-up in the 2019 J.League Cup to Kawasaki Frontale – the club he would join two seasons later. 

“He’s an exciting talent, and he can turn a game on its head at times by beating players. Even if you’re well organised, he beats a player, and all of a sudden you become open. That’s what he’s capable of doing,” Western United head coach John Aloisi summed up the Thai star’s abilities back in 2017 when he was in charge of Muangthong’s AFC Champions League opponents Brisbane Roar.. 

After racking up more than 140 J1 League appearances for Sapporo and Frontale during his six-year stay in Japan and also making Thailand the champions of Southeast Asia again in 2020, Chanathip returned to his home country, earlier this year, where he is leading BG Pathum United’s title charge in Thai League 1 this season. 

Having missed his services at the 49th King’s Cup and the Preliminary Joint Qualification – Round 2 for the FIFA World Cup 2026 and AFC Asian Cup Saudi Arabia 2027™ tie against Singapore due to injuries recently, Thai fans will be keeping their fingers crossed to see the best of Chanathip in Qatar. 

By Nadeem Faisal Baiga