Evaluating the ambitious Chiang Rai United project

In December 2016, Chiang Rai United made their intentions to become a super-club extremely clear to the nation of Thailand by smashing the national transfer record to bring in midfielder Tanaboon Kesarat from recently crowned champions Muangthong United.

The Northern Thailand outfit followed this up by hiring former Buriram United head coach Alexandre Gama, who had won the Thai League unbeaten just two years prior.

The Beetles were ready to challenge the big boys, and clearly had the financial muscle to do so.

Many fans scoffed at Chiang Rai’s unruly amount of spending, doubting that success could be achieved through pure financial power.

Comparisons were inevitably drawn to the lavish and reckless spending of a Manchester City or Paris Saint Germain, or of a pre-Emenalo Chelsea.

However, this unfortunate stereotyping of the club’s wealthy backers has led many to overlook the fact that Chiang Rai United are actually one of the best run clubs in the country, with a business model more closely resembling that of AS Monaco or RB Leipzig.

Firstly, the club have placed an enormous faith in younger players. Captain Tanaboon Kesarat is only 22 years old, and regularly partners either 23 year old Thitipan Puangchan and 22-year-old Sivakorn Taitrakul in midfield.

When Chiang Rai faced Buriram United, the most successful team int he country, three of their back four were under the age of 22.

Many of Chiang Rai’s previously unknown players have been thrust into the national team, significantly strengthening what has already been dubbed as a “golden generation” of upcoming Thai players.

Their scouting of local players has been brilliant so far. 21-year-old right-back Shinnipat Lee-Oh from Pattaya United and 22-year-old left-back Suriya Singmui from Muangthong already look like incredible footballers.

But possibly the best example of the club’s eye for talent has been the capture of striker Akarawin Sawasdee from Chula United, a club who recently dropped out of the second division for the remainder of the season.

The uncapped Thai forward has scored four goals in his first three games for Chiang Rai, giving him one of the best strike rates in the league.

Not only is this method incredibly effective as the signings have a high potential resale value, essentially eliminating the risk of a large initial outlay.

Additionally, it prevents Buriram United and Muangthong United from monopolising the talent in the Thai National Team, two teams which Chiang Rai will probably be competing against to win the title in future years.

Additionally, younger players are far more moldable, allowing them to easily adapt to different positions and situations and increasing their multi-functionality.

Chiang Rai seem to be one of the few clubs in the Thai League that understand this concept.

However, it is down to their manager to make it work on the pitch, and this season looks like it will turn out to be a litmus test for coach Alexandre Gama.

Gama’s work with an incredibly young team has been fantastic this season, despite occasional wobbles, which are entirely understandable given the lack of experience of his young team at this level.

However, only the top two and the winners of the FA Cup are guaranteed a coveted AFC Champions League place, and Chiang Rai look unlikely to break the Buriram-Muangthong duopoly atop the league.

The Beetles are clearly in need of a long-term approach and will need to keep faith in the same manager for many years.

At the end of the season, the board will face the crucial decision on whether to stick with the Brazilian coach for the long haul.

Despite recent news reports, Gama’s position looks relatively secure.

Judging by the signings, it seems like the club’s own scouts and technical director are responsible for the signing of local players, but Gama’s team are the ones reeling in the foreign talents.

As a result, Gama’s countrymen Rafael Coelho, Felipe Azevedo, Vander Luiz and Everton Goncalvez have all starred for The Beetles this season. Even their designated AFC player, Australian citizen Henrique, is Brazilian by birth.

This approach to transfers is incredibly progressive for a Thai club, which will bode well for the Beetle’s future endeavors.

Chiang Rai United have the infrastructure to become a true Thai super club in future years, and their team is starting to come together on the pitch.

The future looks bright for the side from northern Thailand, who look to challenge the status quo with their innovative approach to club management while simultaneously expanding the youth talent available to the national team.

Chiang Rai United are the club of the future in Thailand and are taking meaningful steps to fulfill their enormous potential.

The Author

Gian Chansrichawla

Aspiring football journalist living in Bangkok, Thailand. Currently working for Thai League club Muangthong United.

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