Walk Before You Can Run: The Foreign Player Rule in Thailand

by Absolute Thai Football

The recent indecision allowing clubs to register 7 foreign squad players,
5 on match day and 3 plus 1 foreign Asian on the pitch sounds like a welcome boost to young Thai players, but it is too much too soon. Comparisons to the J and K Leagues are laughable and, to suggest it aligns us with other AFC countries brings Thai football’s shortcomings into strong relief.

It is astonishing that two expensive players may sit out large parts of the season. In reality the smaller teams will employ a maximum five foreigners to cut costs whilst richer teams can afford two highly paid spectators so, as injuries or suspensions bite, big clubs wheel out mothballed foreigners whilst poor ones have to blood inexperienced young locals.

Without a properly structured countrywide academy and scouting system, who will replace the foreigners? A transition in 2013 should be allied to a requirement for all Thai clubs to develop a meaningful system. Not just lip service, but with teeth. If young players at the club are not properly nurtured in a stimulating coaching and educational environment, then you will exit the league.

The surprise automatic Champions League spot for the Thai champions sounds positive, but the TPL is not ready. Before scaling these heights it needs to show maturity and collegiality. Samut Songkran and Thai Port are staring into the abyss and franchising, referee integrity and the “third hand” of politicians need to be resolved before sitting at the Champions League top table. Two AFC qualifying places would cautiously recognise fledgling Thai progress.
We all wish Buriram PEA / United well, but Thai development will flounder if the situation in Thailand undermines their progress. Barred from fielding a politician on the bench, forced to drop one of their highly influential African players and facing a much more proactive style of refereeing, huge changes will be needed for Asian progress.

The Holy Grail for Thai football of moving from being an importing country to developing an export approach is based on preparation. Whilst his dream may never happen due to visa regulations tied to Thailand’s low FIFA rankings,national keeper Kawin has changed his diet, learnt English and bulked up in readiness for the more physical English style. Not today, but over a matter of years. Thailand must prepare to the same scale and timeframe using Leicester City as the first staging post to formulate an achievable but challenging and integrated plan.

Less foreigners mustn’t mean chasing former greats on huge wages for shirt sales. Malaysia flip flopped for years between welcoming and shunning foreigners, giving them a poor international reputation when, like this year, they return to being positive. They will allow two per team, coming at AFC parity from a different direction to Thailand. That both young leagues are not sure how to handle foreigners shows their inexperience, but time and maturity will resolve this. History shows that what grows slowly, grows strongly.