Thai Politics in Premier League

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Barclays Premier League has unknowingly become the playing field of Thailand politics. A definite sign that the election battles are heating up is the plan by the Democrat Party for Everton to coach young Thai players. The announcement follows hotly on the heels of Sven Erikkson’s recent signings of three Thai players. Suree, a 25-year-old attacking fullback, who earns just $300 a week in the domestic league, will become the first Thai to sign for a top-flight European club. Along with fellow countrymen Kiatprawut Saiwaeo and Teerasil Dangda, they made up a strong Thai presence and certainly made the recent debate about foreign players irrelevant.

Is it a soccer decision? We have to ask Sven. In an interview, Sven Eriksson had a diplomatic answer to whether the club would have chosen to sign on Thai players had the club’s chairman not been a Thai. He said: “Before he became chairman, we wanted to acquire so many players from different countries but we didn’t have the money.”

“Now with Mr Thaksin’s support, we can together work to achieve his dream of developing football in Asia and especially in Thailand, and also to make Manchester City a global brand.” That is saying nothing, a nice parry to the sharp question. In case you have not followed the estrangement of Thaksin from his homeland, here is a bit of the political intrigue. Toppled by the military in a bloodless coup last year, and despite the army’s efforts to prevent media coverage of him, his takeover of Man City for 81 million pounds while living in exile in London has kept him in the headlines. Thaksin had also made plans to open academies across Thailand which is going to the polls on December 23.

The Bangkok Post accused Thaksin of deliberately timing the Man City signings ahead of next month’s elections to generate support for candidates seen as proxies of his now disbanded Thai Rak Thai party. His critics have dismissed the City takeover and the club’s interest in Thai players as publicity stunts aimed at helping the tycoon return to politics after his ouster.In a tit-for-tat response to Thaksin, the Democrat party decided to get some air-time in the Premier League too. Bangkok governor and deputy Democrat leader Apirak Kosayodhin last week signed an agreement with Everton for its players and coaches to help with training at the Bangkok Football Academy.

They have taken great pains to insist that the Democrat Party was not trying to score political points against Thaksin with the Everton deal. “This isn’t about counter-attack. Our bid to build ties with the City of Liverpool coincided with the Man City deal,” he told the Nation newspaper.It is convenient too that Everton are sponsored by Chang Beer, a product of Thailand’s largest brewer Thai Bev. Former Thai playmaker Kiatisuk Senamuang, head of the Bangkok Football Academy, will train up to 40 young teenagers in April to prepare them for Everton’s grooming.

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As voting day approaches , we can expect more manners from the politicians in this soccer-mad country. Whether they will be viewed with support or disdain among the voters is anybody’s guess.Sven had made it clear that the new additions have to show their worth to get into his lineup but under the pressure of Thaksin and political reality in his homeland, he will find excluding the Thai players who are not up to standard, a harder task than anticipated.