Thaksin Shinawatra took over Manchester City in 2007 targeting “domination of the world game”. Signing three unknown Thai players was a strange way of going about it.
We spoke to Sven-Goran Eriksson about the crazy year he spent working under Shinawatra, who eventually stopped speaking to the former England manger, as City started the season brightly but faded away to finish ninth in the Premier League.
One of the odder footnotes of Shinawatra’s ownership came with the signings of three Thai players – Teerasil Dangda, Kiatprawut Saiwaeo and Suree Sukha – who never actually appeared in a competitive game for the club.
In fact, none of the players even qualified for a work permit in England given the poor ranking of the Thailand national team.
As Javi Garrido told ITV in 2017: “When that type of person is in charge of a club, they can try to make the players from their own country stronger, and I think that is the reason they signed players from Thailand.”
The only time the trio ever pulled on a City shirt came at the end of 2007-08 when they came off the bench in a post-season friendly against a Thai League All-Stars XI. The English side were beaten 3-1, with Dangda seeing a goal ruled out.
We’ve taken a closer look at the subsequent careers of those three players to see what became of the some of City’s most bizarre signings.
— DaNiLo B. A. ⚽ (@Danilo_FutbolRH) October 27, 2013
Dangda was only 19 when he joined City, having been an unused member of Thailand’s Asian Cup squad that summer, and was sent on loan to Swiss outfit Grasshoppers, where he again failed to make a competitive appearance for the first team.
However, the striker still insists his spell in England was important.
“The time at City was helpful for me as I gained valuable experiences,” Dangda told FIFA in 2011. “It helped me step up from the amateur level to the professional level.
“It broadened my vision and I learned the importance of having the right attitude to further improve myself. Most importantly, it helped me make up my mind to continue my football career.
“I also had to adapt to the European way on discipline and mentality. I learned I had to have self confidence in my techniques and skills and with that I could break through some of Asia’s traditional social values such as seniority.
Since leaving City after a year, Dangda has carved out an impressive career, helping Muangthong United – for whom he has played alongside Robbie Fowler and Jay Bothroyd – win a number of honours and attracting plenty of interest in Europe.
He has spent time on trial at QPR, Getafe and Atletico Madrid (admittedly due to a partnership with Muangthong), while he was also a target for Trabzonspor.
Dangda’s most significant move came with a loan spell at Almeria, becoming the first southeast Asian footballer to appear in La Liga and also scoring in a 4-3 victory against Real Betis in the Copa Del Rey.
Dangda captains the national side having scored 42 goals in 94 caps.
Fowler himself also singled out Dangda, who captains Thailand having scored 42 goals in 94 caps, for special praise, telling FourFourTwo: “I thought he was a superb player and had everything. He could be anything he wants on a football pitch.”
Whereas Dangda used his City spell as a springboard, Saiwaeo could not quite match his team-mate’s heights.
The centre-back was 21 at the time of his move but could not work his way into Club Brugge’s first team while on loan from City.
After leaving England, he returned to Thailand to play the majority of his club football for Chonburi and Chiangrai United, earning 36 caps in the process.
However, at the age of just 32, Saiwaeo was forced to retire due to a chronic knee injury.
“I believe in myself, I believe I can make it, this doesn’t have anything to do with politics,” Sukha said upon joining City.
“It’s great that Thai players have this chance. I want to do a good job at City. Thaksin is the owner, and he says he wants to improve Thai football – there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Sadly, the full-back’s national team coach did not get the memo. “We know this is political, but this is not the only reason,” he said, although he was confident the 24-year-old could make an impact in England.
“I saw Suree’s performance on trial in Manchester, he was excellent and Sven was impressed. I absolutely believe this was Sven’s decision and not Thaksin’s.
“I think Suree can make it because City have some problems in the right-back position. He will improve a lot there.”
Sukha was the most experienced of the trio at the time of the move, joining City as a 24-year-old. Alongside Dangda, he was sent on loan to Grasshoppers, where you will be surprised to hear he failed to make a first-team appearance.
He then followed Saiwaeo to Chonburi and enjoyed plenty of success at Buriram United under the management of former Real Madrid youth boss Alejandro Menéndez.