For the first time since 2014, Muang Thong United will end the season without a trophy or a cup final appearance.
It now seems so much longer than 15 months since the Kirins were thrilling Asia with their performances in the AFC Champions League (ACL). Thailand stars Chanathip Songkrasin, Teerasil Dangda and Theerathon Bunmathan played key roles in a run that saw them defeat opponents from Japan, South Korea and Australia on the way to the Round of 16.
Muang Thong ran out of steam in their quest for the Thai League title in 2017 but they finished runners-up and lifted the League Cup.
With Chanathip, Teerasil and Theerathon now on loan with J League sides, the four-time Thai champions sit in fifth spot in the T1 table with 10 games remaining and are out of both domestic cups.
They are now in danger of their worst league finish since 2014 – a year in which they suffered a 10-point deduction for crowd trouble. They finished in fifth spot that year, which was the club’s lowest top tier finish in its short history.
It is difficult to hold on to your top players when they have the ambition to play at a higher level and Chanathip at Consadole Sapporo quickly showed he was up to the task when he joined on loan last year.
Theerathon now finds himself playing alongside Andres Iniesta at Vissel Kobe, while Teerasil turns out for J League leaders Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
When players of such quality depart, it is important for the club to replace them but Muang Thong have fallen short. It is commendable that they have tried to give some young players more game time but this has had mixed results.
On the left of midfield, Sanukran Thinjom has been inconsistent and is nowhere near the level of Theerathon. 23-year-old striker Chenrop Samphaodi was signed from Police Tero but cannot be considered as an adequate replacement for Teerasil. Jaja Coelho was also signed after a stellar season with Buriram United but he has struggled with injury and fitness.
It is difficult to find a player with the skill set of Chanathip but no one in the current squad comes close.
The club have struggled with injuries to various players, including Jaja and centre-back Celio Santos but the depth of quality in the squad is lacking.
In addition to the loss of the trio to Japan, the departure of goalkeeper Kawin Thamsatchanan to OH Leuven in Belgium left another gap that no one has been able to adequately fill.
Despite these losses, the season had started so well, with a come-from-behind victory at Bangkok United that saw Chenrop net a hat trick. It did, however, prove to be a false dawn and a home defeat to Port FC followed in the very next game.
The season’s nadir was soon to follow as Muang Thong capitulated 6-1 at newly promoted Prachuap FC, prompting the resignation of head coach Totchtawan Sripan – the man whose stock had been so high less than a year earlier due to the excellent ACL campaign.
After several matches with a caretaker boss, former Serbia manager Radovan Curcic was appointed. He couldn’t really be blamed for the 4-0 defeat at Buriram in his first game and things looked up as he reeled off six league wins in a row.
However, Muang Thong have now failed to win their last four T1 matches and suffered the humiliation of a 5-1 League Cup defeat at Chonburi.
Wednesday’s FA Cup defeat at Chiang Rai United followed a 0-0 draw after extra time. What was galling for the Kirins was the fact they had failed to take advantage after the hosts had been reduced to 10 men around the hour mark.
These are worrying times for Muang Thong United fans. They have lost their prize assets, supposedly on loan, but Chanathip’s permanent transfer to Consadole has already been confirmed and he will not be returning in 2019. It remains to be seen what happens with Teerasil and Theerathon.
Muang Thong must now try and hold on to a place in the T1 top five at the very least while looking ahead to a renewed challenge in 2019. This has not been the finest year for one of Thailand’s top clubs and how they respond will now be crucial.