Buriram United’s hire-and-fire culture may not be something that head coach Bozidar Bandovic is currently concerned about, but rumours are already emerging that Argentinian striker Bernardo Cuesta may be in line for an early exit after failing to impress.
Cuesta has every reason to be worried as Buriram are notoriously ruthless when foreign strikers are not considered to be meeting expectations.
Having sourced several gems over the years, it seems that the club prides itself on its recruitment of foreign talent, so much so that buying from another Thai club just isn’t an option.
Pride comes before a fall and Buriram would surely have been Thai champions in 2019 had they opted to sign Lonsana Doumbouya or Lukian instead of four strikers who failed to make the grade. They may even have been champions if they had held on to Pedro Junior at the halfway point given that he had provided some big goals, even if he hadn’t been outstanding.
Here’s a look at some of the hits and misses of the foreign attacking players Buriram have brought to Thailand down the years.
- Diogo Luis Santo
Diogo’s career was drifting when Buriram signed him in 2015. Still just 27 years old, the Brazilian had been an exciting young prospect linked with the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool before joining Olympiakos.
His career in Greece never took off and there were several loan spells back in Brazil. It had the look of a risky signing – but this was to be much more of a career revival than another pay cheque.
Diogo’s four years in Buriram saw him lift three T1 titles. In the one year he wasn’t a champion, he spent much of the season sidelined through injury. There were memorable AFC Champions League (ACL) performances and some spectacular goals.
His departure from the club to join JDT in Malaysia has been one of the reasons why Buriram just haven’t looked the same team since they lifted the 2018 T1 title with ease.
2. Frank Acheampong
It might be an exaggeration to suggest that Buriram made Frank Acheampong but they certainly played a huge role in his development.
The Ghanaian came to Thailand at just 17 years of age and made such an impression that Anderlecht took him to Belgium for a fee of €1m two years later. After four years at the Belgian club, Acheampong moved to Tianjin Teda in China and, still just 26, he remains there.
More than just an excellent young player at Buriram, Acheampong proved that foreign players could come to Thailand at a young age and move on to bigger and better things. Unfortunately, he has proven to be more the exception than the rule, but it was quite a coup for the Thai club.
3. Jaja Coelho
Given his fall from grace since he left Buriram under a cloud at the end of 2017, it is easy to forget how brilliant Jaja Coelho was for that one year. He had the build of a heavyweight boxer but was far more than just a physical presence up front.
Jaja rattled in 34 T1 goals and provided 12 assists as Buriram regained the title with an outstanding second half of the campaign. With Diogo back at his best, Jaja provided the perfect foil. His sublime chipped goal from 40 yards against Bangkok United was a great demonstration of his individual talent.
Surprisingly, Buriram decided against renewing his contract as club president Newin Chidchob criticised the player’s lifestyle. An underwhelming spell at Muang Thong United followed and the Brazilian was recently released by Seongnam in South Korea.
4. Javier Patino
Javier Patino joined Buriram at the age of 25 – another contrast with the usual 30-something foreign strikers we see at Thai clubs. Having played in Spain’s second tier, he had great potential, and he quickly adapted to life in Thailand.
Patino formed an excellent partnership with fellow Spaniard Carmelo González and Buriram won the domestic treble in 2013, Patino contributing 14 T1 goals, while he would strike 21 times as they retained their league title the following season.
His prolific scoring record and relatively young age made him an attractive prospect for other Asian clubs and he left for Henan Jianye in China the following year. The now Filipino international’s second coming at Buriram didn’t quite work out as he was very much a squad player. Now 32, he recently scored the goal that beat his former club as Ratchaburi defeated Buriram 4-3.
5. Gilberto Macena
Buriram fans still fondly reminisce about the partnership between Gilberto Macena in 2015. While Diogo had arrived with high expectations, Macena’s CV was more modest.
Together, they forged one of the best striking partnerships Thailand has ever seen. The pair had an excellent understanding, with Macena’s hard running and pace complementing Diogo’s physicality and guile. Between them, they netted seven times in a thrilling ACL group stage that saw Buriram agonizingly miss out on progress to the last 16 despite a 10-point haul.
Macena was a key part of what many still consider Buriram’s best side. Even Newin might privately concede that letting him go was a mistake given what happened the following season.
- Modibo Maiga
Former West Ham United striker. Former English Premier League striker. When your name has to be preceded by who you used to play for and the league in which you played, it’s a sure sign that you didn’t make a huge impact for that team in that league.
It’s fair to say that most in Thailand had to do a Google search to find out what Modibo Maiga had been doing before Buriram signed him at the beginning of 2019. His time at West Ham came between 2012 and 2015, with four Premier League goals scored, though he had loan spells at QPR and Metz during this time.
After four years at West Asian clubs, Maiga arrived in Buriram at the age of 31. The Mali international’s fitness was an immediate concern, though he showed promise by scoring in the pre-season Champions Cup victory over Chiang Rai Utd.
But there were to be few more chances to shine and Maiga’s contract was soon terminated.
Kaio arrived at Buriram in unfortunate circumstances. Two or possibly more attempts to replace Gilberto Macena had failed (more on that later), so Kaio was recruited more as an afterthought than a prized target.
Having achieved moderate success in Japan and South Korea, he initially looked a decent fit. But instead of playing alongside the outstanding Diogo, he would quickly become the focal point of attack when Diogo suffered a serious injury.
It’s fair to say that Kaio wasn’t up to the task as he netted just five times in 22 T1 matches. It’s also fair to say that he may have done better had he been playing alongside Diogo as intended.
3. Rasmus Jonsson
Having cut Maiga loose weeks into the 2019 season, Buriram had time to target reinforcements for their title challenge in the mid-year transfer window.
Buriram have had the best luck with imports from Brazil and Spain but this time they tried something different by bringing in a Swede. Having impressed alongside the legendary Henrik Larsson early in his Helsingborgs career, Jonsson earned moves to Germany and Denmark before returning to Helsingborgs in 2018.
Never a prolific scorer, he was expected to provide effective support for his striking partners and to weigh in with a few goals. He scored just once in an unimpressive spell that demonstrated the difficulty of hitting the ground running mid-season, especially when you have swapped Northern Europe for Thailand.
4. Jay Simpson
Former Arsenal youth Jay Simpson could have been another Diogo. After being released by the Gunners – where much of his time was spent on loan elsewhere – he had spells at Hull City and then Millwall (another loan).
This was clearly a talented player whose career was in need of a lift and at just 25 years old, he could have been a star at Buriram. Unfortunately, he simply failed to adapt, generally looking out of shape and out of sorts in the humidity.
The contract was terminated by mutual consent, Simpson having scored just twice in 22 appearances. Simpson has gone on to have a decent, if unspectacular, career, but he failed to make much of an impression in northeast Thailand.
5. Emiliano Alfaro / Andrew Moritz / Bruno Mezenga / Weslley / Rogerinho / Danilo / Samson / Jesus Berrocal / Masahiro Noto
Remember when these guys signed for Buriram? Some didn’t even set foot on the pitch, some mysteriously disappeared with vague references to fitness concerns, while others were unceremoniously moved on when they presumably failed to make the apparent grade.
It is surprising that a club with Buriram’s resources and unrivalled facilities in the Thai game can end up signing so many players who barely end playing for the club, if they play at all. Recruitment is always a risky business and there will always be some who don’t work out. With Buriram’s foreign attacking players, however, they sometimes seem to get more wrong than they get right.