Bangkok United goalkeeper Michael Falkesgaard has his sights set on three Philippines international team-mates when the Thai League (T1) campaign resumes on Saturday.
The Bangkok Angels travel to Ratchaburi in a top-of-the table clash, with both sides sitting on a maximum 12 points from the first four matches.
Falkesgaard may be on the same side as Javier Patino, Luke Woodland and Justin Baas when he is on international duty but he is hoping to put one over his fellow Filipinos when domestic league action finally returns.
Lockdown and quarantine
It has been a difficult journey to get here, and the Danish Filipino had to endure a delayed return to Thailand and a spell in quarantine before getting back to work with his team-mates.
“During lockdown, me and my family went to Denmark, so we got stuck,” Falkesgaard said “We couldn’t get to Thailand because of flight issues. I was supposed to be back earlier, but it wasn’t until the end of July that I got my flight arranged. It has been a tough few months by myself, doing my training and keeping myself fit.”
Even once he made it back to Thailand, Falkesgaard spent a mandatory 14 days in state quarantine, which added to the challenges.
“In our hotel, we were only allowed to go to the gym one time per day, so I had a programme arranged for me by the team and the goalkeeping coach,” he said.
“Every time I went to the gym, I had zoom training with my goalkeeping coach. The club also arranged for me to have a bike, so when I came to the hotel, the bike was already set up in my room, so that I could keep up my fitness.”
Despite the frustration of seeing the T1 season suspended with Bangkok United in excellent form, Falkesgaard remains philosophical about a situation over which football clubs have limited control.
“I think that overall, we were really clear about the situation around the world,” he added. Of course, from a club perspective and also personally, I think that we had a good thing going, and the confidence that we had built in the first games was really high.
“If we had continued the season, I think there were many more points waiting for us. But, if you look generally, I think it was the right decision to stop the league in such an uncertain time.”
The Filipino connection
Falkesgaard is now one of many Filipino internationals playing in T1 and the match in Ratchaburi sees him potentially up against three of them in Patino, Woodland and Baas.
“It’s always a lot of fun playing against your team-mates, especially getting bragging rights,” said Falkesgaard. “But it’s also a big game because we both have maximum points, so this will also be a good indicator of where we are at the moment and how strong the team is.
“I hope we are going to go to Ratchaburi and get all three points and show off our strength.”
While the number of his fellow Philippines internationals has grown dramatically since the Thai League introduced an ASEAN quota, Falkesgaard also believes the growing reputation of T1 is a significant pull factor.
“The Thai League has seen massive development towards a more professional league and professional standards,” he said.
“Other Filipino players turned their attention to Thailand because of how many quality players are here and the way that things work. It also became easier with the ASEAN slots.”
Falkesgaard is now in his third year at Bangkok United, but he admits he knew very little about football in Thailand before he was offered the opportunity to make the move from his Danish home.
“I didn’t really know a lot of things about the Thai League,” he said. “I knew that a couple of players that I played against in Denmark went to Thailand, including Gilberto Macena who had played for Bangkok United and also had a big profile in the Danish Super League.
“Otherwise, I was pretty much unaware of how things were and how the league was. But I researched a bit from YouTube to see Bangkok United playing. I really liked the way they wanted to play and I could see myself in that project and develop myself as well.
“I had played in Denmark my whole life, but this was an interesting move for me. I really wanted to play some more and explore something else.”
Title rivals and players to watch
Bangkok United are keen to lift the title after a strong start to the year, but Falkesgaard is well aware that a number of other teams have strengthened and will make for tough rivals.
“Ratchaburi have a strong squad now and they have a lot of confidence, so they are one of the teams we have to look at,” he said. “Muang Thong United, Port, BG and Buriram are also our rivals. There is still a long season ahead.
“These four games we have played don’t mean much in the long run, but they have given us a lot of confidence because we have these points on the board.”
When asked to identify opposing players who are likely to stand out this year, Falkesgaard named a very familiar face.
Nelson Bonilla spent the 2019 season with Bangkok United, but has been loaned out to Port FC after suffering injury problems. Falkesgaard believes a fully fit Bonilla may well be an asset to one of his club’s likely title rivals.
“I could see Bonilla at Port doing a good job,” he said. “He has always been a notorious goal scorer, and I think he will trouble a lot of teams. I can expect him, unfortunately, to score a lot of goals for them.
“There are also a lot of other teams that have great players coming through, especially a lot of the younger Thai players.”
Falkesgaard will once again be a key player for Bangkok United as Mano Polking’s side try to resume the season with a positive result at Ratchaburi.
By Paul Murphy