Thaksin Shinawatra took over Manchester City in 2007 with the aim of “dominating the world game”; signing three unknown Thai players was a strange way to go.
We spoke to Sven-Goran Eriksson about the crazy year he spent working under Shinawatrawho finally stopped talking to the former England manager, as City started the season with flying colors but faded to finish ninth in the Premier League.
One of the strangest footnotes to Shinawatra’s ownership is the signing of three Thai players – Teerasil Dangda, Kiatprawut Saiwaeo and Suree Sukha – who have never played a competitive game for the club.
In fact, due to the poor ranking of the Thai national team, none of the players even qualified for a work permit in England.
As Javi Garrido told ITV in 2017: “When this type of person is in charge of a club, they can try to make players from their own country stronger, and I think that’s the reason for which they recruited players from Thailand.”
The only time the trio donned a City shirt came at the end of 2007-08, when they came off the bench in a post-season friendly against a League All-Star XI. Thai. City were beaten 3-1, with Dangda seeing a goal ruled out.
We’ve taken a closer look at the later careers of these three players to see what became of some of City’s more bizarre signings.
— Dᴀɴɪʟᴏ BA (@Danilo_FutbolRH) October 27, 2013
Dangda was just 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 side Grasshoppers, where he again failed to make a competitive appearance for the first team.
However, the striker still insists he has enjoyed his time in Europe.
“The time spent at City was useful for me because I gained valuable experiences,” Dangda told FIFA in 2011. “It helped me move from amateur to professional level.
“It broadened my outlook and I learned the importance of having the right attitude to improve myself further. More importantly, it helped me decide to pursue my football career.
“I also had to adapt to the European way on discipline and mentality. I learned that I had to be confident in my techniques and my skills and with that I could break some of the traditional social values of the Asia such as seniority.
Since leaving City after a year, Dangda has carved out an impressive career for himself, helping Muangthong United – for whom he played alongside Robbie Fowler and Jay Bothroyd – to numerous honors and attracting a lot of interest in Europe.
Fowler himself singled out Dangda for particular praise, telling FourFourTwo: “I thought he was a superb player and had it all. He could be anything he wants on a football pitch.
He 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 move to Almeria, becoming the first Southeast Asian footballer to appear in La Liga and scoring in a 4-3 win over Real Betis in the Copa Del Rey.
Dangda is the captain of the Thai national team, for which he scored 51 goals in 111 caps. He left Muangthong after more than a decade in 2020 and now turns out for BG Pathum United.
While Dangda used his City spell as a springboard, Saiwaeo couldn’t quite match the heights reached by his teammate.
The centre-back was 21 at the time of his transfer but was unable to work his way into the Club Brugge 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 just 32 years old, Saiwaeo was forced into retirement due to a chronic knee injury.
“I believe in myself, I believe I can do it, it has nothing to do with politics,” Sukha said on 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, fullback national team coach Charnwit Polcheewin did not receive the memo. “We know it’s political, but that’s not the only reason,” Polcheewin said, although he was confident the 24-year-old could have an impact in England.
“I saw Suree’s performance on trial in Manchester, he was excellent and Sven was impressed. I absolutely believe it was Sven’s decision and not Thaksin’s.
“I think Suree can do it because City have problems at right-back. He will improve a lot there.
Sukha – who won 68 caps during a six-year international career – was the most experienced of the trio at the time of the move, joining City aged 24. Alongside Dangda, he was loaned out to Grasshoppers, where you’ll be surprised to hear he failed to make a first-team appearance.
He then followed Saiwaeo to Chonburi and enjoyed great success at Buriram United under former Real Madrid youth boss Alejandro Menendez. Since leaving Buriram in 2016, he has bounced around four Thai clubs in four years, finally retiring in 2020.