Why a Leicester move is too soon for Chanathip

Posted Tuesday, November 21, 2017 by Foxsports.com

Why a Leicester move is too soon for Chanathip

Following recent speculation of English Premier League interest in Thailand's biggest star, FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan assesses why it's too soon for Chanathip Songkrasin to move to Europe.

It's every Asian footballer's dream to play in Europe, even more so the English Premier League.

As a young boy growing up in Nakhon Pathom, before he even began to show glimpses of the genius he has become, Chanathip Songkrasin would have been the same.

If rumours are to be believed, that dream could be very close to being fulfilled in the form of former Premier League champions Leicester City, with reports claiming the club's Thai chairman, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, is keen on signing his compatriot.

Should the move indeed materialise, absolutely no one would begrudge any Southeast Asian player a move to one of the world's biggest leagues, let alone a jovial, well-mannered 24-year-old who clearly embarked on this career path purely because he enjoyed playing football and happened to be damn good at it.

But Chanathip should not move to Leicester. Or anywhere in the Premier League for that matter.

In fact, he should not trade what he has in Japan with Consadole Sapporo for a transfer to any club in Europe. For now.

Purely because, despite having conquered all of Southeast Asia with two AFF Suzuki Cup titles – in which he also won the Most Valuable Player award on both occasions in 2014 and 2016 – to his name, the man known as “Messi Jay" still has improvement in his game.

And Japan's J1 League is the perfect place for him to improve.

Who are the three most recent Japanese exports to the Premier League that have tasted relative success? Clearly, Leicester's title-winning forward Shinji Okazaki. Maya Yoshida of Southampton too. And, although he only lasted a couple of seasons at Manchester United, Shinji Kagawa.

Okazaki spent six seasons honing his craft in the J.League with Shimizu S-Pulse and then had another four-and-a-half in the German Bundesliga before trying his luck in England.

After three years playing for Nagoya Grampus, Yoshida developed further in the Dutch Eredivisie and then joined the Saints.

Even Kagawa, who signed for German giants Borussia Dortmund as a raw 21-year-old had three full seasons at Cerezo Osaka under his belt before taking the leap.

Having only completed his loan move from Muangthong United to Consadole in July, are we expected to believe that Chanathip is already a far superior player than he was four months ago and has learnt all he can in the J.League? Impossible.

Japanese clubs may not be as dominant as they used to be on the continental front, largely owing to the fact that they financially cannot compete with the big amounts of money being invested in China and the Middle East.

Nonetheless, ask anyone where the best place in Asia is for an up-and-coming footballer to learn and improve in all aspects of their game. Chances are the answer will be Japan.

At the very least, Chanathip should see out the entirety of his loan deal. Even better if he stays for another year until 2019.

As the likes of Okazaki, Yoshida and Kagawa have shown us, if you are among the best in the J.League, you are almost certainly ready for Europe.

That is not to say that “Messi Jay" isn't currently good enough to play for Leicester. He certainly has a plethora of attributes that suggests he would succeed in the Premier League, with the only query whether he can handle the physicality of the English game.

He has the quality but he also has potential. Potential to be even better.

And we have seen many times in the past how making that big move too soon can result in a failure to realise one's potential.

Still only 24, there is no need for Chanathip to rush and he should not be under pressure to move to Europe under the premise of doing Thailand proud or flying the flag for Southeast Asia.

He has already done just that in four months in Sapporo.

What he needs to do now is to do it again and again for another 12 months.

And then, when the continent's elite gather in United Arab Emirates, take it up another notch at the 2019 AFC Asian Cup and show everyone watching that he is truly one of Asia's best, as good as Kagawa, Okazaki and Yoshida.

If he does just that, there is every likelihood it will be more than just Leicester's Thai owners knocking on his door.

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