Chanathip Songkrasin wants to be the inspiration that proves size doesn’t matter

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At only 28 years old, Chanathip Songkrasin has already accomplished a lot in his career.

Becoming the first Thai to play in Japan’s top-flight J1 league with Consadole Sapporo in 2017, Chanathip’s move to champions Kawasaki Frontale earlier this year saw him go down in history as the fastest ever domestic transfer. expensive of Japanese football. $3.8 million.

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Standing just 1.58m tall, the silky-talented playmaker – three-time AFF Suzuki Cup champion and Thailand’s Most Valuable Player – has never let his short stature be a hindrance, nor the pressure which came with being called ‘the Thai Messi’ earlier in his career.

Chanathip’s hunger for more success was a key motivation behind him leaving the comfort of Consadole, where he was adored, and immersing himself in the high-pressure environment of a Frontal team that won four of the last five league titles. J1 League.

Surprisingly for someone who is widely regarded as the best player in Southeast Asia and who displays supreme confidence in his abilities every time he steps on the pitch, Chanathip reveals that self-confidence is something something that is not really easy for him.

“I came to Kawasaki to be a champion. I want to show that I can be a big player – a little guy, yes – but a big player,” Chanathip told ESPN in an exclusive interview – also his first to be directed. in English, after spending six months during the coronavirus lockdown intensively learning the language.

“I think one of my weaknesses is that I don’t always have a lot of confidence, but sometimes I just need to stand on the pitch and, when I do and I think football is fun, I will be comfortable and confident.

“Of course I want to be a champion as much as possible (in the rest of my career). I want to improve and know how far I can reach, so that when I retire I can tell everyone : ‘yes, then And if I were small?

“I hope that in this way I can inspire young children who watch me play – in Japan or in Southeast Asia – and they know Chanathip. It will make me proud.”

Despite his jovial nature and appreciation for the simple things that make him happy, Chanathip is the first to admit that life has its ups and downs and even his dream move to Frontale was not without its challenges.

A new manager, teammates, a system of play and a city are just some of the things he had to deal with in his first months at Frontale, which saw them suffer a shock elimination in the group stage of the AFC Champions League, although they firmly remain an excellent chance to retain their league crown – as they are currently two points behind leaders Kashima Antlers with one game less, 11 matches into the new season .

On the other hand, Chanathip is now as comfortable as can be in his fifth year in Japan. He’s gotten his driver’s license, knows where he can leave the car without being fined given the country’s notoriously strict parking regulations, and can understand enough Japanese to get by.

But in the end, Japan will never be more than a temporary residence. In Chanathip’s own words, this is where his “work” has taken him.

His homeland will always be Thailand.

He is delighted to qualify for a second straight AFC Asian Cup appearance with the War Elephants when qualifying takes place in June. And Thailand’s Ligue 1 is where he can see himself finishing his career, passing on his experience to the next generation akin to former team-mate Shinji Ono – who continues to play top-flight football at 42 as a mentor in Consadole.

Another example Chanathip admires is legendary Japanese striker Kazuyoshi Miura, who is still playing at the age of 55, although he has candidly identified his own injury history as the reason he doubts he will enjoy. similar longevity.

“I sometimes think back on what I did. Most of the time it’s during the bad times – when I’m not playing well or I’m injured,” the Thai explained.

“Moments like this I look back and what I’ve done before and appreciate that I’m a really good player – and that makes me feel confident again. When you struggle with your own mind and you have to fight against yourself, that’s the hardest part.

“What I know is that I want to do my best every day because time is running out. (A career in) football is short.

“For me, the most important thing in my career is to find happiness.”

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