Charyl Chappuis: Remember me for football, not my looks
Even with only 179 posts on his Instagram wall, he has already amassed 184,000 followers. Hollywood actor? Famous singer? No. His name is Charyl Yannis Chappuis, the Thailand midfielder.
With two goals and one assist in the group stages of the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup, his stocks keep rising. But the Swiss-born playmaker is not getting carried away.
He's the national team's latest sensation. Blessed with good looks and armed with a lethal combination of ball skills and football brain, Chappuis is already a star in his own right, but the Suphanburi FC playmaker wants to be known for his work on the pitch rather than his marketable image.
"Yes, of course I like it (the attention he gets), it is a great feeling but in the end, it is also difficult to handle because you don't know if they like you just for your looks or for your football skills. And for me, I hope its football." Chappuis told ESPN FC. "Football is my life and while having the looks has helped in a big way, you have to be careful because once you don't play good or you are not at the same level, they will start talking and say it's because of my looks, my hair. Well, this is my style, this is me. And I am always working hard to prove that I can be a good footballer too."
Born to a Swiss father and a Thai mother in the town of Kloten, Switzerland, Chappuis caught the eye of Swiss Super League side Grasshoppers in 2003. He was on the club's books until 2012 although he do go on loan for the last two years of his contract with FC Locarno and FC Lugano.
Then came the surprising call from Thai domestic giants Buriram United FC who knew about Chappuis' Thai parentage. So the then 21-year-old took the bold move and signed for the club where he won the Thai Premier League title in his first season.
While many detractors may claim that he is not very Thai, Chappuis says he always had Thailand close to his heart as he spoke fondly of his childhood travels back to his mother's home city.
He recalled: "The last time I was back in Thailand as a teenager was seven years ago but it was a short stay because in Europe, we footballers don't get long holidays. Before that, when I was a child, we would come back to Thailand every year as we had a family home there."
With 28 games and four goals to his name, Chappuis has agreed to join ambitious Thai club Suphanburi FC for the 2015 season, having been on loan at the club this year where he scored five goals in 16 appearances. He will link up with national team players like Jakkaphan Pornsai, Putthinan Wannasri and Pratum Chuthong along with his Buriram teammate Carmelo Gonzalez and Thai veteran Sutee Suksomsit.
Chappuis has never regretted leaving Europe for Thailand and has lauded his move to the land of smiles as "absolutely incredible and more than expected".
"I never dreamt of playing in Thailand when I was in Switzerland. My dream was Europe but I'm half Thai and when the chance came, I couldn't say no. So I took the jump and it has been unbelievable. My first five games for Buriram were already big games in front of 25,000 over fans. I fell in love with Thai football immediately and the experience has been really good so far."
Having won the U-17 FIFA World Cup in 2009 with Switzerland, Chappuis is amazed by the talent he sees in the Thai national team. He says some players are good enough for Europe. But he has doubts whether players like Chanathip Songkrasin or Adisak Kraisorn would want a move away from Thailand.
"We (Thailand) are a really young team with a lot of potential. Chanathip is one of the top players and he shows it in every game. But I don't know if he really wants to leave Thailand because he is comfortable here. His home is here, he gets the food he wants and I think this is one of the big problems for Thai players. Its also about language. Like Teerasil, he is an amazing player but he is not getting much playing time in Spain (for La Liga side UD Almeria).
"I don't know his situation over in Spain but maybe it is language problem, the food or he doesn't feel at home. This is where we Thai players are different from other countries because of these problems. But we have many amazing players like Chanathip, Adisak [Kraisorn] and Tanaboon [Kesarat] so I hope this will change and a lot of Thai players will play in Europe some day."
As for himself, Europe will always be in his sights but the playmaker is in no rush although he still has two childhood football dreams he hopes to fulfil.
He shyly said: "My favorite team is Barcelona but I know it is impossible. One of my dreams is to play in the German Bundesliga because I was born in the German part of Switzerland and on weekends, we had Bundesliga on television so I have always hoped to play there.
"Yes I still dream of playing in Europe but I'm young and Thailand has done so much for me so I'm very happy with my life here but I still want to play in the European Champions League at least once. I want to walk out from the tunnel and hear the music (the Champions League introduction theme song) but for now, I am focused on giving everything to the Thai national team and my club."
He was also quick to put the limelight back on the task at hand.
"We have qualified for the Suzuki Cup semifinal and it doesn't matter who we play. We are working hard to win the Cup and we need to beat every team to win it. Every semifinalist has their strengths so we just focus on our own team and prepare as good as we can."
When thrown a cheeky question of whether he sees Thailand qualifying for the Fifa World Cup in the next decade, the stylish playmaker broke out in laughter before throwing on his game face.
"Of course, that's a dream but I can't say much now. We are young and I really hope we can do it one day. But for now, we focus on Suzuki Cup and then come next year, we have the Olympic qualifiers, Southeast Asia games, King's Cup and World Cup qualifiers. If we bring our form into the New Year, then maybe we see where it takes us."
Barring any late injuries, Chappuis will be in Thailand's starting lineup when they take on Philippines this Saturday in the first leg of their Suzuki Cup semifinal at the Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila. The return leg will be held four days later at the Rajamangala National Stadium in Bangkok as Thailand seek to rewrite the record books with their fourth ASEAN title to join Singapore as the record holders in the regional showpiece event.
If the War Elephants taste regional glory again, you can be sure that Chappuis will be an integral part of it.
ESPN FC editor Kelvin Leong is a former media officer for Singapore and ex-regional editor of ESPNSTAR.com. Twitter: @KelvinLeong29.