Playmaker Mario Gjurovski moves to Bangkok United for 2016 TPL season
Mario Gjurovski has made a sensational move to Bangkok United as a free agent following four successful years at three-time champions Muang Thong United in the Thai Premier League (TPL).
One of the TPL's great entertainers, the charismatic playmaker had been a cult hero at Muang Thong, scoring almost a goal every two games for the Kirins and winning the title in 2012. Last season, 'Super Mario' achieved his most impressive tally with 20 goals in 31 league games.
However, at the end of the 2015 season, Gjurovski played his final match for Muang Thong when he scored but was then red-carded in the FA Cup final defeat to bitter rivals Buriram United. This took him to the end of his contract and the following day he posted a farewell message to his fans on Twitter.
Most expected the 30-year-old to move to Japan, where he was heavily linked with a transfer to Omiya Ardija, who have recently been promoted to J-League 1.
When asked why he had opted to stay in Thailand with a smaller club than Muang Thong, Gjurovski told ESPN FC, "The ambition of the club persuaded me. They have big plans for the next few years and this was key.
"Of course, it will also be a pleasure to work with [head coach] Mano Polking. I respect his work and style of football. And my family didn't want to change country. They want to stay here because we love Thailand."
Regarding his expectations for the duration of his contract, Gjurovksi added, "The goal in the next thee years will be to finish in the top 3, qualify for the [AFC Champions League] and try to win one trophy. It will not be easy but we must believe. In football, anything is possible when you have a good team and staff and we have that."
The Macedonian enjoyed a warm relationship with Kirins fans so his departure has been understandably emotional. "This was the best period of my career and I will never forgot it, especially the Muang Thong fans," Gjurovski said.
"But I'm a professional and I must move forward and try to enjoy my football and achieve better things with Bangkok United. But it will be weird to play against Muang Thong United."
Ambitious Bangkok United are looking to build on their rapid ascent under head coach Mano Polking, going from relegation candidates before his arrival in mid-2014 to missing out on third place and an Asian Champions League (ACL) spot by just two points in 2015. Polking is convinced that Gjurovski can take his side closer to the top of Thai football after securing the biggest transfer of the close season.
Asked about the qualities that Gjurovski can bring to the Bangkok Angels, Polking told ESPN FC, "His statistics speak for themselves. A number 10 who scores so many goals and gets so many assists every season is a good weapon for any team. He has fantastic technique, is a good finisher and can read the game well."
Polking is hoping that his side will do better than in 2015. He added: "We are aiming for third place. We let it slip in just one week last season."
For Muang Thong United, the departure of their talisman to a TPL rival is just another blow as they prepare to face Malaysia's Johor Darul Ta'zim (JDT) n the ACL preliminary round next month.
A promising season in 2015 turned sour for the Kirins as a strong challenge to Buriram in the TPL petered out in the final weeks before they meekly surrendered in the FA Cup final in December.
Losing arguably their best player for no financial reward is another disappointment, with the side from the outskirts of Bangkok yet to make any big moves in the transfer window.
Ex-QPR and Cardiff City striker Jay Bothroyd -- a former team-mate of Gjurovski at Muang Thong -- mocked the Kirins' failure to seal a new deal with the Macedonian when he posted a good luck message on Twitter with the line 'Can't believe your former club didn't tie the best player by far down!'
As arguably the best foreign import to play in the TPL leaves, Muang Thong fans are likely to be thinking the same thing.