Thailand's Theerathon to leave Buriram United for Muang Thong
Thai champions Buriram United fans have stunned their fans by announcing that defender Theerathon Bunmathan is to leave the club next month to join deadly rivals Muang Thong United.
Rumours have been swirling around the future of the Thai national captain for some months but most expected him to test himself in a stronger league. However, an official statement from the club suggests that no firm offers from abroad were forthcoming and it was Theerathon's choice to make the move back to his home province of Nonthaburi, just outside Bangkok.
The news is a fresh blow for Buriram fans, still reeling from their disastrous performance in this year's AFC Champions League and the slow start to their defence of the Premier League of Thailand (PLT) title. The Kirins travelled to the North East of Thailand last month and their 3-0 victory was Buriram's first domestic defeat in 18 months.
The timing of the announcement of the left wing back's departure must have had many fans looking at their calendars to check that it wasn't April Fools' Day. On Wednesdayevening, Buriram had just lost further ground in the PLT after blowing a two-goal lead and drawing 2-2 at Osotspa. Muang Thong, meanwhile, won 1-0 at home to Suphanburi to go two points clear at the top of the table -- five points ahead of Buriram -- with previous leaders Bangkok United losing 1-0 at Navy FC.
It is a remarkable story and one which has stunned the Thai football world. Just six months ago, it looked like Buriram had the potential to dominate Thai football for years to come, while Muang Thong struggled to keep up. The close-season signings of several Thai internationals from BEC Tero Sasana then lifted the Kirins, while their rivals made some poor choices in the transfer market and failed to reinforce in key areas.
Buriram's statement was magnanimous, reinforcing the warmth the club had for Theerathon. He has been with them for six years and won numerous honours, including four championships. But it seems a strange time for the club to announce the move, with six games of the PLT's first leg remaining.
It also represents something a sideways career move for the 26-year-old, who many had tipped for a move to the K-League or the J-League. Nevertheless, with Muang Thong United seemingly back in the ascendancy in Thailand, Theerathon will be hoping that he once again ends the year as a champion.
He will also be central to the Thai national team's plans as they look to successfully defend their AFF Suzuki Cup title in November, with the Southeast Asian tournament co-hosted by Philippines and Myanmar.