Thailand ace Chanathip impresses in debut for Consadole Sapporo
Thailand playmaker Chanathip Songkrasin impressed on his debut for J-League side Consadole Sapporo, despite his new club falling to a 1-0 defeat to Cerezo Osaka in the Levain Cup.
Last month, Chanathip moved to Japan on an 18-month loan deal from Thai champions Muang Thong United, and has been waiting patiently to become eligible for his first competitive appearance.
The playmaker -- known as "Messi J" by Thai fans -- came on as a substitute at half-time in Osaka on Wednesday night, and was quickly involved in some of Consadole's best attacking moves.
Wearing the same No. 18 jersey that he donned at Muang Thong, Chanathip showcased some of the trickery and passing skills that have made him such a favourite with Thai fans. It has earned him admiration beyond his homeland, particularly for his performances in this year's AFC Champions League (ACL).
Chanathip saw plenty pf the ball and made some of his trademark runs and dribbles to get the fans on their feet. His measured pass over the top also set up an excellent chance for Shinya Uehera to equalise, but the striker hit his shot over the bar.
Messi J may have ended up on the losing side on this occasion, but his 45-minute cameo certainly suggested that he has the ability to compete at this level.
Consadole will be looking to the Thai star to give their side a lift as they sit just one point above the relegation zone at the season's mid-point.
The performance against Cerezo should put Chanathip in the frame for a start at home to J-League giants Urawa Reds on Saturday.
Meanwhile, the Football Association of Thailand's technical director Witthaya Laohakul has claimed that Muang Thong United full-back Theerathon Bunmathan should join Chanathip in the J-League next season.
"He should have been in Japan a long time ago," Witthaya told The Bangkok Post. "He is good enough for the J-League and could even play in Germany. The problem is whether he will be able to handle the pressure."
While it might be good for Thai football if another of their best players tries to prove himself abroad, Muang Thong may not be so happy if another of their prize assets attempts to leave the Thai champions.
Both Chanathip and Theerathon are expected to be at the forefront in Thailand's final two 2018 AFC World Cup qualifiers against Iraq and Australia in August and September.
Bangkok-based Paul Murphy has lived in Asia for a decade, writing for ESPN FC since 2014. He is a former Daily Express sub-editor. @PaulMurphyBKK