Chiang Rai United bid for Muang Thong United's Thailand superstars
Chiang Rai United are ready to stun Southeast Asian football by making an audacious bid for a trio of Muang Thong United and Thailand stars, including Theerathon Bunmathan.
Reports in the Thai language media suggest Chiang Rai want to continue their rise to prominence in 2018 by making another raid on the reigning champions. They tempted ex-Muang Thong midfielder Tanaboon Kesarat to join for a Thai record transfer fee before the start of this season.
Tanaboon was just one piece of the jigsaw as Chiang Rai made a bold attempt to shift the balance of power in Thai football after years of dominance by Muang Thong and Buriram.
Now, the Beetles want to make another push to become the best in the country by taking left-back Theerathon, midfielder Sarach Yooyen and striker Adisak Kraisorn to the province in the far north of the country.
It looks likely that Chiang Rai will finish in fourth or fifth spot in Thai League (T1) this year. Despite this being a significant improvement on last year's eight place, the club have ambitions to be champions.
Sarach's dynamism in midfield would potentially be a huge asset, but he has just returned from a serious ankle injury that ruled him out for most of this season.
Adisak has suffered from a lack of opportunities at Muang Thong, with Teerasil Dangda, Heberty Fernandes and Leandro Assumpcao all starting ahead of him.
The biggest shock of all would be if Chiang Rai managed to secure the services of Theerathon, arguably the finest Thai player in the league and one who has consistently been linked with a move to Cerezo Osaka in the J-League.
With playmaker Chanathip Songkrasin flourishing with Consadole Sapporo in Japan, it had been widely expected that Theerathon would be the next high profile Thai player to make the journey east.
However, just one week before facing Muang Thong in the FA Cup semifinal, Chiang Rai have reportedly revealed their plans to tempt the attacking full-back to become part of their ambitious project to break the Buriram United-Muang Thong United duopoly.
The journey north has been a well-worn path for Muang Thong United players in recent years.
Midfielders Thitiphan Puangchan and Chaiyawat Buran and defenders Piyaphon Phanichakul and Atit Daosawang are among those who made the move after either failing to make the grade at Muang Thong, or finding themselves surplus to requirements.
The transfer of Tanaboon, however, was the plundering of a 23-year-old first-team regular. It seems that Chiang Rai United are now hoping to strike another blow in the battle for Thai football dominance.
At the very least, they have certainly upped the ante ahead of next Wednesday's FA Cup semifinal at Rajamangala Stadium.
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