Thailand's AFF Cup hero Chanathip Songkrasin moves to J.League
Thailand's AFF Suzuki Cup hero Chanathip Songkrasin is making the move to the J.League after agreeing an 18-month loan deal with newly promoted Consadole Sapporo.
But Japanese fans will have to wait until July 2017 to see the Muang Thong United star in action as he will play the first leg of next year's Thai League campaign, as well as the group stage of the AFC Champions League, for his parent club.
The news comes just a couple of days after Chanathip played a key role in helping the Thais overcome a 2-1 deficit to Indonesia in the second leg of the AFF Cup final on Saturday. The War Elephants won 2-0, with the 23-year-old instrumental in both goals.
Having received the MVP award for the tournament, Chanathip's move from Thai champions Muang Thong has finally been confirmed following months of speculation.
The gifted playmaker has previously been linked with a transfer abroad and his talents have been given a higher profile this year, following impressive performances in Thailand's World Cup qualifying campaign. He was singled out for praise by much of the Australian media after playing a key role in the War Elephants' 2-2 draw at home to the Socceroos in November.
Chanathip went on trial with Shimizu S-Pulse back in 2013, and has been widely tipped for a move to Japan ever since.
Former BEC Tero Sasana head coach Andrew Ord gave Chanathip his debut in 2012. Now assistant coach at Perth Glory, Ord believes it is the right move for the midfielder.
"He has played around 200 games at only 23 years old, so has the experience to step up," Ord told ESPN FC. "He has carried the pressure of expectation over the last three years of being Thai football's biggest star so that should help him.
"It will probably be tough for him and he will need the rub of the green to succeed. It's crucial the coach and club back him and give him the chance to adapt.
"He needs to have impact off the bench as he settles in, then hopefully increase his influence as he gets used to the J.League. Of all the Thai players I worked with, he had the best mentality and always tries to make a difference. He needs to get over the urge to return home where life is easier and the longer he holds out, the better his chances of success."
Thai players have yet to make an impact outside Southeast Asia, so it will be fascinating to see how the latest export fares out of his comfort zone.
Ord admits it wasn't a move he would have foreseen when he worked with Chanathip at Tero.
"At that time, there were no Thai players abroad and the money in the TPL for the players was increasing every year," said Ord.
"I always thought he had the technical ability to play at a much better level. It's mentally and physically he will have to develop fast as tactically he has a great football brain and can learn as he goes. I will be following his progress with interest and wish him well."
Striker Teerasil Dangda -- top scorer at the AFF Cup -- was the most recent Thai star to try his luck abroad when he went on loan to UD Almeria in the La Liga in 2014. But Teerasil got very little game time and scored just once before moving back to Muang Thong.
The jump to La Liga may have been too much for Thailand's top striker but the J.League represents a more modest challenge and Chanathip's playing style should be well suited the Japanese game.
"Jay is a feisty player, quick and agile, and he will have no problem competing in Japan," Consadole's general manager Hirokatsu Mikami told mtutd.info.
The whole country will be behind their hero and will hope that his move to Japan is a trailblazing success for other top Thai players.
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