Friday June 22, 2007
Poster boy believes he can score the goals for Thailand
BANGKOK: Teerathep Winothai, the poster boy of Thai football since he burst on to the scene as a precocious 16-year-old, says he can provide the goals to fire the co-hosts into the last eight of the Asian Cup.
Teerathep, who has had training stints in England with Crystal Palace and Everton, responded to being called up into coach Chanvit Phalajivins squad by scoring in a warm-up against Borussia Fulda in Germany at the weekend.
Thailand play Iraq in the tournaments opening match on July 7 in Bangkok and also meet Oman and Australia in a tough-looking Group A.
I have waited for this time for eight years. I want to play for the national team. In the past I have always played for the Under-23, Under-20 and Under-19 sides, said Teerathep, the son of a sports journalist.
That is the way of the coaches and how they picked players. But now I have a chance to play in the first team so I will try my best.
It is a big moment. I think I am ready, ready for everything. I am ready to take my chance more than in the past when I played against Everton (in Bangkok two years ago).
I am better prepared physically and more experienced. I am a better all round player than before. I am a better goal-scorer. I am quite fast and have good positioning.
Thailand need a good striker and I think I can fill that gap. I have experience in England playing against big teams with strong defences.
Thai football fans first went crazy for the then 16-year-old Teerathep, nicknamed Leesaw, when he scored the golden goal winner against Indonesia in the 2001 SEA Games semi-final. He was flooded with fan mail, mainly from starry-eyed females, and picked up several Thai sports awards.
Teerathep has courted the publicity and does not shy away from being described as the David Beckham of Thai football.
I enjoyed a bit of celebrity after the 2001 SEA Games. I do not worry about being famous - it is good to be famous, he said.
I would enjoy a life like David Beckhams. He works hard on the park and has a good life (off it), added Teerathep, who drives about town in a sports car and wears a diamond stud in his left ear.
Leesaw-mania subsided a bit when he went back to England in 2001, but Thai fans still kept track of the star striker through his personal website.
Occasional stories that he was being watched by Manchester United and other top clubs also ensured that he remained in the public eye.
A coaching shake-up saw Teerathep off-loaded by Crystal Palace before a three-month training spell at Everton, but it did not result in a hoped-for contract.
Teerathep has led the line for Thailands top club side BEC Tero Sasana, the finalists in the 2003 AFC Champions League, for the past two seasons but sees the Asian Cup as an opportunity to put himself in the shop window again.
I look forward to play against Australia, possibly I can impress and get a contract there with an A-League side, he said.
Teerathep fancies Thailand to reach the last eight of the Asian Cup.
I think we have a chance in the Asian Cup. I played against Iraq in the Olympic qualifiers, we had a chance to beat them but we were not sharp in attack, he said.
It is not about them, how good they are, it is about us. How good we are and how we can perform. AFP