Foreign players bring advantages and disadvantages
Thailand, like other countries, is debating how many imported soccer players can be good for the national game, but not at the expense of developing local talent
How much foreign players have contributed to the quality of the Thai Premier League (TPL) is being widely debated. The presence of foreign players such as Darko Rakocevic and Kazuto Kushida might help improve the quality of the league and make the games more interesting to watch, but there has been criticism that the influx of foreign players will be at the expense of local players' performance and development.
Some believe that the presence of foreign players will hurt the prospects of local players because they have fewer chances to shine in the national league. But these same critics also admit that the foreign players are of benefit to the national league. After all, local players will have to learn how to play with and compete against international players.
At present, Thai league clubs have more than 120 foreign players on their books, from around the world, including Brazil, Japan, South Korea, Britain, Ivory Coast, Pakistan, Finland and Laos. Many of these foreign players are regularly chosen to play league matches while their Thai teammates are left on the bench.
Although the foreigners who are playing here are not top-notch players in their own countries, many of them have managed to impress local coaches and fans due to their determination and skills. Two Brazilian strikers who were signed by Army United have helped turn the team around, after they were almost relegated in the previous season. Fans of Army United now agree that it has been the right decision to start signing foreign players for the first time this season.
In general, the foreign players have played a big part in drawing fans to the stadiums, and have helped turn the Thai Premier League into a high-profile tournament.
But this debate over the quota of foreign players is not limited to Thailand. Many nations are also debating whether investment in foreign signings has helped or hindered the quality of local players. So far in Thailand, the presence of foreign players has not explicitly contributed to the improved performance of their local teammates. On the other hand, the influence of foreign coaches has obviously had more influence, and also adds to the international flavour of the league.
While there is no question that foreign players have spiced up the Thai Premier League, the question remains: How many foreign footballers should be permitted on the pitch at the same time? Should we change the current rules and regulations of the Thai Premier League to allow each club to have seven foreign players on their books and a maximum of five foreign players per match.
Some argue that the current seven-and-five rule allows too many foreign players. Even the English Premier League, awash with foreign players, allows for only three non-European Union players on the field at any one time, to help ensure that local players might get a fairer opportunity to succeed.
The Thai Football Association's decision-makers will face a difficult task to determine the right number of foreign players permitted before the next season starts in March. The number must strike a balance. It should ensure that a proper presence of foreign players helps to further improve the games and the quality of the Thai Premier League. At the same time, the number of foreign players should not be too high so as to limit the opportunities to develop local talent.
Successful clubs often have good links with their local communities. In addition, a successful team is run in a professional manner with strong support to help new players, as is evident in the case of champions Burirum PEA.
But the more challenging question is how to develop and improve the national squad, and how Thai players can learn from, and be inspired by, their foreign teammates. After all, the most essential element for any athlete lies in the universal values of determination, discipline and professionalism. Thai players must at the same time strive to improve their skills because limiting the quota of foreign players is not the only answer in helping them rise to the top of their game.