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Leesaw Teeratep Winothai Shares His English Football

Graduated from Crystal Palace youth academy, played in the FIFA World U-17 Championship as a 14 years old, won 4 SEA Game football Gold medals and represented Thailand National Team at the highest level of

Graduated from Crystal Palace youth academy, played in the FIFA World U-17 Championship as a 14 years old, won 4 SEA Game football Gold medals and represented Thailand National Team at the highest level of football. Teeratep Winothai, popularly known as Leesaw, brought his English football style back to Thailand and now sharing his experience with Junpiter Futbol…

 

 

JPF: You spent a couple of years studying and playing in England, tell us more about those days.

LTW: I was 14 years old representing Thailand U-17 in the FIFA World Youth Championship. Then I was selected and was on a Siam Sports scholarship where I studied and played football for Crystal Palace youth during my 4 years stay in England.

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JPF: Tell us more about your footballing days in England?

LTW: Having represented my school team in Essex, I went for a selection trial with Crystal Palace Youth after a recommendation from a friend. I was offered a short 6-weeks contract with them which I was eligible then as I was already representing Thailand Youth in the world championship. In my first 6 weeks with Crystal Palace, I was studying in a boarding school. I made my way to the stadium after school for training, by train, and back to school twice a week.  Afterwhich, I was offered a 1-year contract. In total, I signed about 3 contracts during my 4 years stint with Crystal Palace.

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After spending 4 years with Crystal Palace Youth (U-15, U-17 & U-19), I returned to Thailand for about 1-2 years.  In 2005-2006, Thailand’s Chang Beer was Everton’s main sponsor so under Chang Beer’s arrangement, I was back to England again together with another 2 Thai players. However, that was only a 3 months training stint with Everton.

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JPF: How much were you paid during your time with Crystal Palace as a youth player?

LTW: I couldn’t recall but it was approximately 85 sterling pounds (SGD$167)  a week. Our transport was covered by the club where you could reimburse the amount with our travel card.

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(Photo: BGFC FB)

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JPF: Are there any former team mates of yours from Crystal Palace and Everton playing in the Premier League now?

LTW: There are actually quite a few of them who are still actively playing. One of those closest to me is Swansea’s winger, Wayne Routledge.  The other person would be Ben Watson, Wigan Athletic ‘s midfielder.

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JPF: You being an Asian player,  what do you think of the English football culture?

LTW: The football there was crazy! If you love football, that’s the place you have to go. The people there talk about football every day and practically every minute. Even when I was just a youth player for Crystal Palace then, the people would recognize us (JPF: You were just 14 yrs old, ever felt homesick?) For the first month, yes… but I did return to Thailand for the national team duties and sometimes for holidays.

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JPF: So why did you eventually returned to Thailand after having represented Crystal Palace U-19?

LTW: It was the work permit’s issue. The last contract which I could sign on as a youth player in England was 19 yrs old. The next step had to be a professional contract which I was not eligible – Not having represented Thailand National Team for 45% of their games in the last 2 years did not qualify me to continue playing in United Kingdom. I was only 19 yrs old at that time and Thailand National Team had a lot of great players then.

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(Photo: BGFC FB)

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JPF: In 2008, you were awarded the Best Striker of the Year Award while playing for BEC Tero Sasana in the Thai Premier League (TPL); what do you think of that accolade at the age of just 23 years old?

LTW: I felt really great.!  I took all the experience from England to Thailand. I have always wanted to improve and that award was a great motivation.

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JPF: How was TPL football style compared to the that of the English?

LTW: In England, the football was fast, physical and aggressive. Even if it was a fifty-fifty ball, we would go in. But that was not the case in Thailand. When I first returned to Thailand, Thai football was easy; more technique than physical, and the Thai players were not as fit as the English. I tried to bring my English’s game play into my play in Thailand, but some players felt that I was too aggressive. However, nowadays, TPL has improved tremendously. In my first 3 years with BEC, the average attendance for a game was only a few hundreds.  A year later, it was an average of thousands, and now 10,000-crowd a game! I think almost everyone in Thailand wants to see Thai football improve. Local companies  have started coming in to support and that’s the kind of support which TPL needs and is receiving.

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JPF: Who are some of the best players you have ever played with or played against in TPL?

LTW: I used to play with Tawan Sripan in BEC when he was in his last year of playing before retirement. He was an amazing player who didn’t lose the ball much. The way he dribbled, the way he passed a ball and turned away from the defender, he did not look anywhere near a 37 yrs old. He was so swift and agile! There is another player, Datsakorn Thonglao, who is one of my good friends. He is small-built but he is a complete player who pass and shoots well. And also, former Thailand National Team’s Kiatisuk “Zico” Senamuang. “Zico” was a very good striker, he was fast, fit and sharp. He took great care of young players like me.

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JPF: We heard that you were extremely young when you represented Thailand U-17 in the 1999 FIFA World Youth Championship in New Zealand?

LTW: I was not only the youngest in the squad, but also the youngest in the competition, just 14 yrs old.

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JPF: As an Asian playing in a World Youth Championship, how was Asian football different from the rest of the teams from other continents?

LTW: It’s a lot different. Physically, the rest of the teams were stronger than us, but in terms of technique and skill, we could match them or if not, better than them. Although we lost our games against Mexico, Ghana and Spain, I have learnt a lot from this competition taking into consideration that Thailand did not have an established professional league during that time. The only preparation we had was training with the Thailand National Team. I didn’t even know Michael Essien was in Ghana’s team which eventually they won the bronze medal.  I only found out later when I was much older.

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JPF: Were you surprised by the first team call-up at the age of 19 years old?

LTW: Not exactly surprised to be called up to the first team, it’s a progressive development where I represented Thailand in the U-17, U-19, U-21, U-23 then to the senior team. It has always been a step by step progress to eventually represent Thailand senior team at the highest level one day. To be honest, initially I played football for the fun of it. I enjoyed people cheering and singing in the stadium but since I started to represent Thailand U-17, my thinking changed. I realized that football is my life and I am going to work hard to be a professional footballer.

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(Photo: AFFSuzukiCup.com)

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JPF: With your European football background, the media tipped you as the next big football star for Thailand. Was there a lot of pressure on you?

LTW: I did not put any pressure on myself. In fact, what the Thai people want is what I want for myself too. So I am taking those sort of pressure from the media and Thai people as a form of motivation to improve myself further.

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JPF: While representing Thailand National Team, you have scored against Japan, China, Iraq , South Korea and many other countries, what does scoring goals for Thailand mean to you?

LTW: It means a lot to me. Playing for the National Team is one of the best things that happen in my life. It’s also one of the most important things which I have always wanted to do. Thailand has nearly 70 million in population and to be selected to represent Thailand National Team is a huge honour to me. So when I score goal for the team, even if it’s a friendly game, I would feel extremely good.

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JPF: You have won the SEA Games football gold medal with Thailand for an amazing 4 times in a row from 2001 – 2007! Can you tell us about that amazing span of 6 years and your hat-trick in the final of 2005 SEA Games?

LTW:  That was indeed an amazing 6 years of SEA Game football. And also, people start noticing me because of the SEA Games too. I won my first SEA Games gold medal in Malaysia as a 16 yrs old. Although sometimes I was not selected in the training squad but eventually my name will be included before the tournament starts. Some of them told me I have to be in the team because every time I play, Thailand will win the SEA Game gold! For that hat-trick, it was a gold medal game against Vietnam. I remember that game vividly as it was the best game of my 6 years of SEA Games football. I only attempted 4 shots on target and I scored 3. After the game, I became a big star, haha!

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JPF: Having represented Thailand National Team on so many occasions, which is your most memorable game?

LTW: It would be the Asian World Cup qualifying round away game against Japan in 2008. Their team boosted with players like Yasuhito Endo, Naohiro Takahara and Yuji Nakazawa and yet I managed to score a cracker from near 25-30 yards out beating Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi (goalkeeper). It’s not easy to score against the strong Japanese but I’m delighted that I did it.

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JPF: You have definitely played against Singapore previously, what do you think of Singapore football?

LTW: Singapore is one of the earliest to start your own professional football league. I used to dream of playing football in Singapore when I was young too. (JPF: How about S-League?) I heard that S-League’s standard is good. I have many good brothers like Sutee Suksomkit, Tawan Sripan & even Kiatisuk Senamuang who played in the S-League. We were told that you have to play in the S-League before you can move up to another higher level.

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JPF: Any Singapore player who leaves you the deepest impression?

LTW: Fandi Ahmad. I used to watch games between Thailand and Singapore when I was young, Fandi was always the most dangerous player for Thailand because he could score from anywhere.

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JPF: You returned to European football by signing for Belgium club, Lierse in 2009. How did this deal come about taking into consideration you were already back in Thailand for a couple of years?

LTW: An agent from Europe approached me back in 2007 to play in France, I turned him down as I felt that I was not ready then. But when he returned to offer me a deal with Lierse in 2009, I decided to give it a try as I was more confident of my ability, especially after awarded Best Striker of the Year Award in Thailand in 2008.

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JPF: How was Belgium football?

LTW: Having played in England previously, Belgium football was definitely not as good as England’s. Their foreign players were not as good as England’s too. However, Belgium still plays the typical European football – fast and aggressive. The players there in my club had their standard way of playing football, for example they would expect the ball to be passed using the inside of the foot. When I used the outside of the foot, the guys would correct me! They would get unbelievably amazed when they saw me playing football with both feet!

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JPF: We understand that you asked to leave the club without finishing your contract, what happened?

LTW: Limited playing opportunity. I was the third choice winger for the team but when the first two wingers were injured, they pull in another player to take over my rightful position instead of fielding me in. Although I was the captain of the reserve team and scoring quite a significant amount of goals in the reserve league, I was never given a chance to show my capability. It was a frequent 3-5 minutes of playing exposures which really frustrated me. (JPF: Were you disappointed with this stint?) Well, yes to a certain extend. I discussed with my family, especially my dad, who was a former Sports journalist in Thailand, and he told me to come home.

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JPF: Who do you look up to for football inspiration?

LTW: I have two such persons; one is Kiatisuk Senamuang – both of us play in the same position and I always wanted to be like him. The other person is David Beckham. I feel that he is the luckiestfootballer on earth – he has a great football career, one of the richest footballers with a big luxury car (maybe two?), a beautiful wife and a happy family.  He seems to have everything which every guy wants to have.  I read every book about him when I was in England. He is a hardworking player and you know his free-kicks are not anything to imitate unless you put in the kind of practices he has put in over the years to succeed. (JPF: Ever met him in person?) Yes, I played against him when Real Madrid was in Thailand for a friendly game. He was literally an Alien on the pitch! As in, all of us only read about him on newspaper, see him on TV but never meet him in person – it was so surreal! So when I got to meet him on the same pitch, the way he walked, the way he ran and the way he kicked a ball, everything seems so perfect and amazing! I wish I could have half of his achievements!

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JPF: Would you consider playing in S-League one day?

LTW: Why not? Anything can happen in football!

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JPF: Any advice on how to be a great footballer, in particular a great striker like you?

LTW: You have to work as hard as you can. You have to push yourself further and further because football is all about training and working hard. If you keep working and keep trying, you will succeed. To be a great striker, you have to concentrate on your game. You will need to have great imagination when you are without the ball! When I am waiting for the ball up front, I will start to imagine and visualize what I am going to do if the ball comes here or where I am going to move if the ball goes there. I am always thinking all the time and you can’t afford to lose a second of your concentration in the game. You need to be on your guard and anticipate.  And also, in today’s football, the striker is not someone just to score the goals but also to help in defending. You have to keep the ball well, link up the play, you will need to do more than just scoring goals for the team.  It is a complete process.

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Read More – A letter to Thailand football fans (from Junpiter Futbol)

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