Robert Pires is in line for a shock return to football with Thai Premier League champions Muangthong United. The 37-year-old midfielder is currently training with his old team Arsenal after being released by Villarreal.
It appears Pires is unlikely to follow in the footsteps of Sol Campbell, who was given a short term contract by Wenger last season after training with the team on a similar basis. However the former French international is desperate to prolong his playing career and could be tempted by the prospect of joining one of the top teams in South Asia.
Robert Procureur, the General Manager of Muangthong United, is hoping to sign Pires in time for the next season which starts in March,
“I have been searching for new players from Europe to join our squad next season. I knew Robert Pires from when I visited Arsene Wenger a few years ago and I have already discussed with some people from Arsenal the possibility of bringing Pires to the Thai Premier League. At the moment we are interested in and will try hard to convince him to join Muangthong United,” he said.
Muangthong United recently won the Thai Premier League for the second successive season and are also in the final of the Thai FA Cup. They reached the semi finals of the AFC Cup, the Asian equivalent of the Europa League, and are looking to add at least one high profile player to the squad.
The club have also been strongly linked with Dwight Yorke and Jesper Blomqvist but Procureur feels that Pires would be the perfect signing,
“He is 37 years old but I feel he still has the ability to play as last season he was in the Spanish league with Villarreal. He is a world class player and if he can join us next season it will be a great boost to our team,” he said.
Wenger claimed at a at a press conference last month that Pires, who won the Premier League twice and the FA Cup three times during his six year spell at Arsenal, would still be capable of playing Premiership football,
“Robert Pires can still play in the Premier League. Robert is a fantastic player still today and he loves to play, so anybody who signs him will make a good deal. If we were short, I would sign Pires but we are not short on the offensive side, so we do not need anyone in that department,” he said
With offers from Premiership teams not forthcoming the player, who says he will retire if he has not found a club by the end of January, might well be tempted to finish his playing career in the east.
English football and in particular the English Premier League is hugely popular in Thailand. Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra famously purchased Manchester City in 2007 in what was widely regarded as a populist and politically motivated move. It is testament to the esteem in which elite English clubs are held in his homeland that Shinawatra felt associating himself with a mid table team could help to bolster his ailing reputation.
A Thai led consortium called Asian Football Investments recently purchased Championship side Leicester City and recruited former Manchester City and England manager Sven Goran Eriksson in a bid to take the team back to the Premiership.
Thai companies are increasingly trying to get in on the act and Chang Beer is the official shirt sponsor of Everton while Singha Beer has signed a sponsorship agreement with both Manchester United and Chelsea.
In previous years there was a feeling that the domestic league in Thailand was being largely overlooked due to fan’s fixation with English football. There are signs that this is changing with attendances at Thai Premier League games on the increase and a handful of wealthy Thai individuals looking to invest in local teams.
Muangthong United are at the forefront of this revolution thanks to a recruitment policy which has seen them combine some of the finest footballers in Thailand with a handful of outstanding African players.
The success which former Muangthong United favourite Yaya Soumahoro has enjoyed in Belgium is evidence of the diminishing gap between Thai and European football. The Ivory Coast midfielder, who was the most outstanding player in the Thai Premier League, signed for Gent in the summer and has made an instant impact in the top tier of Belgian football.
His former team mate Kawin Thamsatchanan could be set to follow in his footsteps. He has been invited for a trial at Manchester United at the instigation of Thailand manager Bryan Robson.
The Thai football season is coming to an end and Muangthong United are braced for the exit of several first team players with a number of European clubs hovering. The club are hoping that at least one high profile footballer will move in the opposite direction and Pires is currently top of the list.
© James Goyder & Soccerphile
World Cup Posters