Mika’s story: From Bale, Ramsey to ‘Messi J’

By
Updated: July 21, 2016
Mika Bangkok United

It’s the afternoon of Monday, March 27, 2006, inside the non-descript surroundings of the 4,000 capacity Ammochostos-Amberia Stadium in Larnaca, Cyprus.

A smattering of spectators are there to see Wales Under-17s go up against the home team in a qualifying game for the elite Uefa age-group tournament.

Future Thai national team star Mika Chunuonsee starts in central midfield, alongside the side’s creative fulcrum, Cardiff City’s 15-year-old prodigy Aaron Ramsey.

Behind them, Neil Taylor (current Wales international) is at left-back, while the centre-back pairing is skipper Chris Gunter (Wales’ present-day right-back and still Mika’s best mate) and a callow looking lad with a tidy left foot by the name of Gareth Bale.

For the record, Wales won 2-0, Gunter netting one of the goals, but the side failed to qualify for the tournament proper.

Mika (pictured above), now 27, laughs in incredulity as he recalls the time he played alongside several of the Wales stars – not to mention a global superstar – who set Euro 2016 alight in their astonishing run to the semi-finals.

It’s been quite a journey for him personally, too. A few years after that Cyprus trip, Mika returned to Thailand, the land where he was raised, to make a crack of the burgeoning Thai Premier League. He’s now a Thai international and has been a virtual ever-present in Bangkok United’s surprise title bid this season.

“They were special days with Wales,” Mika says as he sat down with ThaiGoals to discuss his career in Thailand and footballing past in Wales.

“Ramsey was a cut above everyone else. Everyone called him Stevie G [after Liverpool star Gerrard]. He could do everything on the pitch. It says it all that he was just 15 in the under-17s but the main player for us.

“Gareth Bale had a nice left foot but he was not developed physically. He was not the player then he is now. You wouldn’t have known what he would go on to achieve. But with Ramsey, you knew he would make it.

“I look back on those days with pride and happiness. A lot of those Under-17 lads went on to represent the seniors, but there are six or seven who are now out of football. I know I’m one of the lucky ones.

“I was Facetiming with Chris and Aaron when I was with Thailand before the Syria game a few months ago, and Wales were in Sweden. It’s amazing to think now we are all playing international football, just for different countries!”

 

Mika Wales

Mika (top, far right) with Wales Under-17s. Bale (top, 3rd from left), Ramsey (bottom left) and Gunter (bottom, 2nd from right) are also pictured

Mika, born to a Thai father and Welsh mother, spent the first 10 years of his life growing up on Koh Samui, before moving back to Wales with his mother when his parents separated.

Fluent in Thai but initially still lacking in English, Mika found refuge in his football and was taken on as a trainee by Cardiff City, to the pride of his mother’s family, at the same time as Gunter, but was later released by the club.

Mika always had a plan to return to Thailand at some point, and after finishing his sports science degree at the University of Glamorgan, spent a week training with Muangthong United, which his father had helped arrange, at the same time enjoying a holiday on Koh Samui.

Taken on by the Kirins, he played a small part during the second leg of their 2009 title winning season and has not looked back since.

Mika went on to play for several other clubs before joining Bangkok United in 2014 when Mano Polking took over as coach. Part-time modelling work on the side also helped propel Mika to celebrity status among legions of female fans in the Land of Smiles.

During his time in Thailand Mika has been witness to the rapid transformation of the league from very humble beginnings into Southeast Asia’s biggest and most lucrative.

“It was all so different back when I first came over,” he recalls. “There wasn’t the money or professionalism in those early days. You wouldn’t believe it but with Muangthong we had to wash our own kit! And before a game we sometimes slept at the stadium, the whole squad together. That’s just the way it was.

“In those days the very top Thai players would be on a maximum of 100,000 baht [US$2,800] a month. Now it’s 800,000 baht.

“I was 19/20, living on my own in Bangkok, missing all my friends and family back home when I first came over. At the time, I thought I would go back to the UK, but I just kept saying ‘one more year’, ‘one more year’, and I would see players back home not being taken on professionally. They would all say ‘stay in Thailand, it’s better over there’.

“My Thai was very rusty but I had to speak it as no one spoke English at clubs back then. I think that helped me adapt a lot.

“I had to move on to from club to club, because you never knew if the club would still exist or be able to pay the players. In those days there were only one year contracts, so at the end of the season all the players were up for grabs. You just had to go where you would get paid.

“But I got some great experience and was playing nearly every game for those teams. Now clubs offer longer term deals, as they are desperate to keep all their better Thai players.

“I’ve just signed a new four year deal at Bangkok United, as I’m very happy here.”

Previously employed as a right-back in Thailand, Polking converted Mika into a centre-back as part of the side’s back three, and he’s enjoying a fine season this term.

Mika is confident the Angels, currently in second, can make a real tilt for the title this season, even though he concedes leaders Muangthong are favourites.

“We are still behind the likes of Buriram, Bangkok Glass and Muangthong in terms of infrastructure, though we are catching up fast,” Mike says. “But on the pitch, we can compete with anyone.

“We set ourselves a target of top three at the start of the season but now we’re really going for the title.”

Mika has also broken into the Thai national team squad again, winning his first official cap in the King’s Cup semi-final against Syria earlier this year, where he also successfully converted a spot kick in the penalty shoot-out.

He’s understandably desperate to be a part of coach Zico’s plans for the World Cup qualifying games beginning in September, which will see Thailand bid to reach the Finals proper for the first time in their history.

“Of course I want to be part of it,” he says. “The thing with Zico is he likes hardworking players. He knows what Thai players can be like and if you’re lazy, he won’t pick you, it’s that simple.

“The other teams, the likes of Japan and Australia, will see us as the underdogs in the group. If we are to do well, J [Chanathip Songkrasin, also known as ‘Messi J’] will have to play well.  He is our driving force.

 

Mika and Messi J

Mika with his friend Chanathip Songkrasin

“Ability wise and from what I see in training, he’s probably the best I’ve played alongside, and I include the Welsh boys in that. What he can do on the ball is unbelievable. He is our X factor – if he plays well, so do we.

“If we qualify it would be the biggest achievement in Thai football history.”

Despite the very different trajectory Mika’s career has taken compared to his Welsh 2006 contemporaries, you sense given the chance he wouldn’t change a thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Thailand National Team, Thai Grounds, Thai Division One, Thai Regional League, Thai FA Cup, Thai League Cup

ThaiGoals, Thailand Soccer, Thai Football, Premier League of Thailand, Thai Fixtures
Thai Regional League, Thai FA Cup, Thai League Cup, AFC Champions League, AFC
Thai Goals, Thailand National Team, Thai Grounds, Thai Division One, Thai Regional League, Thai FA Cup, Thai League Cup< ThaiGoals, Thailand Soccer, Thai Football, Premier League of Thailand, Thai Fixtures ThaiGoals, Thailand Soccer, Thai Football, Premier League of Thailand, Thai Fixtures
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