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Teeratep Winothai

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.

 

The Palace of Dreams - Thai prodigy Winothai on making the grade in South London
 
This is the remarkable story of Teeratep Winothai, who at the age of 15 moved to England to pursue his dream of becoming a professional footballer and one day playing for his idols, Manchester United.
 
Teeratep had already achieved a remarkable feat when, as a 14 year old, he travelled with the Under-17 Thailand squad to New Zealand for the World Under-17 Youth Cup, the youngest player to participate in the tournament. Thanks to Thailand's national team coach, and former England player, Peter Withe, Winothai was offered the chance to attend trials in England.
 
Was it a difficult decision? "I didn't have to think twice," said Winothai. "Although I knew I would be far from home, and away from my friends and family, I knew that if I wanted to be a success I would have to come to England."
 
Winothai began his English footballing career playing for Brentwood Schools at the age of 15 and was quickly elevated to the U-18 team, where he was first spotted by club scouts playing in the National Schools competition. Crystal Palace were one of the teams to be impressed by Winothai's prodigious skills, and he was offered a schoolboy contract soon afterwards.
 
Like his compatriot, Kiatisak Senamuang, who spent a brief spell with English side Huddersfield Town in 2000, adapting to a very different style of play was the greatest challenge for Winothai. "Everyone is physically strong and the pace of the game is very quick. It took me a few games to get used to the style of play. But this is one of the reasons I came to England, because I want to improve every aspect of my game."
 
Crystal Palace Academy Director Derek Broadley has nothing but praise for Teeratep's attitude. "He's a consummate professional who takes training very seriously and he's become an excellent role model to the other academy players. Even though he had language problems when he arrived he quickly earnt respect because we recognised immediately that he was an outstandingly gifted player. He's also adapted very well to a new style of football and has developed the physical attributes to ensure that his technical skills can be used to the full in a match situation."
 
Such has been Teeratep's rapid progress as a player, that it was rumoured Manchester United had registered interest in signing him up to their youth squad. However, Derek Broadley is adamant - "I'm absolutely certain that he's more than happy to stay here. If he does make it as a professional player then he'll make it at Crystal Palace." Indeed Teeratep recently signed a three-year scholarship agreement which will enable him to stay with the club and challenge for the U-19 and reserve team squads. Teeratep is ascending rapidly through the Thai national squad and played a starring role in the Thai U-23 squad's South East Asia Games title victory in September, when as a substitute he scored the golden goal in extra time to send the team into the final.
 
Winothai is enjoying life at Crystal Palace. Chinese international Fan Zhiyi, who himself faced the same challenges of adapting to a entirely new environment on and off the field, has been instrumental in helping Winothai settle in. "Fan always takes time to give me advice," said Winothai, "but everyone at Crystal Palace has gone out of their way to make me feel welcome".
 
In the meantime, Winothai is happy to enjoy his good fortune. "I consider myself very lucky to be playing at Crystal Palace and my dream is to eventually break into the first team," he said.

 

October 2001, Michael Lee

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