He is known as the “Thai Messi” and grew up idolising Diego Maradona – now Chanathip Songkrasin is making his own name after joining one of Asia’s top clubs.
The 159-centimetre (five foot two) attacking midfielder is a hero in Thailand, where he captains the national team and advertises everything from credit cards to energy drinks.
Now the 28-year-old is breaking new ground after a January move to Japanese champions Kawasaki Frontale, which have won the J-League four times in the last five years.
Chanathip, also known as “Jay” in his home country, is keen to show football-mad Thai fans that he can live up to their expectations.
“Football is a sport that’s popular all over the world and it’s very popular in Thailand too,” he told AFP.
“The fans gave me the nickname ‘Messi’ and that’s a big honour, but Messi is a world-famous player, the best in the world.
“I can’t be like Messi, but I’m happy to be called that.”
Chanathip was born in central Thailand and first learned football from his father, a huge fan of Argentine legend Maradona.
His father showed him videos of the midfield great and encouraged his son to copy his bamboozling tricks and dynamic dribbles.
Chanathip made his Thai league debut in 2012 and had a trial with German side Hamburg, before earning himself a move to Japanese team Consadole Sapporo in 2017.
He spent four and a half years with the northern outfit, scoring 15 goals in 123 games, before joining Frontale this year for a reported J-League record transfer fee thought to be just under $4 million.
Now he is pulling the midfield strings for Japan’s leading club and has helped Frontale top the J-League table 10 games into the new season.
“I’ve been able to get some games under my belt since I joined Frontale and to be honest I’ve had some good moments and some bad moments,” he said.
“I’m still getting used to my teammates and my link-up play with them could be better. I have to keep adapting and show what I can do.”