Football: Chappuis scores both on and off football field in Thailand

Charyl Chappuis

A THAI TV commercial for a skincare product shows a trendy young guy interrupting backyard frolics with his mates to answer the door bell. Three lovely women have turned up for a weekend barbecue.

He could have been one of the stars of popular Thai soap operas but instead he is Thailand's Swiss-born midfielder Charyl Chappuis, who became a celebrity when the War Elephants were crowned champions of South-east Asia last December.

Aged 23, he has everything that makes him a marketing dream and, potentially, Thailand's answer to Cristiano Ronaldo or David Beckham.

He has Eurasian good looks - his father is Swiss and his mother is from Chiang Mai - but he does not speak fluent Thai and has just had surgery to repair his right-knee cartilage.

The injury, which could rule him out for three months, has halted his rapid progress in the Thai Premier League (TPL) after he completed a move from Buriram United to high-flying Suphanburi FC, where he had been on loan.

"Fifteen years ago, this injury would be a very big problem but, today, there is much more success and the doctor is very happy," Chappuis told ESPN FC.

"Maybe I did this injury with my goal in the AFC Champions League (when he celebrated against Jiangsu Sainty in 2013) or in the last six months when I played so many games for Thailand and Suphanburi."

As he recovers post-operation in Switzerland, Chappuis can reflect on a hectic 18 months that saw him establish himself in the TPL while winning the 2014 AFF Suzuki Cup and 2013 SEA Games football gold with Thailand.

He was also in the side who finished fourth at the 2014 Asian Games.

The Suzuki Cup, co-hosted by Singapore and Malaysia, saw Chappuis score four goals, including a crucial one in the second leg of the final in Kuala Lumpur.

His partnership with fellow attacker Chanathip Songkrasin tormented regional defences and delighted legendary head coach Kiatisuk Senamuang, who had gambled on a youthful squad.

"We did our best to repay the faith the coach put in us. When we arrived home after the final, people stood there and shouted out our names," he said.

"I had a really good time in Buriram and everyone recognised me but now it has started in Bangkok, which is crazy and unbelievable."

From the age of 11, growing up in the Swiss-German town of Kloten, he was earmarked as a player to watch, and recruited by Swiss Super League side Grasshoppers FC in 2003.

He featured in all seven matches for the triumphant Switzerland side in the 2009 Fifa Under-17 World Cup. But despite also making the Swiss U-20 team, he opted to devote his senior footballing life to the nation of his mother in 2013.

"Buriram approached me and it was an easy decision to make because I saw how professional everything was in Thailand," he said.

His critics may accuse Chappuis of being more European than Asian, given his oft-spoken desire to play one day for Barcelona or in the Bundesliga.

But he said Thailand was a big part of his childhood, with regular family trips made.

Chappuis will be watching with interest when the second-round draw for the AFC 2018 World Cup qualifiers is conducted in Kuala Lumpur on April 14.

No South-east Asian nation has ever gone close to booking a place in the Fifa showcase.

"We've a really great team and, at home, we can beat anybody if everyone can come together like in the Suzuki Cup," he said.

Jason Dasey is senior editor of the South-east Asia edition of ESPN FC, Singapore's most popular football website. Twitter: @ESPNFC

He has everything that makes him a marketing dream and, potentially, Thailand's answer to Ronaldo or Beckham.

This article was first published on Apr 10, 2015.
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