Originally published on AsianCorrespondent.com

With the European footballing year coming to a close, a number of Premier League clubs have already started summer tours across Asia, with Thailand a popular destination.

Last week, the Premier League champions, Chelsea FC, touched down in Thailand to meet fans and play a friendly match with the Thailand All Stars. Chelsea, who have had a sponsorship deal with Singha since 2010, have made Thailand a regular port of call during their recent summer tours, visiting Bangkok on three occasions since 2011.

Chelsea’s summer tour of Thailand got off to a strong start with a warm welcome at the airport. The Premier League champions provided opportunities for fans to get up close with the Premier League trophy which they were awarded just days earlier. Asian football fans like success and Chelsea’s following in Thailand has grown steadily since the beginning of the Roman Abramovich era. Chelsea’s popularity in Asia is also boosted by a charismatic manager, recent Champions League success, international stars, and a couple of players with pop star appeal.

During their stay, Chelsea stars were snapped out and about in Bangkok enjoying the capital’s charms. Manager José Mourinho was spotted bargain hunting at MBK, while a picture of Diego Costa in a Bangkok taxi went viral. Chelsea heartthrob, Eden Hazard, went one better and was pictured hanging out with former Miss Thailand Universe Aimee Kittisara.

The friendly match between Chelsea and the Thailand-all-Stars, which was played at the Rajamangala Stadium to a packed crowd of 49,000 football fans.was also a very diplomatic affair. The Premier League champions won by just one goal, allowing the home team to hold their heads high after holding their own against world class opposition. No doubt their Thai sponsors, Singha, will be more than happy with all the publicity and the chances of seeing Chelsea back in the Land of Smiles next year looks pretty high.

While the first team’s visit was brief, Chelsea Football Club and the Chelsea Foundation have been keen to establish ongoing community development programmes in Thailand. These projects embrace the foundation’s philosophy ‘here to play, here to stay’ and aim to contribute to the continued development of grassroots football in Thailand.

Leading Chelsea’s community development programmes are Chelsea Foundation coaches David Monk and Dave Stewart who work with schools, local coaches and young footballers in Thailand. On May 28 David Monk and Dave Stewart led a coaching clinic in Bangkok for PE teachers and football coaches from some of Bangkok’s top schools including; Bangkok Patana School, Rhumrudee International School and NIST. The clinic consisted of a classroom theory session and a practical pitch-based training session.

On May 29 the Foundation coaches held two sessions with local children, giving them the opportunity to play under the guidance of international coaches and develop their footballing skills. Another important aspect of these sessions is using sport to motivate, educate and inspire children across the world.

David Monk explained: “We have been here on this visit for two weeks now, we’ve spent a lot of time in Bangkok working with the community and implementing our philosophy. We first came here in 2011 and we’ve seen it grow. They’re extremely passionate kids, we can never fault the enthusiasm and working with them, seeing them in the Chelsea shirts is key for us and we enjoy it just as much as they do.”

Chelsea Foundation have employed a team of local coaches to continue this important work and these sessions are led by Ryan Ardhan, who has been employed by the Chelsea Foundation since 2013.

Chelsea are not the only Premier league team to have taken an interest in developing grassroots football in Thailand. Chelsea’s North London rivals, Arsenal, also have a football academy in Thailand. Leicester City, who are owned by Thai billionaire Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, are also keen to contribute to the development of football in Thailand and they are currently developing a football academy near Suvarnabhumi Airport which will cater for 200 local players.

With all these new opportunities for young footballing talent in Thailand, there is every possibly that some children from this generation will follow in the footsteps of other Asian footballers such as Park Ji-sung and one day play in Europe.

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Daniel is an English Literature graduate from the University of London who has spent the past 20 years living and working in Southeast Asia. Passionate about education, health care, sustainable development, equality and human rights, Daniel is a regular contributor to Asian Correspondent, Ajarn, The Educator and Bangkok Post.

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