Article by Ben Griffis
Who is Suphanat?
Suphanat Mueanta is one of Thailand’s most promising footballers at the moment. With Buriram United, Suphanat has already won the Thai League twice, the FA Cup once, the League Cup once, and the Super Cup once… and he’s only 20.
Suphanat is the youngest player and goalscorer in Thai League 1 history and the youngest goalscorer in AFC Champions League history as well as the AFC U23 Asian Cup. He debuted for the senior Thai national team at 16, and scored his first goal (a brace, actually) on his 4th cap & 1st start, at the age of 18.
In domestic competitions, he’s recorded 23 goals and 12 assists, coming out to 0.71 G+A per 90′. There’s no doubt that he is currently one of the best attackers in the league, and one that many clubs from around the world will have their eye on.
Suphanat can play on either flank or as a striker, and has played as a central/attacking midfielder but that’s not where he should play. Suphanat is very versatile and is as effective whether he plays right wing, left wing, or striker, and loves to come inside and shoot from both flanks. Despite being right-footed, he is equally dangerous when cutting in from right or left.
Suphanat’s Best Role
Let’s get right into Suphanat’s data and use that to show not just his style as a player, but also his performances. As I’ve said, he’s a prolific player and can and does play all across the front line.
The table below shows the wingers who may be best as an inverted winger in this season’s Thai League 1. The score is calculated from weighting several key metrics for wingers who cut inside, such as shot assists, touches in the penalty area, non-penalty expected goals (npxG), shots, dribble win %, and more.
Suphanat ranks as the player most-suited to be an inverted winger this season. He also topped this table in 21/22, as seen below.
Further, Suphanat ranks as the player best suited to a wide forward role. This role is similar to an inverted winger, but with a greater emphasis on scoring goals, being clinical in front of goal, and less of an emphasis on creating goals for teammates. Essentially, wide forwards act as strikers that play on the flanks and, while cutting in, are key goal scorers for their team.
Suphanat also ranked as the player best suited to this role in 21/22 as well.
These tables, while having a lot of performance elements built into them, should be used more to back up the notion that Suphanat is a prolific winger who relishes beating players and cutting inside before shooting or providing a shot for his teammates.
Key Data Points
We’ve seen that Suphanat’s best role, and the one he plays most often now that he’s really maturing as a player, is a winger with license to cut inside and cause danger. So let’s dig into some of his key strengths this season. About 85% of his minutes this season with Buriram United have been as a right winger, so we have no problems comparing to other wingers.
We’ll start with his goal contributions per 90 minutes.
Suphanat has one of the highest non-penalty goals per 90′ of wingers this season, and the 2nd-highest assists per 90′. When combined, he has the best np-goals & assists per 90′ number of wingers this season: 0.73. Suphanat is contributing almost 3 goals every 4 games so far. Certainly a winger who loves coming inside and is very good at it!
Next, we see how many shots he takes and assists per 90′. Combined he takes or assists just under 4 shots per 90′. When we look at this number and his goals + assists, it comes out to about a 25% conversion rate for the shots he takes or assists. A very dangerous player.
I do want to note that his expected assists per shot assist is about 0.08, which is a little below the average for wingers. This isn’t necessarily a bad mark on Suphanat, as Wyscout’s xA is the xG of shots taken instead of a value assigned to a pass regardless of if a player moves into a higher/lower xG position. But it is something to note.
Suphanat’s xG per shot is, on the other hand, well above average. 0.14 xG/shot, ranking him in the top 25% of wingers this season. Taken together, all of this data merges well since he takes almost twice as many shots as he assists, and those shots are almost twice as good as his teammates’ shots after Suphanat’s passes.
Suphanat, as we would expect based on what we’ve learned from his profile so far, records the most touches in the box per 90′ of all wingers. The player ranking 2nd takes more than 1 touch fewer in the box than Suphanat. Further, as we also would expect from his high shot volume and xG/shot, Suphanat has the most non-penalty xG per 90′ of wingers.
All of these graphs, when taken together, show us that beyond being the best-suited inverted winger or wide forward Suphanat is likely the best winger for these type of roles. While the role tables above show us some performance elements, seeing where he ranks for key attack-minded winger metrics really shows us his talent.
Now let’s move on to some of the areas where he is either not the best at or is not tasked with performing in. It’s difficult to parse these out at times but I’ll try to offer my two cents when needed.
Suphanat is not tasked with progressing the ball down the right flank. That often falls on right back Narubadin Weerawatnodom, which allows Suphanat to both stay higher up the pitch and receive passes in dangerous areas before moving more central.
While Suphanat does possess a lot of pace, he’s not a pure ball-progressing winger and any club wanting to use him in that role would be wasting him. We also see something similar when looking at his crossing.
Suphanat has the 3rd-worst cross completion % of wingers in the league, but crosses the ball fairly often. Of course, crosses can still be dangerous if they are “unsuccessful” and cause the ball to bounce around, but Wyscout doesn’t have that data for me to dig into. But still, the fact remains that Suphanat might try more crosses than he should, and maybe the next step of his development is working on placing his crosses better or refraining from crossing as often.
Overall, I hope this all helps paint a picture of not just the style of player Suphanat is, but also how he performs in his role. And he’s certainly the best in the league for his role.
Below is Suphanat’s percentile rank chart for this season.
Combining everything we’ve learned so far, and then looking at his radar, we find two things. First, that he really is such a prolific threat for a goal (scoring or creating) from the wing. He spells danger for the opponent back line. Second, we see that outside of goal-focused metrics, he ranks average or below average in most other areas. While some of this is down to his role, some may not be.
For example, his pass success rate for all types of passes is some of the worst for wingers this season. He does try to assist a lot of shots and those risky passes have a lower success rate than others. However, he is prone to a misplaced pass which is something he needs to work on. His short & medium pass % is 83.3% this season.
There are two groups of wingers on the distribution chart (see below), and he’s in the second group. He’s also below the second grouping of players in the Smart Passes distribution, which is notable because in my research, most the players in the 2nd group for completion % are in the first group for smart passes. This shows they have a lower pass % because they’re often trying more risky passes. But Suphanat isn’t always trying these risky, defense-splitting balls and still has a low completion rate for passes.
Suphanat also is just about average for his defensive contribution/success rate and his ball progression, which of course we’ve seen earlier and the only blemish there might be his relatively low dribble success % compared to other wingers.
One thing to touch on about his defense is that while he may be below average for his defensive duel win %, he still wins almost 57% of them. Suphanat actually finds himself as the lone player between the two groups of wingers (as we see on the distribution chart).
Last thing I want to note here is his fairly good record of not fouling the opposition. He commits just 0.8 fouls per 90′, ranking in the top 30% of wingers. He’s by no means a liability in defense.
Sample Action Map
I’m unlucky to not have the ability to get Suphanat’s event data for the Thai League. However, I want to show his actions at the 2022 AFC U23 Asian Cup this past summer.
Suphanat played as a left winger and striker in the first match (most minutes as a striker), and as a striker in the second as Thailand bowed out in the groups (he didn’t play in the 3rd match).
While he will have a different-looking action map when playing in his best role as a winger cutting in, we do see his tendency to shift wide while playing as a striker. In this tournament, Thailand played a 4-4-2, with Suphanat mainly on the left of the two strikers. Based on his passes, we get that picture of him peeling wider to support the players on the left flank before running inside (not shown) and either shooting or passing.
Suphanat wasn’t able to create as many shots for others as he does for Buriram, but we see the high number of shots he takes per game. 8 shots and 3 goals in this tournament.
Long-Term: Winger or Striker?
Versatility is very important in developing players, especially when moving teams or leagues as it can allow the player to earn more minutes by providing cover for several positions instead of just one.
But what position should Suphanat mainly be played in going forward? As he looks set to leave the Thai League in the near future, what position would suit him best? While he’s currently playing mainly as a winger, I think the striker position suits him best in the long run.
Suphanat’s main talents revolve around scoring goals and being one of the final players to touch the ball. He’s pacey, has good positional awareness, and is able to maneuver in and into tight spaces. Further, while being an incredible inverted player coming off the wing in the Thai League, he’s just average at winning his attempted dribbles. In a stronger league, this weakness could prove detrimental to his output. If he can’t get past a defender when in possession, his goals and assists will drop and he could find himself benched in favor of a more traditional winger who can beat defenders on the dribble.
Further, he’s adept on both flanks, so playing as a central striker (or in a strike partnership) would allow him to roam onto either flank and create space centrally for a midfielder or a winger to run into. This could allow him to be valuable to a team even if he finds it more difficult to find the back of the net initially after moving leagues.
What is Suphanat’s Current & Potential Level?
Suphanat is already a prolific player, but still has lots of room for improvement in his game, as do all young players. However, Suphanat has shown strong development so far, and it’s remarkable that his career is already 4 years old when he’s still just 20. Below is his consistent development of xG+xA across his career so far (note that this can’t grow infinitely… it shows us he has improved consistently across his young career in two of the main metrics for his role).
I believe Suphanat is already at a level where he could contribute to a mid-table J1 side, for example. Several Thai players have very recently made the move to J1 and have performed very well… including Suphanat’s brother Supachok Sarachat (a winger/attacking midfielder… versatility runs in the family) who moved to Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo in July 2022 and has impressed.
Suphanat is not only a good goal scorer but also a good creator of goals. While not being a playmaking winger in the sense that he facilitates all plays from the wing, he is that final-ball playmaker who has a good eye for the decisive pass and who is typically near the very end of an attack to the point that he unintentionally assists shots by being the penultimate player in a move.
He is versatile and can play on either flank or through the middle, and is dangerous in all three positions. While starting wide and coming central may be his best role, he has of course proven he can be a striker—either a lone striker or in a strike partnership.
All of this, coupled with the potential for a high profit, would make him very valuable to sides like Kyoto Sanga, who narrowly avoided relegation last season and could use not only goals, but goals from wide. They have a ton of strikers though, so they may play a back 3 with 2 strikers which would limit him to playing as a striker and having to force his way in through many players. Lower-table J1 may even be slightly below his current level as well.
Perhaps FC Tokyo could be a destination, as they need cover at both winger and striker according to Ryo Nakagawara. Tokyo also play a fascinating brand of possession football that might benefit from Suphanat being at the end of many attacks with his penchant to shoot and eye for goal.
Outside the J League, Suphanat could be a good option for teams in Belgium. In fact, Suphanat recently spent a month at Leicester City in the Premier League, although it appears as though he would not meet the requirements to earn a work permit for UK clubs. Leicester’s Thai owner Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha also owns Belgian club OH Leuven, which might be the perfect level for him (a good mid-table club at a European league renown for their ability to grow and develop players). OH Leuven have their main wingers and striker sorted at the moment, but there would be room for Suphanat to play a rotation role as I do not believe they have tons of rotation depth up front.
Of course, with the winter transfer window about to shut, any move will likely need to wait until the summer. Leuven’s right winger Musa Al Tamari’s contract expires at the end of this season, though, so there might be a spot for Suphanat. I think the Belgian Pro League would be a great fit for Suphanat, as prolific wingers tend to thrive there, particularly recently (Junya Ito, Mike Trésor, Michel Balikwisha, Joseph Paintsil, Noa Lang, just to name a few). It might take a few months to adjust and hit his stride, but he would be able to and you can’t develop without being challenged.
In terms of potential, I think if Suphanat gets a good move to a place like Japan, Belgium, Portugal, the Netherlands, Denmark, perhaps even a good 2. Bundesliga or Ligue 2 club in the near future, he could be very useful to a Europe-chasing side in any of the Big 5 leagues in several years. With his skill-set, the Bundesliga or Serie A might be two perfect matches given the relatively open style of matches and technical players.
Time will tell where Suphanat Mueanta will end up. He was just in Europe for a bit so might have some new connections and interest there, but the Thai League to J League pipeline is becoming more and more used. I wouldn’t doubt if we see him in a mid-/top-table J1 side after the 22/23 Thai League ends (and he has a few more months to improve) before heading over to one of Europe’s premier leagues or a title-chasing team in the second band of clubs just below the Big 5 leagues a year or two after that.
Below is one final graph. I’ve saved this for the end as it’s not incredibly valuable, but shows his ability to consistently over-perform his xG, with the caveat that he might enter a stretch of under-performance before bouncing back better than before.
Whenever he does take that next step, patience will be necessary. Trust him to perform in the long term if he doesn’t in the short term—he is a generational Thai attacker.
Here’s also Suphanat’s 21/22 radar. He was out for a bit of the season, so didn’t record as many minutes as he will this season, but overall we see how consistent a profile he has.
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