Mika Chunuonsee: From Bridgend to Bangkok and the Asian Cup

Mika Chunuonsee

From Bridgend to Bangkok, and from playing for Wales alongside Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey to becoming a football star in Thailand, defender Mika Chunuonsee's path to the Asian Cup has been anything but ordinary.

He was a rugby player of some promise, playing at half-back alongside Rhys Webb as a schoolboy, before putting down the oval ball when the chance came to sign for Cardiff City as a teenager.

It was in the Cardiff youth set-up that Chunuonsee got to know Ramsey and Chris Gunter, who remain close friends.

They were also alongside him in the Welsh national team's youth ranks, where Real Madrid forward Bale was another team-mate.

It was described as Wales' golden generation, with many of the players enjoying professional careers.

Chunuonsee, now a Thailand international whose fiancee is a famous actor, is among them - yet for a while it seemed that may not be the case.

"It's been an unbelievable journey for me," he says.

"I never would have believed when I was younger that I would be playing for Thailand at the Asian Cup.

"When I was a young boy growing up in Wales, my ambition was to play for Wales.

"But from the moment I came out to Thailand, I realised what a good standard the football was - and it is getting better all the time."

Chunuonsee has a Welsh mother, Julie, who still lives in Bridgend, and a Thai father, Charin.

He was born in Wales, spent his early years in his dad's homeland, and returned to the land of his mother at the age of 11.

"My mum wanted me to have a good education in the UK," Chunuonsee explains.

He went to Brynteg School, which was renowned for rugby, and where he played alongside future Wales half-back and British and Irish Lion Webb.

"Webby was scrum-half and I was fly-half," Chunuonsee says.

"Phil Price (Scarlets' former Dragons prop) was another in my age group.

"I remember we got to the finals of the Welsh Schools tournament. We played against Whitchurch and I think Sam Warburton was playing for them."

At this point, Chunuonsee was playing his football for Bridgend Town.

He was forced to call time on his rugby career, however, not long after he joined Cardiff's youth set-up at the age of 14.

After a couple of years at Cardiff, Chunuonsee earned a two-year scholarship at what was then Ninian Park.

It was while on the Bluebirds' books that Chunuonsee represented Wales at under-17 level.

"John Toshack was Wales manager at the time and Brian Flynn was looking after the under-17s, under-19s and under-21s," he says.

"Brian found a lot of players in England who were eligible to play for Wales.

"I remember the squad meeting up in Swansea. Gareth Bale was there along with Neil Taylor and Rhys Taylor who was at Chelsea.

Aaron Ramsey, Chris Gunter and Mika Chunuonsee
Former Cardiff City youth academy teammates Aaron Ramsey, Chris Gunter and Mika Chunuonsee

"There were my Cardiff team-mates - Aaron Ramsey, Chris Gunter and Darcy Blake - plus players like Christian Ribeiro and James Wilson, and they all went on to play first-team football.

"I think that's a great testament to Brian Flynn and the job he did."

More than a decade has passed since Chunuonsee and Gunter were team-mates, yet they are still in contact with each other most days.

Ramsey is another former colleague who Chunuonsee speaks to regularly.

So does he know where the Arsenal man might end up when his contract expires this summer, with a host of heavyweight clubs said to be keen?

"Every time I go back to England or Wales, I try to watch Aaron at Arsenal," Chunuonsee says.

"I have been trying to get out of him where he is going to go next season, but I don't know. Wherever it is, I am sure he will be a success.

Chunuonsee says he feels proud of Gunter, who became Wales's most-capped player when he turned out for his country for the 93rd time in Albania last November.

Chunuonsee has four senior international caps to his name, plus a number of appearances in non-capped matches - but for Thailand rather than Wales.

Having been released by Cardiff in 2007, he studied sports coaching and performance for two years at the University of Glamorgan.

At the time he played for Neath in the Welsh Premier League and then had a stint at Afan Lido before taking the chance to try his luck in Thailand after his studies were completed.

Chunuonsee said: "I went out to Thailand and I was impressed by the league straightaway. I signed a two-year contract and nine years later I'm still here."

Thailand compete with the likes of Japan, Australia and Saudi Arabia in World Cup qualifying, while they are among of the 12 nations who reached this year's Asian Cup, which is currently taking place in the United Arab Emirates.

Thailand have drawn huge crowds to some of their recent international matches, while Chunuonsee's club, Bangkok United, play in a league which attracts some notable attendances.

"I think the Thai league is one of the top three or four in Asia," Chunuonsee says.

"People come here and are surprised by how good the standard is.

"Chris Gunter came over on a tour with Reading. They played against Thailand's under-23s and he couldn't believe how good they were.

"Thailand have also played against Chelsea and Liverpool and given them good games."

Taya Rogers and Mika Chunuonsee
Taya Rogers and Mika Chunuonsee have been called "Thailand's answer to the Beckhams"

Chunuonsee may not be well known in Wales, but he is a big name in Thailand, where he has also done some modelling work and has his own clothing brand.

His fiancee, Taya Rogers, is arguably even more well-known thanks to her acting career.

So are they Thailand's answer to the Beckhams?

"Some people have said that - but I wouldn't want to say it myself," Chunuonsee says with a smile.

"When we go out we both get recognised and people might ask for a picture, but we don't mind that. We don't get a lot of hassle."

Thailand's opening Asian Cup game ended in a 4-1 defeat by India, a result which saw coach Milovan Rajevac lose his job.

They next face Bahrain on Thursday before a game against the UAE on Monday.

Having been left on the bench against India, Chunuonsee hopes his chance will come in one of the fixtures ahead.

Thailand will be watching, and so will the corner of Wales he used to call home.

Top Stories