Ceres-Negros happy for players lost to Thai rivals
BANGKOK – As Ceres-Negros scrambled to put together its squad in a bid to nail an AFC Champions League spot, it was difficult for the Busmen not to reflect on the departures of several key players in the last two years.
With a team growing together and familiarity becoming a key ingredient to their success, the Busmen have become a perennial contender in the AFC Cup, winning the Asean zone three years ago and reaching the knockout phase twice after that.
But the current squad of coach Risto Vidakovic has glaring needs at central midfield and in defense–a stark contrast to previous seasons when Ceres was loaded in those positions.
The situation became even more pronounced when the Busmen saw their path to the group stage of Asia’s most prestigious club competition go through Thailand, which has become the preferred destination of former Ceres stars.
Instead of sweating over the players they lost to the most established league in the region, the Busmen feel a sense of pride knowing that former captain Martin Steuble, midfielders Kevin Ingreso, Manny Ott and Iain Ramsay and Alvaro Silva have all carved their places in Thai League 1.
“We’re actually happy for our former players,” said club administrator Nicolas Golez on the eve of Ceres’ clash with Thai FA Cup champion Port FC in the AFC Champions League preliminary stage.
Steuble is now part of Port FC, signing in the middle of the season last year just after Ceres got booted out of the AFC Cup Asean zone semifinals. Ingreso moved to Thai giants Buriram also last June and has become one of the crowd favorites, holding down a place in the first eleven in the late stages of the season.
Ramsay parlayed his solid form with Sukhothai to take a more lucrative offer at Prachuap.
“I think it says a lot about the strength of the club and the quality of the players that we have when teams in a league like Thailand show interest in signing our players,” said Golez.
“Of course, they can always stay with us, but we also give our players the option if they see that moving here is the next step in their careers because the competition is really strong.”
The Thai League allows four Southeast Asian players in each team and majority of the clubs here have turned to Filipino internationals to fill the quota. The moves also means that the Philippines Football League will stand to lose some of their stars.
Another ex-Ceres skipper, Carlie de Murga, is also making his debut in the league this year for Chonburi, just like Amani Aguinaldo, who signed with Trat, and Patrick Reichelt, who is now with Suphanburi.
Curt Dizon also briefly saw action for Chonburi last year.
For now, Ceres will have to cope with its key losses while hoping that other players step up to the challenge as they navigate a tough qualifying campaign.
“We’re hoping that other players will seize their chance in helping the team,” said Golez. “The squad may not be as strong and as complete as before, but it is always motivated every time it plays in AFC tournaments.”
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