Leading the Thai football league at the moment is the capitals True Bangkok United. Standing between the sticks for the top side is the half Danish and Filipino goalkeeper Michael Falkesgaard. He joined the Bangkok team in 2018 moving from his home in Silkeborg (Denmark) at the time playing for the Danish team FC Midtjylland. He has enjoyed a lot of success in the Thai football league, while concurrently experiencing a new culture in a land that he never thought he would be working in as a footballer.
A blessing in disguise
Michael Falkesgaard grew up in Kastrup as the son of a Danish dad and a Filipino mother. He started playing football at the age of five. Initially Michael was playing at the keeper position but the youth team in Kastrup that Michael was playing for was so superior to their opponents that they hardly got any shots on the goal so goalkeeping became so tedious that Michael decided to go and play in the outfield instead.
“We were winning eight or nine to zero so there was not a lot happening as a goalie” Michaels says.
As an outfield player he was later recruited by the youth department of Brøndby a professional club in the Super League of Denmark. But as he went into puberty his body started growing and he also started getting injuries. It became a big problem for him since he missed a lot of games, but it was at this time that Michael’s mother suggested an idea that became very crucial for his career as a football player.
“My mom said: why don’t you just go and play as a goal keeper instead. You were so good at that when you were younger. Right at that time, our goalkeeper was leaving, so I thought why not,” Michael says.
Even though it was a little unconventional to make such a drastic position switch, Michael went with the idea and that proved to be a good decision.
“Once I got on goal, I progressed so much that I got moved from the second to the first team. I then outperformed all the other keepers at my level. I got picked for the national youth team and signed my first youth contract at Brøndby,” Michael explains.
Today Michael is happy he made the switch to the goalkeeper position. Otherwise he is not sure if he would have made the many difficult cuts that young players have to go through in order to get a professional career.
“There were about eight players from my generation who all were considered great talents. They were playing for the national youth team and everyone thought they were going to go professional, but there were only two of us who actually made it and are playing football today,” Michael tells.
Approached from far away
In Denmark, Michael went on to play professionally for his youth club Brøndby before moving to OB and lastly FC Midtjylland. Most of his time in Danish football was however as second choice and on the goalkeeper position this means that you spent a lot of time on the bench. But then Michael received a phone call.
“The sports director from True Bangkok United called me and told me that they wanted to sign me as their first priority. I was at a point in my career were I really just wanted some playing time, so this was a great opportunity,” Michaels says.
For the Bangkok club Michael was especially interesting because of his Filipino background. In the Thai League there are quotas for how many foreign players you are allowed to have from respectively Southeast Asia and from the rest of the world. Michael’s Filipino passport means that he counts as a Southeast Asian player. Therefore, Bangkok could sign a player with experience from a high European level without using one of the “rest of the world”-spots from their squad.
After discussing the decision with his family, Michael chose to say yes to the offer. He had previously travelled in Thailand with his girlfriend and the two had in fact talked about living there as well, so the idea when presented wasn’t so alien to them.
Life as a footballer in Thailand
The rules of football are the same no matter where you go in the world. However, there are also differences in what life as a footballer is like in the two countries. In Thailand there are other values who are important than in the very professionalized and sometimes cynical football world of Europe.
“In Denmark there is an “every man for himself”-mentality in professional football. Down here it is more important to be acting respectfully both in and outside of the pitch. You have to understand that if you want to succeed,” Michael explains and adds.
“The mentality is less cynical down here. Normally it is a stressful life as a professional football player because you have to perform all the time if you want to stay on top. There is not as much of that down here. We still want to win every game of course, but you are not under that constant pressure and that suits me well.”
Michael mentions that the fan mentality is also different in Thai football. Their support is more unconditional, lose or win. This is very different from Europe where the fans will quickly turn on you if you make a mistake.
“The Thai fans are always there to support you no matter what. That’s nice,” Michael says.
In Thailand Michael has enjoyed great success on the pitch. He has been selected for the team of the season, he has already played over 100 games with the True Bangkok United team and he has also started playing for the Filipino national team after the Bangkok United transfer. Outside the pitch Michael and his family are also settling in despite some difficulties.
“We have moved three times while we have been down here, but now we have found a nice area where there is also is a lot of other internationals and it’s a little quieter. We have also found a good international school for my kid. So, I think we have got it nice down here now,” Michaels says.
It has not been without obstacles. The intense sun and temperatures of Thailand can still be hard on Michael. An even bigger hurdle however has been the on and off covid lockdowns that have made it hard to visit the family back home. He is however optimistic about the future and has no plans to leave Thailand as of now.
“Right now, I see myself playing down here for some time to come. The climate down here lets the body recover better. Some of the keepers here are 39 and still active. So, I have to find out with myself when it’s time to stop. Football is a game where you have to have your heart in it, otherwise you shouldn’t play,” Michael explains.
Once the football career is over, Michael must figure what his new occupation is going to be, and maybe his time Thailand has already given him an idea for what that could be.
“I talked with my girlfriend the other day about what to do after football and we have discussed maybe starting a business together. We saw a health product down here that we think there could also be a market for in Denmark. So maybe that’s what I’ll be doing – when that time comes,” he says.