Mika aims to emulate Welsh mates Bale and Ramsey in Thailand

When Wales qualified for the 2016 European Championship last month, Mika Chunuonsee was screaming with excitement and pumping his fists in Bangkok, overjoyed at the achievement of Chris Coleman's team who booked their place in a first major tournament since 1958.

Chunuonsee is not just a fan, but a professional footballer with Bangkok United who played alongside the likes of Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey and Real Madrid's Gareth Bale in the Wales under-17 team a decade ago.

Born in Bridgend to a Thai father and Welsh mother, Mika moved back to Thailand when he was a one-year-old, before returning to Wales nine years later.

"I came back to live in Koh Samui when I was one until 10," Mika told ESPN FC. "Spending my childhood on the beautiful island made me lucky enough to be able to speak fluent Southern Thai.

"Then around 2000, my family decided to move back to Wales, and in those nine years before I came back (to Thailand) to become a professional footballer, I returned for holidays a number of times during the school holidays to visit family and friends."

The move back to Wales proved to be a good one for the 26-year-old as he went on to forge a career as a central midfielder with Cardiff City's youth team. Then the call came to represent Wales at the UEFA U17 Elite tournament in 2006, where the young Dragons went up against Spain, Cyprus and Moldova.

That was when he stood shoulder to shoulder with Bale, Ramsey and Chris Gunter, of Reading: an experience that is still firmly etched in his memory.

"I was lucky to play with many good players as a youngster," he said. "Even at that age, you could see they were very, very good players and that is the reason they are doing so well for themselves in football.

"Ramsey stood out the most as he was two years younger than all of us, but his ability was in abundance and I always knew he would go on to play at the highest level. Gunter has the perfect footballing attitude and for Bale, you can see how he has developed into a world-class player.

"I'm still in contact with most of them, but the main ones are Gunter and Ramsey. When I'm back in the UK, I'll go catch Gunter in action. Ramsey has also invited me to watch his games with Arsenal and every time I see them, it reminds me of our team back then."

Although he decided to further his football career in Southeast Asia, Mika had opportunities back in Europe -- several English sides offered him youth team scholarships -- but the defender only had eyes for Cardiff City.

"There were a few championship sides that offered me to play at YTS level when I was younger, but I only wanted to play for Cardiff because they were the club that we (his family) supported. I made it to the Cardiff team and at that time, our youth side was more than a match for any of the Premier League sides we played. All the good players in Wales at youth level play for Cardiff and I felt it was a great place to learn my craft and improve as a player."

In 2008, Mika was invited to train with the Thai U19s when Thai Premier League giants Muang Thong United saw enough to offer him a place in their senior team. He rejected their advances, wanting to complete his university studies in the UK, but a year on, he finally signed for the Twin Qilin after the club persuaded his father.

Not only did he make an instant impact in Thai football, he won the TPL title alongside the likes of Datsakorn Thonglao, and from there, his stocks rose in Thai football with several clubs taking notice.

He added: "The Muangthong move came about after I returned to train with the Thai U19 squad in 2008 for a few days, they wanted me but I wanted to head back (to UK) to complete my studies. The following year, I came back and the club spoke to my dad, and my family decided I will play for them for a year. Six years later, I'm still here and it could not have gone any better.

"It's fair to say I've had a great career in Thailand so far. If you'd asked me six years ago when I signed with Muangthong that I would have a TPL medal around my neck and also played for the Thai national team, I would've have believed it. Great memories so far, and I'm loving life here, so looking back, I have no regrets about making the decision to play professional football in Thailand."

Despite making 152 appearances for, Muang Thong, BEC Tero Sasana and Suphaburi FC, it wasn't until his move to Bangkok United last year when he finally caught the eye of Thai national team coach Kiatisuk 'Zico' Senamuang.

He received the long-awaited call-up for the War Elephants in January, playing in the prestigious King's Cup tournament. Making his first appearance for his adopted country is "just the start" of what he hopes will be a long international stint with Southeast Asia's top football nation.

"Playing for Thailand is the biggest and proudest achievement in my football career," he said. "I would give everything to play for Thailand be it the World Cup qualifiers, Suzuki Cup or any competition.

"Once you've been amongst it (at international level), you know if you are good enough to be there again. But first, it's down to my performance at club level, and if I continue to do well, the call will come again."

And, indeed, his name was on an illustrious list that includes Chanathip Songkrasin, Narubadin Weeratwanodom and Sarach Yooyen for Thursday's AFC World Cup qualifier against Chinese Taipei in Bangkok.

If the Bangkok United fullback gets onto the pitch in Taipei, it would be first full cap for Thailand ahead of the next year's AFF Suzuki Cup.

"It is the biggest honour to play for your country. Every player dreams of donning the national team jersey and I'm no different. My main aim is to keep my focus at club level, and grab every opportunity with the Thai national team when it comes my way. When the chance comes to take to the field, no one can help you get the job done to impress Zico, except yourself."

2016 promises to be a breakthrough year at international level for Mika -- as Thailand look to retain the AFF Suzuki Cup in Myanmar and the Philippines -- and his former teammates Ramsey, Bale and Gunter, wearing the colours of Wales at June's Euros in France.