'It's chaos': How O’Neill’s 'crazy' Thai adventure is adding a new dimension to his game

While Brandon O'Neill openly admits his playing style doesn't exactly lend itself to the Thai footballing way, he is relishing the opportunity to develop a whole new dimension to his game. 

The Australian midfielder moved to Thailand in December 2020, joining one of the nation's grandest clubs in Buriram United. 

While the experience has pushed the 26-year-old out of his comfort zone in many ways, overall he is viewing the stint as an 'amazing learning experience'. 

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Stylistically, Thai football is a far cry from the more composed, possession-based style that O'Neill is familiar with from his time at Sydney FC and Korean giants Pohang Steelers. 

"Thai Style is like a ping pong match at times - my high-speed metres will be up for sure, so Clarkie (Andrew Clark) would be happy about that!," he told The Socceroos Podcast. 

"Some teams here in Thailand are possession-based teams but I'd say 80% of the league is very transition-based. Not much build-up, not much possession - when you win the ball back it's about how quickly can you get that ball in behind the defense and every man and their dog just get forward get into the box and see if we can get a few sausage rolls.

"In that respect, it's been an amazing learning experience because I'm learning a different style of football, whether I'm good at it, whether I'm bad at it, whether I'm doing my job - I'm just having a crack."

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Despite only being with the club for a few months, O'Neill's time in Thailand is shaping as one of the most memorable periods of his life so far. 

Off the pitch, he and his wife Nicole have fallen in love with the country's culture, while football-wise, the club's fans are as passionate as it gets. 

"Since I've come here and everyone has been really welcoming - they're very warm, they smile, enjoy life and work hard," said O'Neill. 

"Buriram is by far and away the biggest club in Thailand, and resources-wise and stature-wise it has to be up there with some of the biggest clubs in Asian football, it's quite remarkable.

"Our stadium is deadset a European/Premier League style stadium, with a brilliant atmosphere and fans.

We sing the Buriram song before the game, which is kinda like You'll Never Walk Alone but Thailand style. You line up with your team and you just sing with the fans, you know the whole stadium sings with you and it's unbelievable."

However adjusting to life abroad has not been entirely straightforward for the former Sydney FC midfielder.

Combined with the personal challenges of comprehending his father's heartbreaking cancer battle, football-wise he has had to contend with a pressure-cooker culture, worsened by the pressures of being a highly-fancied foreign import. 

"Probably the biggest thing about Asian football and Southeast Asian football is it's so cutthroat," reflected O'Neill. 

READ MORE: 'Balancing trauma with performance': Brandon O'Neill's inspirational response to his father's courageous cancer battle

"You feel like you're having a good game and 25 minutes in they could be getting someone to warm up to take your place. I've had experiences now where I've come in and felt you're doing alright, actually getting in the box, playing forward passes and then you'll be just taken off.

"Sometimes you think in their heads they see it totally different but these are just things you've got to accept as a footballer and because I've been brought up in a very different Australian football culture." 

All in all, the Thai Premier League feels like a different world to O'Neill's experiences back at home. 

In response, he has had to personally tweak his day-to-day approach to training - something he feels will certainly be beneficial in the long run. 

"At Sydney FC everything was done properly, we focused on possession, building, formations, rotations and so much detailed stuff," said O'Neill. 

"Then you get thrown into an environment where it feels like it's chaos. When I first came here, I was like 'how am I going to get on the ball, but then it was like, 'Well, if I can't do that I need to find another way in order to have an impact on the game.'

"I started finding it was almost like taking matters into my own hands. Distance running hasn't been a problem for me, but being able to get back into the box and then to somehow transition back into the the opposition's box, that's a tough beast in itself.

"In defensive midfield you're winning the ball, but then you have to run past a lot of people to get there, maybe start an attack and then run all the way back. 

There's no middle ground where you can keep the ball for a bit and get your breath back.

"So that comes down to my scheduling in terms of what I’m training.  Here in Thailand it's been a lot of high speed efforts, in short, sharp intervals and even on days off I've been dialing in gym and strength work being able to have the power and have the output to actually physically do it." 

Buriram's league campaign came to a close over the weekend, with a respectable second-place finish which saw them secure AFC Champions League qualification. 

However the football does not end there, with the country's FA Cup competition set to come to a close over the coming weeks. 

O'Neill explained how his side have forged some formiddable form following the competition's return from a COVID-enforced hiatus.

Starting with this week's quarter-final meeting with Muangthong United FC, he feels they are well poised for a tilt at some silverware.

"When I first came here, we were seventh and now we've managed to finish second," he shared.

"We've gone on this amazing run, it's been awesome to be a part of - since we've started from that break, we've only lost one game, and that was to the top team here that haven't lost the game all season."

LISTEN: Socceroos Podcast | Brandon O'Neill: An empowering approach to life on and off the pitch

While O'Neill is contracted with Buriram for another season, he is determined to make the most of his footballing days with more unique experiences in the years to come. 

"I'm so grateful for the opportunity to go and learn a totally different style and brand of football here in Buriram around in a very high pressured high-stakes world. 

"In the time of my life now around 26 turning 27, why not experience as much as you can? You may as well drain as much as you can out of every part of Asia, Europe, the Middle East and then when you finish with that period of your life, think about returning home and starting a new chapter."