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Thai football stuck in the same old politics

Dec 14. 2018
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By The Nation

An early exit from the Suzuki Cup puts the Football Association’s president back in the hot seat

Perhaps the best man to tell Football Association of Thailand President Somyot Poompan-moung what to do now, in the wake of the country’s shocking failure to reach the Suzuki Cup final, is Somyot himself.

After the national team suffered a humiliating defeat to Japan early last year, he claimed he was “ashamed” and could “not accept” the result. 

Winning the Suzuki Cup and the SEA Games wasn’t enough, he said, insisting that Thailand must move up to the next level.

The statement was aimed at Kiatisuk Senamuang, then coach of the national team, whom Somyot blamed for failing to compete against Asia’s best.

Following the highly publicised remark, Kiatisuk bowed out and Somyot got a new coach who was supposed to make the Kingdom proud on a continental scale. As it turned out, Milovan Rajevac oversaw the premature exit from the Suzuki Cup, which represents a contest to demonstrate which nations in Southeast Asia have the best teams.

Somyot is now basically saying the Suzuki Cup should not be a gauge by which to measure success or failure. He has insisted on the players proving themselves on the bigger stage, Asia. The mainstream and social media have predictably reminded Somyot of his “ashamed” and “unacceptable” remarks from last year but, unlike Kiatisuk, Somyot was not going to let anyone else attempt to improve Thai football.

Under Kiatsuk, Thailand played exhilarating, attacking football. The criticism at the time was that our players were unsure how to defend against better teams, but fans seemed to like the strategy on display. 

Many still do, judging from the criticism that Rajevac has taken for being “overly defensive”, even before the Suzuki Cup fiasco.

But style should not take precedence over substance. Somyot, as the top man overseeing Thailand’s development in the world’s most popular sport, has failed on other counts of greater importance than whether the team should be attacking more or not. 

He has apparently kept politics in the landscape by being nepotistic and employing a double standard, and he has not done enough in scouting out fresh talent.

The Suzuki Cup failure represents just the tip of the iceberg. For the Thai team to shine consistently and keep improving, it requires a lot more than superior coaches, who are only responsible for short-term development and tactics on the pitch. Men like Somyot must lay down a good national groundwork. Fostering local talent is the direct responsibility of the Football Association, which has been plagued by bad politics, and Somyot is fuelling suspicions that politics is still dominating the association at the very top.

Heading the organisation has never really been about making kids love football. It is more associated with how Thailand votes on, say, which country should host the World Cup. There has been justifiable doubt about what really concerns the people who seek positions with the football association. Do they care more about establishing a foundation that will serve the country well in the long term, or about illusory prestige with its questionable windfalls?

Thai football needs people who have a genuine love of the game to tend to it and nurture it. Kiatisuk, a former national striker, obviously loved the game and had the decency to shoulder responsibility when his squads fell short of expectations. He was a fine example of what we need, because passion and responsibility must go hand in hand if Thai football is to progress.

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