The 2-0 victory over Indonesia in Bangkok – only three days after losing the first leg 2-1 in Bogor – was a commendable effort by all counts but it was expected.
To be honest, despite the one-goal deficit after the first leg, the record fifth Cup was also expected as there is no doubting the Thai domination of the most popular sport of Southeast Asia.
The hesitancy showed by Football Association of Thailand (FAT) president Somyot Poompunmuang in handing an extension to national team coach Kiatisak Senamuang was also expected since no-one from the FAT had ever hinted that the renewal was a sure-fire bet.
Still the whole thing took an unexpected twist as Kiatisak became the rallying cry and soon a mayhem ensued in which words of the purported warring factions – the coach and the association – were completely ignored.
The man whose job became a powder keg for no apparent reason himself sounded perplexed when he said: “I don’t understand why certain people are trying to suggest that I am in conflict with FAT president Somyot. We do not have any conflict. We should celebrate the Suzuki Cup win instead of making such a groundless suggestion.”
With the controversy still raging on, Kiatisak was quoted as saying he is continuing to plan for Thailand’s remaining five matches in Asia’s final qualifying round for the 2018 World Cup as well as the 2019 Asian Cup.
Somyot, on his part, vented his frustration by saying: “I have never said that I won’t renew Kiatisak’s contract.”
The only apparent reason for causing the commotion could be the way in which Somyot handled the issue.
However, one can’t help but admire the swiftness with which the former National Police Chief and the current FAT president has mastered the art of making politically savvy U-turns in just 10 months.
“If the coach does a good job, there is no reason for me to make changes,” the FAT chief said.
However, this statement was an attempt at damage control as in an earlier outburst, Somyot had queried: “I have not yet made a decision. Do we want to move forward from the Asean level? If we want this, there would have to be changes.”
The period needed to transform a civil servant into a politician may not be long, but it may take ages to make a leader out of an administrator.
Top administrators are basically trouble-shooters par excellence whereas the leaders are a different breed, they are people with a vision and a zeal to make everyone follow the path they think is right.
The whole issue being so hotly debated in the national press is honestly a non-issue.
The key aspect that everyone – Somyot and his critics included – is ignoring is that a coach is only as good as his team.
In fact, it will hardly matter who takes over the reins of this squad next year.
Thailand are scheduled to play their next two Group B matches of their World Cup bid against Asian football powerhouses Saudi Arabia on March 23 and Japan on March 28.
Do we really expect this bunch to turn back the tide in a one-month span after losing four out of its first five matches with only one draw to savour in the first half of their campaign and make it to Russia 2018?
The real issue lies in Somyot’s query: Do we want to move forward from the Asean level?
Any honest Thai football fan will answer “yes” and which will only lead to another important question: “How?”
It certainly can’t be done by putting the current team under a big-name coach and paying him a princely sum to only to see the current set of national team players mark an improvement of five to 10 per cent and still fall well short of all expectations.
The solution lies in getting someone with experience, knowledge and the needed smarts and let him build a team from the scratch. Give him a free hand in both selecting and sacking young players, training them his way and eventually bracing them for the challenges of international football.
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