Friday, November 18, 2011


Vanity Of The Few Impedes Thai Football

Once upon a time Thailand stood imperious at the biennial SEA Games. They won the trophy eight years straight, they deemed it their own personal cup and winning was a right.

Not anymore. For the second successive competition the Thais failed to proceed beyond the group stage. Two years ago in Vientiane the vitriolic Thai media had Steve Darby to blame. The English coach had been charged with bringing the Thais their customary gold, it didn't happen and the media turned on the man who has won trophies everywhere he had worked up till then.

Forget the fact that the Thais had had no real preparation. Darby was the white man in the job, he took the flack while the powerbrokers behind the scenes who had arranged nothing, who had endlessly dicked around with the domestic league schedule, sat back smugly and pointed fingers of their own while manipulating the headlines.

Fast forward 2011 in Jakarta. Thailand ended up with just one victory from their SEA Games group, against regional minnows Cambodia. They were beaten by Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. But the performances were shocking. The lustre was so lacking it's had to believe they had any to lose in the first place. It was as poor a Thai team as I have ever seen.

The coach, Prapol Pongpanich, sang a familiar tune after the embarrassing performance and defeat against Singapore. He cited lack of preparation ahead of the games, a few friendlies against lower division league teams, was about the extent of the preparation.

The reaction, at least in the Bangkok Post, is telling. Back in 2009 they were quick to blame Darby, no doubt reacting to the chain yankers. Today, yes there is disappointment but no finger pointing as such. And there can't be, not when the man to blame is the man who calls the tune.

The Thais are big on personal vanity. They bring in Bryan Robson, former Manchester United legend (not former Sheffield United manager), they rush to play English Premier League teams in pointless friendlies at the expense of the domestic league. They are quick to point out how important they are in the world game and how they must travel so much but they are also quick to deny any responsibility for failings under their remit at home.

Increasingly Thai football s becoming a political football as interest in the game has soared. The puu yai, people with power and influence, have raced to become involved with the game, having their faces featured prominently alongside the team in advertising posters and billboards till the difference between the two becomes a blur and the football club is little more than a personal vehicle for one man and his political ambitions.

Thai society is feudal in nature so it is of course naive to expect football to be any different. A puu yai gathers people around him to do his bidding These cronies are the archetypal yes man, rushing to carry out their lord and master's instructions. The actual football people are mere chattals. They are to be hired and fired when the lord and master sees fit and all the while the puu yai acquires face because of what he is able to do. Whether something needs doing or not is irrelevant, the whole point of the puu yai system is they use the power because they can. It brings them extra respect, more followers and more status.

The last couple of years have seen a football club owned by a media company win the Thai Premier League. There have been mumblings of bias in coverage, officiating and scheduling, the beauty of Thai media is not what they write but how they write it or what they don't write!

Now it is the turn of a shrewd political manipulator to have his moment in the spotlight with his football club. They are the ones who get the lenient treatment while the destination of the TPL was pretty much decided before the season began.

Thai football has great potential. They consistently produce players of great quality like Suchao Nutnum, Teerasil Dangda and Datsakorn but despite their long dominance in South East Asian football they have been unable to translate their success and ability on to a wider stage and much of that failure is down to the behind the scenes interferences from individuals with their lust for power and vanity.

Thailand, along with other countries in the region, need to realise that they will never make a serious impact on the world game until the people in key positions tasked with taking the key decisions are consigned to the history books where they belong.

Spot on! Brilliant piece, Antony.
Very well said!! You're spot on about the media, Thai vanity and the role of the "puu yai" in football and society.
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