Whether through accident or design, Thailand
approach Sunday’s AFF Suzuki Cup
opener against Singapore with a sense of momentum, clarity and confidence rarely seen in the national team. Whilst the maverick final three warmup games included a useful test against the Philippines, a kick around against Nakhon Ratchasima (even stranger when I watched the planned opponents Palestine strolling around Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport on the same evening) and New Zealand with their European style of play, they were all wins. This has bred a sense of confidence and belief that younger players feel more profoundly than bitter old pros who have seen the football tide turn too many times before.
In a wearying history of national setup dithering and poor organisation, it feels refreshing to see a new clarity and apparent decisiveness. Youth has been given its head without compromise, a backroom staff assembled with plenty of skills and a young coach with international playing experience (eventually) persuaded to take the reigns.
The easy option would have been to squeeze out one more tournament for safe pairs of hands like Chonburi goalkeeper Sinthaweechai Hathairattanakool, but they decided on a calculated risk with uncapped Singhtarua man Chanin Sae-Eae. Midfield general Datsakorn Thonglao may have had another tournament in his thirty year old legs, but the twenty two year old Suphanburi man Charyl Chappuis was chosen instead. For once, risks have been taken in pursuit of rewards and the early signs point to green shoots of recovery sprouting from a previously arid landscape.
Continuity, a word rarely heard in Thai football, is creating a sense of community and purpose that bodes well for the future. Having German fitness coach Andy Schillinger for both the Asian Games squad and senior team means that, with both squads being essentially the same, players can call on top-level support and Andy gets to know every aspect of the players’ needs and circumstances. Particularly in a tournament, the winning edge doesn’t come from teams that can avoid injuries but those that can recover the quickest and most fully. Players also trust and respect Andy’s judgement (even when it differs from previous advice from their clubs) and this circle of trust gives the national team a big (and often overlooked) advantage.
Watching the double header of England’s rugby team followed by their football equivalent in an English pub last weekend, half the room cleared as soon as the rugby game finished and the straggling remainders were only vaguely interested in how many goals were scored against embarrassingly weak opposition. England fans will take a long time to forgive their team for the Brazil humiliation, but Thai fans are ready to love again.
If the players can hold their nerve, the FAT keeps taking constructive risks and this new-found stability is given time to prosper, then Thailand has every chance of returning to Southeast Asian dominance. The Thai tide has been out for too long. It’s time for Thais to shine.