Time for Thailand to look for new coach
AShakespearean comedy is titled All’s Well
That Ends Well, but as far as the Thais’ bid to complete a hat-trick of AFF Suzuki Cup titles was concerned it neither ended well nor anything seemed to be well within the team.
Besides, the way Thailand exited the Southeast Asian football championship stage on Wednesday night looked more like a tragedy than anything else.
A 2-2 draw at Rajamangala National Stadium, which followed a goalless stalemate in front of an 80,000-plus crowd at Kuala Lumpur’s Bukit Jalil stadium last Saturday, proved enough to give Malaysia a deserving place in the final of the Asean Football Federation-sanctioned event.
The social media went into the overdrive soon after the match with the Football Association of Thailand (FAT) president Pol Gen Somyot Poompunmuang, national team coach Milovan Rajevac and striker Adisak Kraisorn in the crosshairs of their guns.
The heartbreak the Thai football fans experienced in the wake of the result culminated in calls for the heads of Somyot and Rajevac, while the reaction to Adisak’s last-minute penalty miss was mostly mixed.
Let’s give the three targets of public scorn a fair trial first.
Somyot, to start with, has nothing to do with how the national team performs in any given game, because the team selection and match tactics are the responsibilities of the coach.
Some may go to the extent of blaming Somyot for hiring Rajevac as the coach, but the veteran Serbian manager did look good on paper, having all the right credentials and, above all, he didn’t cost much.
Adisak, currently the highest scorer of the 2018 edition of the biennial tournament, tendered an emotional apology to the fans for letting them down.
“I made a mistake I shouldn’t have. I thought too much. This is a lesson learned. I’m truly sorry for the mistake and will keep fighting.”
Adisak, compared to the other members of the Thai squad, did perform at a high level and he isn’t the only one to have committed the cardinal sin of going wayward from just 12 yards away — there is a long list of football greats who have found the short distance to a be treacherous trek, some of them on multiple occasions.
In fact, the writing had been on the wall in a bold enough font after Thailand’s prosaic show at Bukit Jalil stadium, where the War Elephants behaved more like a Winnie the Pooh as the Malayan Tigers marauded the pitch for over 90 minutes.
It was after this match that the first signs that all isn’t well in the Thai camp emerged for the first time through an unguarded comment to the Thai media by the team’s star playmaker Sanrawat Detchmitr.
Sanrawat described Thailand’s performance in the first leg of the semi-final as “disappointing” and “boring”.
Sanrawat said: “We are disappointed that we couldn’t score a goal, but we didn’t create many chances as well.
“It was really boring that we played more defence than offence. I understand that every player, including myself, is bored with this defensive style but it is an advantage now that we did not concede a goal.”
The public dissatisfaction with Rajevac’s overly defensive approach is justified.
The Serb is an experienced coach who took Ghana to the 2010 World Cup quarter-finals, but his tactics for the first leg, during which the Thai team failed to hit a single shot towards the Malaysian goal, provided the only source of humour in the drama-filled battle.
Before the first leg, he seemed more concerned about conceding a goal than scoring a precious away goal. The Thais were mostly found pinned to their own half as the Malaysians kept launching waves of captivating moves.
The goalless draw did give Thailand the upper hand ahead of second leg at home and the Thais, in their goalkeeper Chatchai Butrprom’s words, did promise to give Malaysia a nightmare on Wednesday night.
However, when the time came the old Rajevac recoiled into his defensive shell once again and the outcome was a place for Malaysia in the Suzuki Cup final against Vietnam.
As the public pressure mounted, Somyot came out in the defence of Rajevac by pointing out that: “The Thai national team and the staff coaches cannot be evaluated on the basis of the Suzuki Cup because this was not our full squad. We were without our four foreign-based players [Chanathip Songkrasin, Teerasil Dangda, Theerathon Bunmathan and Kawin Thamsatchanan].”
He also gave Rajevac some breathing space, saying the FAT will evaluate the performance of the team and Rajevac after the AFC Asian Cup, which will take place from Jan 5 to Feb 1.
Thailand have been drawn in Group A with India, Bangladesh and the United Arab Emirates for the Asian event and will play their first game with India on Jan 6.
It is understandable that this is not the right time to make any drastic changes to the team and its management as any other course would only jeopardise the Thais’ chances of faring well at the Asian Cup.
With Chanathip, Teerasil and rock-solid Kawin back, Thailand can look forward to some improved performances in the UAE next month, which may
make Rajevac look a bit better, but the growing discontent of players and fans with the Serbian coach’s defence-first policy is unlikely to go away anytime soon.
After more than a year in the job, it is pretty clear
that Rajevac wants to go east while everyone else wants to head west, so the Serb can’t be a long-term choice to lead the Thai national team.
The FAT would do well to ignore calls for a Thai coach as there aren’t any around who, at this moment, have what it takes to shepherd the Thai football in the right direction.
However, it is also time that Somyot and Co started sounding out other options or else Thai football could turn into humorous play that might not end well.
Kawin Thamsatchanan, No.1, Chanathip Songkrasin, No.18, Teerasil Dangda, No.10, and Theerathon Bunmathan, back row third left, are likely to return to the Thai team for the Asian Cup.
Thailand forward Adisak Kraisorn, No.9, misses from the spot in the dying moments against Malaysia at Rajamangala National Stadium. Thailand’s Sanrawat Dechmitr, right, in action against Malaysia at Kuala Lumpur’s Bukit Jalil stadium.
Thai FA boss Somyot Poompunmuang, front, and national team coach Milovan Rajevac.
Malaysia players celebrate after reaching the 2018 Suzuki Cup final.