Schools are the talent pool for Thai football (24 July 2009)

Thai football has dominated Southeast Asia (SEA) for at least the last couple of decades and the secret to their success is the basics.

Physical and sports training are provided at schools from a very young age. And outstanding players are selected by physical trainers at the schools for further training and support to hone their skills.

Speaking to Thanh Nien recently, Dasakorn ThongLao, currently rated Thailand’s best midfielder and playmaker, and who plays for V-League club Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL), said, “Youth football training in Thailand is different from that in Vietnam.

“Vietnamese young players are selected by provincial or city sports departments before being moved to centers or clubs. Most players in Thailand come from schools. This way of physical training for children produces a lot of good players later on.”

Experts from authorized agencies and federations visit schools often to work with students with superior talent and provide them with further training opportunities, he said.

“All schools in Thailand have good facilities to stimulate students’ passion for sports. Also, there are competitions between schools, so excellent players are easily selected and clubs come to choose them to give them more training.

“Some friends and I are products of the schools. I was chosen by BEC Tero [club] and have become a professional player as I am today.”

In special cases, young players are sent abroad to train. “I, for example, was once sent to the German club Kaiserlautern, and Teerathep Winothai was sent to English clubs Crystal Palace and Everton and then Belgium.”

According to ThongLao, who won the 22nd SEA Games championship with Thailand in 2003 when he was 20 years old, the system of schools producing players means that they are provided with basic knowledge about culture and healthy lifestyles as well as community relationships.

Dreaming of a World Cup 2018 berth

Apart from a good training system, the opportunities that young players get to compete locally and internationally contribute to improving the quality of Thai football.

Thailand’s U23 team advanced to the Asian Games 2002 semifinals and Asian Games 2006 quarterfinals. They won four consecutive SEA Games championships from 2001-07. The national U21 team were runners-up at the Thanh Nien-sponsored U21 International Football Tournament twice – in 2007 and 2008.

Their best international achievement to date is the U17 team winning the Asian Championship in 1998 when the young Thai players defeated host Qatar in the final. Two years earlier, the young team were runners-up of the tournament in Bangkok when they beat Japan 1-0 in the semis but lost 0-1 to Oman.

Some members of that squad, like midfielders Pichitpong Cheuichiew and Narongchai Vachiraban, defender Suree Sukha, goalkeeper Kosin Hathairattanakul and striker Teerathep Winothai are still playing for the national team.

However, ThongLao said, “Our generation is not as good as the previous one with Kiatisak Senamuang, Tawan Sripan, Natipong Sritong-In and Dusit Chanlermsan who played in the U17 and U20 international competitions and won consecutive championships at the SEA Games as well as the AFF Cup.”

Dusit, who is currently coach of VLeague club HAGL, said Thai football also benefits from expert training.

“British coach Peter Withe, for instance, made big contributions to Thailand’s national teams. Then came Brazilian coach Carlos Humberto Carvalho. Local coaches like Withaya Laohakul and Chatchai Paholpat have also helped young players a lot.”

Thailand also has very good football acadamies like Rajdeamdern where ThongLao and many other players including Therdsak Chaiman and Nirut Sursiang were trained for five years from the age of 12.

In the late 1990s, an academy called Beckenbauer was established in Bangkok. Named after German legend Franz Beckenbauer, the academy has had several experts from Germany come to Thailand to train young players and have taken some excellent players to Germany for further training.

Three Thai players who played exceptionally in the Asian Cup 2007, defender Suree Sukha, midfielder Kiatprawut Saiwaew and striker Teerasil Dangda, were trained at the English club Manchester City.

Wisit Korworrakul, manager of Thailand’s U21 team that played at the Thanh Nien-sponsored U21 tournament from 2006-08, said, “There are many football competitions between schools in Thailand, so it is easy for the Football Association of Thailand (FAT) to select talented players.

“Most of the good players are from three schools with superior training programs – Ratch Vinich, Chulaphorn and Assumption. In 2006, FAT established a national youth football training center with the aim of finding a berth at the 2018 World Cup.

“Thailand now has a new talent, Kroekrit Thawikan who will be sent to Spanish club Barcelona. Hopefully he will become a superb player and do something like Kiatisak did in the past decade.”

Reported by Quang Tuyen – Quoc Anh

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