Time will tell if head coach Thongsuk is a soft touch (February 28, 2007)



WANCHAI RUJAWONGSANTI

Thongsuk Sampahangsit has been appointed Thailand's national football team head coach to replace Chanvit Phalajivin.

Although there are more famous candidates, the Football Association of Thailand (FAT) prefers continuity as Thongsuk was one of Chanvit's assistants when he was at the helm.

Thongsuk's first assignment will be a very tough one. Thailand will face Australia, who boast a number of Europe-based players, Asian Games runners-up Iraq and Oman in the first-round group stage of the Asian Cup in July in Bangkok.

Most pundits don't give give Thailand a chance of progressing past the group stage although they may be able to get a result against Oman.

Because few are optimistic that Thailand will advance to the quarter-finals, Thongsuk may be able to work without much pressure.

However, he should be given full authority in selecting his players and tactics so that he can be held responsible when his team fails to deliver.

It is quite a surprise that Thongsuk is Thailand's sixth coach in just a few years. After Englishman Peter Withe was sacked in 2004, four other coaches took the hot potato - Brazilian Carlos Roberto Carvalho, Chatchai Paholpaet, Germany's Sigi Held and Chanvit.

It was unfortunate that most of them were axed for political rather than footballing reasons. Carvalho were tearful when he returned home while Chatchai fired a parting shot at the FAT when he was sacked.

When Carvalho was in charge of the national side, a certain FAT official often asked him to pick certain players to the squad. The official also reportedly selected the first 11 and made decisions on substitutions.

Chatchai was appointed Thailand's coach for a second time in charge of the King's Cup side late last year. But he soon quit after his squad selection was disbanded by the FAT. He is now coach of a Vietnamese club in the V-League.

No disrespect to Thongsuk, a former coach of Kasikornbank (formerly Thai Farmers Bank), but the FAT may have named him the national team coach because he is one of the least-known.

As a relatively unknown coach, it may be easy for FAT big guns to put him under control and intervene in his job like they have done before with his predecessors.

As for Chanvit, his move to Vietnamese side Dong Thap may have a hit a snag now that the Thai coach is asking for four million baht from the V-League club as compensation for his resignation as a government official.

Chanvit issued the demand during a weekend talk with Dong Thap, who are offering him around 500,000 baht a month plus other fringe benefits.

It is fair for Chanvit to ask for such compensation. But one may wonder why he did not raise the matter during their early talks. This may give him a bad image.

Thailand's Under-23 side will kick-off their campaign in the first group stage of the Olympic qualifying round against North Korea at Supachalasai stadium tonight. The other teams in Group E are Iraq and India with two teams progressing to the next round.

Thailand hammered Turkmenistan 6-1 on aggregate in a preliminary tie. But the enigmatic Koreans will be much tougher opponents.

Facing North Korea is not a good omen for Thailand as the full national squad were humiliated 4-1 by the Koreans in Bangkok in the 2006 World Cup qualifiers.

One of the spectators at Rajamangala stadium that night was then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra who heavily criticised the team after the defeat saying certain veteran stars lacked heart.

Captain Kiatisak "Zico" Senamuang hit back, saying Thaksin knew nothing about football. It was a rare war of words between a prime minister and a footballer.

Thailand suffered another 4-1 drubbing in the return leg ending their dream of reaching the World Cup finals.