Hey guys I don't quite know where to post this as it covers both the league and the national team and its players. I thought this might be interesting for some of you:
Thailand on the rise
22 October 2009 | 14:38 - SBS EXCLUSIVE: Scott McIntyreAs domestic leagues elsewhere in South-East continue to falter, the two real success stories of the year are now complete – Da Nang winning a revitalised V-League in August and the amazing story of Muang Thong United’s fairytale ending at the completion of the Thai Premier League at the weekend.
With the merger of the two competing Thai leagues – one run along corporate lines and the other more community focused – football in the Land of Smiles has had a lot to laugh about this year – record crowds, an emerging crop of young stars and extensive media coverage.
Add to that success for the National Team with wins over Pakistan and New Zealand as well as respectable draws with Liverpool and Iran (in an Asian Cup qualifier) and the future is looking bright for one of the most fanatical footballing nations in Asia.
Who better to give TWG
the lowdown on all things Thai football than long-term South-East Asian hand Steve Darby - Assistant Coach of the National Team under both Peter Reid and now Bryan Robson.Steve, the story of Premier League champions Muang Thong United is quite a remarkable one – only promoted to the Premier League this season and with Belgian and Brazilian influences behind the scene as well as a core group of Thai internationals on the pitch. What have been your impressions of their rise?
Muang Thong are a really good side and the main thing is they’re really well organised. They’ve came up from Division three to Division two and now Division one – they’re heavily backed financially by a marketing group and a media outlet called Siam Sports which enable them to get some of the best players but they are very, very well-driven behind the scenes and have a superb marketing arm.
They base themselves on Manchester United even though they’re called Muang Thong United and were getting crowds of 20,000 – in a ground that only holds 15,000! That’s a big indication of the strength of the club and the league.What were the reasons behind the revamp of the Premier League this season?
I think the decision was taken out of everybody’s hands by the AFC. They are trying to professionalise all the leagues in every country here and one of their premises is that you have to have professional football clubs as opposed to an institution like the police or the army..
They’re trying to change that way so that people get attached to a club. Muang Thong and Chonburi are perfect examples of how this is run and as a result of them combining the crowds have come back which is the most important thing. TV coverage has also been excellent and it’s only going to get bigger and bigger here – the game is booming.How much of a blow to Thai football was the exclusion of clubs from direct qualification for the revamped Asian Champions League and forced instead to focus on the AFC Cup?
In the mid 1990s Thai Farmers Bank won the Champions League before Japan and Korea took it seriously and as recently as 2005 BEC Tero reached the Final against Al Ain then following that the other sides started to get better – the Koreans, the Japanese, the Chinese and the other Saudis.
So, the AFC Cup is a superb competition for South-east Asian teams because you’ve got a chance of winning it. If you’re in the AFC Champions League you really haven’t got a chance of winning it – it’s like a team from Hungary or Andorra winning the Champions League in Europe – it’s not going to happen. You get great experience but sometimes you also get battered because you’re up against big machines in Japan and Korea – great footballers and great clubs.What’s the flavour like at the local league – the matchday experience with fans and media and stadia and so on?
The National Stadium is top class; that’s where you want to play the game but they don’t really play club football there. The club football is very much on enclosed pitches; a bit like Hindmarsh in a sense as opposed to playing with a running track around the venue. But the reality is it’s football and nothing else here, maybe just a little bit of Muay Thai boxing, but everybody is football daft and what is also very important is that the local players are stars, not just the EPL players.
The Thai media support local football whereas in Malaysia and Singapore it's the other way where they’re basically just cloning anything that happens in England.What about the crowds this season – it seems as though it was a new dawn for Thai club football?
This has been the best season ever for crowds. We are getting between 15 and 20,000 at the big club games and even lower clubs are getting five or six thousand. But next year you’ll literally have all tickets sell out where the fans will have to book their tickets.
The corporate boxes are getting developed, the sponsorship money is really starting to flow in and the other thing we’re seeing is supporters clubs – it really is taking off. I’ll be honest, the smarter clubs are modelling themselves on EPL clubs and trying to adapt to the environment.
It’s a good thing for Australian football that there is an integration starting to happen with Asia – and particularly with the two Thai players, Surat and Sutee at Melbourne. What are the positives that you see for Thai players travelling abroad and tasting a different style of football?
Two things – economically it's very good for the lads – they’re very keen to go to Australia. The salaries are better- simple as that. And also in terms of maturity I thoroughly recommended Surat and Sutee to go to Melbourne because it’s a great club – Gary Cole and Ernie Merrick have done a marvellous job there. So, I encouraged them to go and they’ll come back as better pros – and these 2 lads are great footballers, by the way.How important is it, particularly given that Thailand was one of the host nations of the previous Asian Cup, that the country is able to remain at the big table and continuously qualify for the big tournaments?
Of course we need to regularly qualify and obviously the ultimate aim is to qualify for the World Cup. That’s the big aim and it’s not totally intangible; of course there are the big boys such as Japan, Korea, Saudi Arabia and Australia but you know, we’ve beaten North Korea and they had a strong side out; we’ve drawn with Iran and we got beat by Saudi Arabia 1-0 so it’s possible.
But what we need to have is players playing abroad like Australia do and getting a strong professional league back here and then it will come because there are some talented boys. The players that Melbourne signed up in Surat and Sutee the fans will appreciate them because they’re good pros.But of course there’s a real crop of talented youngsters – we saw the likes of Teerathep Winothai and Teerasil Dangda have spells in European football – are those kinds of players the real future for Thai football?
Well, there’s a couple of stars coming up. One’s Teerasil, well he’s called Muay because they all have nicknames here, but he’s a striker who’s scored 13 goals in his last 16 international goals. He’s only 21 years old and I know now that if he could get a visa there’s one EPL club that definitely wants to take him on.
When we played New Zealand back in March Ryan Nelson, the centre-back who plays for Blackburn, said that he’s as good as half the players in the EPL. But the problem is the visa - we’re trying to get him there but I think we might need to find him an English wife!
There’s a goalkeeper called Kawin – he’s only 19 and he’s technically superb. Again, an EPL side is interested in him but they can’t get visas – that’s the biggest problem. So, we want them to go to places where obviously they earn more money but just as importantly where they get good professional development and once we get that it will start to happen.
These two in particular are very, very talented players and there must be more out there because there are 85 million people in this country and not the best infrastructure for scouting yet. We’re trying to get that organised but you don’t win every battle over here in Asia, as you know, but if you can win a few little battles on the way then you’ve got a good chance.Do you see this generation of Thai players as being one that can take the real leap from dominating at Tiger/Suzuki Cup level to being consistent performers at continental level to perhaps even higher honours
About 10 years ago there was what they called the ‘Golden Generation’ with players that you might well know such as Tawan Sripan, ‘Zico’ Kiatisuk and Surachai and they were quality players that came through.
What we’re getting now is, rather than just 2 or 3 stars, we’re getting the core of the side right. We’ve got maybe 16 strong players for the first eleven in the National Team now; we’ve got cover. Whereas before in a one-off game they could win a game due to individual brilliance, to succeed and raise that level and win consistently at international football you need a solid core and that’s what we’re trying to get now.
We’re getting a really good group to meet our aims – of course I’m not telling you that we’re going to win the World Cup but if we could get there and qualify this place would absolutely erupt or if we could get one of our players in the EPL this place would go crazy – and that’s the aim.You’ve had a long and deep involvement with Australian football – can you see the day when you’ve got perhaps Australian players playing in a fully professional Thai league?
We’ve had a lot of Aussies playing before in South-East Asia – particularly in Singapore and Malaysia but that was for money. Let’s be quite brutal about it, they were getting more money there than they were in Australia but now the A-League has become far more professional and, as an outsider, it looks great.
There’s no need for these players to come to Thailand but it’s also important to remember it’s not easy to play here. To be able to compete in Thailand you need to be a top-level player; you can’t any more come from the Australian State Leagues – those days are gone. So, to be able to compete and demand a salary which we can’t compete with yet is difficult but the money side will soon change as it already has in Vietnam. I do know one player turned down an offer to go to Australia because the Vietnamese offer was far better and, as you know, tax is often a flexible option here.Finally Steve, what does the future hold for you?
The next two games against Singapore. Long-term planning in Asia is next week! I’ve survived 12 years in South-East Asia, I think I’m the longest surviving European over here but I absolutely love it – unless Tasmania get an A-League side I’ll be staying here for a lot longer yet.http://theworldgame.sbs.com.au/thailand-on-the-rise-248401
The parts that I highlighted were things that stood out. Its great to see the rapid development of the Thai Premier League. As someone who's been away from Thailand for a while this is certainly a 'feel good' article for me. I will certainly catch a game when I get a chance to go back to visit (which could be very soon!
) I've been told that Muangthong Utd is geographically the closest team to my suburb so I've decided to adopt them as my team
However, I hope that Steve is not limiting himself to England as a destination for Thai players. There are other countries in Europe that has more lenient visa requirements that are just as good as England as a place to develop professionally.
With regards to Surat Sukha, he has generally looked good when I have watched him play for Melbourne Victory. He did get skinned a few times by Newcastle's Ali Abbas (an Iraqi player you may remember from the 2007 Asian Cup) but that was a bit of an aberration. He's been getting plenty of praises from the commentators here too.