Monday, December 19, 2011


Muang Thong United's Tough End Of Season

In many ways they were the team that propelled Thai football into the national consciousness. Chonburi maybe were the first to develop a local identity, to build a team that people could recognize as being their very own after an era when club sides like BEC Tero Sasana and Thai Farmers; Bank may have won kudos overseas for their Asian Cup exploits but struggled locally to make much of an impact.

The purchase or merger with Nong Jork by a media company effectively brought Thai football into the 20th Century. Backed by a slick marketing team Nong Jork were transformed into Muang Thong United and the subliminal message was of success and glory.

The name itself, Muang Thong means City of Gold and is a new town area north of Bangkok called Muang Thong Thani, pretty much a building site when I was living in Bangkok.

The club colours, red and black, and the use of the word United in the club title brought images of Manchester United while a change kit of all white brought to mind Real Madrid.

Success followed success for a new generation of Thai football fans. Muang Thong United won back to back TPLs and seemed set fair to dominate the game on and off the field for a long time to come. They attracted the best players, Datsakorn Tonglao and Teerasil Dangda among them, while recruited names like Henrique Calisto to coach them to success.

But the team and their fans will look back on 2011 with more than a tinge of disappointment. Buriram PEA have come along and outspent the Thai champions and their coronation at the weekend was merely the official recognition of what everyone had known for a long time.

Muang Thong have struggled to hold on to coaches. Winning the title has been no guarantee of job security as the owners of the club take offense at anything they deem lacking respect.

Robbie Fowler, the former Liverpool and England striker is now in the hot seat, his first coaching position, and he is overseeing a final run in that sees the team long out of title contention. The cups are a possibility as is second place but it is all a far cry from the heady days of back to back titles and last week’s 3-1 home defeat by Raj Navy seemed to sum up a disappointing season.

A week earlier they had slipped a two goal lead at home to struggling Khon Kaen, the north east time netting twice right at the death. One win in five games was not something they were used to.

The club owner, who had earlier given Fowler the Thai equivalence of a vote of confidence, came out a publicly criticized the team, saying the same mistakes had kept cropping up and the players hadn’t learnt their lessons. Whether that statement also extended to the board who kept changing coaches is not clear bit highly unlikely.

Now you could argue whether the owner got his timing right or not. But with the season yet to end and possible cup finals on the horizon it may hot have been the best time to come out and say there would be a mass clear out of players come the end of the season.

Obviously as professionals the players will continue to give their best (approved Professional Footballers’ Association quote for media outlets at difficult times), but a large part of them will be looking ahead to next season and where they will be. It’s only natural.

To be left in limbo like that can’t be a good thing for any employee. As coach Robbie Fowler has the job of motivating players who know they aren’t wanted for the next season. And despite the vote of confidence he will only naturally be concerned about his own job security, especially considering the ease with which the axe is swung in them parts.

There is a part of Thai culture, which owners and bosses particularly feel attached to, which says that respect must at all times be extended to those at the top of the pyramid. They take offence very easily and protect their ‘face’ jealously by showing how powerful they are and sod the consequences.

The issue of ‘face’ is complex and one that is considered way beyond us hairy, big nosed westerners. But all the while football isn’t about football, it’s about the personal aggrandizement of self serving individuals then the game will remain their plaything and not a sport that can be fully embraced by the country as a whole.

Fans of Muang Thong can expect a clear out ahead of the new season then. Continuity seems a dirty word up there and you can’t help but wonder how the club owners would get on running a club like, say, Manchester United.

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