Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Thai International Progress Hampered By Domestic Issues
Thailand have won six of their last 10 internationals. The best team in South East Asia? Of course they are. Look at that recent record. However, remove the games from their AFF Suzuki Cup triumph and what do have left? One draw, two defeats in last three games. In their last eight games they can boast a single draw and seven defeats.
Their World Cup campaign has long been in tatters. You don't recover from losing your first three games, not when your group features Japan, Saudi Arabia and UAE. Despite the bleatings of commentators on TV last during the Japan v Thailand game there is little surprise fans in Bangkok etc are unhappy with coach Kiatisuk. Spoilt on success in their own backyard they are hungry for a greater success. While they may not expect to qualify for the World Cup in Russia surely they are entitled to a bit more on the pitch than defeat after defeat?
But what does it say about the rest of South East Asian football when the Thais are being used as a punchbag by the rest of the region? Other nations can only look on and drool at the likes of Charryl Chappuis, Teerasil Dangda, Theerathon Bunmathan, Chanathip Songkrasin et all. And who isn't looking forward to seeing the next generation of Thais in the SEA Games? But for all that quality there is still a massive gap between the best in ASEAN and the rest of Asia.
I've long maintained the Thai Premier League, or whatever they call it nowadays, is not the best in the region. Yes, Muang Thong United and Buriram United are among the top three clubs in ASEAN and anyone who has an interest in football in this region must be delighted to see Muang Thong equipping themselves so well in the AFC Champions League this season, unbeaten after three games against the likes of Brisbane Roar, Kashima Antlers and Ulsan Hyundai.
But domestically neither Muang Thong nor Buriram face so many challenges. They have each won the title four times in the last eight years, Buriram United have five successes if you include PEA in 2008. Six rounds into the new season Muang Thong are top, 100% record, yet to concede a goal, and Buriram third, separated only by Chiang Rai United.
Surely for the Thais to make the much vaunted next step their star players need to look beyond the confines of their safe league and ventures into the uncertainties on offer overseas much as the likes of Kiatasuk Senamuang and Tawan Sripan did in the 1990s. Thai teams outside the duopoly ebb and flow depending on the interest of the main man. When he loses interest that is it. And too many other clubs, despite the insistence of many who continue to suggest it is the best league in ASEAN, are there to make up the numbers.
There was talk earlier in the year of Siroch Chatthong heading to Thailand. The 24 year old striker would be a better move for an Indonesian club than some alumni of the Premier League in his mid thirties with a long list of injuries behind him and an agent who knows a name means more in a deal than ability on the field. There may be no teams on a par with Buriram and Muang Thong but Siroch would also soon have realised there ain't no easy ride in Indonesia and that is what the Thai players need perhaps. It says much about the depth of the league there that Muang Thong had eight players in the starting line up last night versus Japan. A unbeaten team with ACL commitments is providing the backbone of the national team, perhaps in part because they have successfully hoovered up all the best talent. Those players return from Japan to Bangkok and then must head to Buriram in the north east of the country on 3rd April.
The Thais will, hopefully, make it to the AFC Asian Cup in 2019 to be held in UAE. But without a stronger league or an exodus of players overseas we are unlikely to see this exciting team in the World Cup anytime soon.