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Putting his house in order

FOOTBALL: Football Association of Thailand (FAT) president Gen Somyot Poompungmuang is either a very fast learner or he knew a lot more about football than he originally let on.


Bangkok Post

Wednesday 4 October 2017, 05:57PM

FAT president Somyot Poompunmuang (left) talks to national team coach Milovan Rajevac. Photo: via Bangkok Post
FAT president Somyot Poompunmuang (left) talks to national team coach Milovan Rajevac. Photo: via Bangkok Post

Whatever the big boss of national football in reality is, is of little consequence as he has proven beyond doubt that he is no pushover.

And whether it is his past management experience or that he has learned the ropes pretty fast is also immaterial as what really matters is that he is steering the national football in the right direction.

A little more than a year and a half ago, the former national police chief was telling everyone who would listen that he has no knowledge of football whatsoever.

Since taking over the reins of the national association in February last year following a landslide victory over Charnwit Phalajivin – widely seen as a proxy candidate of former FAT president Worawai Makudi – Somyot has taken a few steps which are serving the Thai interests very well.

His keenness to bring about a change in the national football setup was at first discarded as nothing but whims of a stubborn ex-cop, totally devoid of any idea what football is all about.

For some unfathomable reason, Somyot never earned the due praise for his commitment to steering Thailand to the top echelons of Asian football.

It could probably be because the first high-profile casualty of his ruthless drive to bring a positive change was no one else but national team coach Kiatisak Senamuang, a former pin-up boy nicknamed “Zico”.

Apart from undertaking some sporadic damage control exercises on a few occasions, Somyot never made any attempts to disguise his dissatisfaction with Kiatisak.

After Thailand’s 4-0 rout at the hands of Japan in a 2018 World Cup qualifier in Saitama early this year, Somyot said: “Should we be satisfied with winning the Suzuki Cup and the SEA Games? And then when we play against the real top teams in Asia we lose 3-0 or 4-0. Are the fans OK with it?

“Maybe some people are fine with that, but for me it’s embarrassing. I can’t and I won’t accept these results. Something needs to be done.”

As he lured Kiatisak, a darling of the Thai media, into a perfect trap, Somyot became a target of widespread vilification. He, however, held his ground firm and did not give in.

British International School, Phuket

His decision to bring in Serb veteran Milovan Rajevac as a replacement for popular Kiatisak, who quit after the Japan match, was a master-stroke, to say the least.

Kiatisak, to start with, was ill-equipped to carry Thailand to the level and was targeted by Somyot because the former national team striker has no first-hand experience of that level, either as a player or as a coach.

Rajevac, who took Ghana to the 2010 World Cup quarter-finals, has in a short time proven his worth as in the words of senior football commentator Jason Dasey, the Serb “has made the Thais more compact, and harder to break down”.

As the Thais look increasingly more organised under Rajevac, Somyot’s decision to bring him along looks even more prudent because the Serb is costing the FAT far less than his predecessor.

More recently, Somyot made another praise-worthy move in the wake of August’s 2017 SEA Games in Malaysia, where Thailand won their third straight men’s football gold medal.

He is bringing an end to the ridiculous tradition of appointing non-technical, high-society representatives as managers of the country’s squads.

Watanya Wongopasi was the first to resign as the national U23 team manager last month.

There is no doubt that Watanya, affectionately called “Madame Dear” by the Thai press, was very committed to the national U23 team, which recently qualified for next year’s AFC U23 Championship in China.

However, as everywhere else, footballing matters at all levels had better be left to those who know the business inside out.

This should bring an end to any meddling in the affairs of the national teams as the coaches would serve as team managers and could be held responsible for the decisions taken during the course of a tournament or a match, making things simpler for everyone.

Looking back at Somyot’s performance so far, one can say it isn’t the Thai team alone which looks a lot more organised but rather the entire national football structure has an orderly look about it.



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