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Tough times lie ahead

FOOTBALL: When the country’s new football coach Milovan Rajevac uttered the words “Su Su Thailand” in a videotaped message to the fans of the War Elephants last Thursday (April 27), he looked like a happy man.

Bangkok Post

Friday 5 May 2017, 03:00PM

Milovan Rajevac was officially named as the Thailand coach last Wednesday (April 26). Photo: AFP
Milovan Rajevac was officially named as the Thailand coach last Wednesday (April 26). Photo: AFP

He’s got to be.

The Football Association of Thailand (FAT) officially announced last Wednesday(April 26) that Rajevac had been selected to take over the reins of the Thai national team.

His appointment was confirmed just one day after FAT bosses celebrated the organisation’s 101st anniversary.

It is obvious that Rajevac is content to have landed the job of Thailand’s head coach.

The veteran Serb arrives in the Land of Smiles in a few days’ time and begins another journey into the unknown.

This is not to doubt his credentials because he is coming with enviable qualifications, padded with a lot of experience at the highest level.

After all, he is the man who has been credited for steering Ghana to the 2010 World Cup quarter-finals.

He has coached Asian football powerhouse Saudi Arabia, their neighbours Qatar and also Algeria, where he lasted only two matches and quit in the midst of the country's campaign for a place in the 2018 World Cup finals last year.

It is the football history of Thailand which is making people – well at least some of them – worried.

Rajevac is stepping in the hot seat when the Thais are experiencing another slump.

They were hammered 3-0 at home by Saudi Arabia and thrashed 4-0 by Japan in Saitama in World Cup qualifiers recently and these results ended whatever mathematical and hypothetical chances they had had of making it to Russia 2018.

It just happens that Thailand had tried to arrest similar slumps in the past by signing a variety of high-profile coaches.

The list includes the names of the likes of England and Manchester United great Bryan Robson, Peter Reid, a former Sunderland and Leeds United manager, and German veteran Winfried Schaefer, who all unfortunately had forgettable stays in the Kingdom.

While all those named above were warmly welcomed in Thailand, Rajevac may find himself in a slightly different position.

Rajevac will officially take over from Kiatisak Senamuang, who resigned as coach of the national team last month.

Robson, Reid and Schaefer came in at a time when there were no Thai coaches who could lay a claim to ever being a national idol in any capacity.

Kiatisak, however, is altogether a different being.

British International School, Phuket

Nicknamed Zico by his fans at the peak of his playing career, Kiatisak is Thailand’s most successful person in football on the international stage.

One of the Kingdom’s best strikers of all-time, Kiatisak has won four SEA Games gold medals and three Southeast Asian (the Tiger Cup or Suzuki Cup) titles.

As coach, he claimed two Southeast Asian crowns and one SEA Games gold medal.

Thailand’s best result in the Asian Games has been fourth place four times and Kiatisak had a role on three occasions – as player in 1988 and 2002 and as coach in 2014.

Kiatisak may have resigned as coach, but that appears to have a very little impact on his following on the social media – any post by “coach_zico” still fetches tens of thousands of “likes” on Instagram on a daily basis.

Rajevac’s first mission will be to prepare the Thai squad for an away warm-up game with Uzbekistan on June 6.

It will be followed by a World Cup qualifying round match with the United Arab Emirates on June 13 at Bangkok’s Rajamangala National Stadium.

That is exactly where Rajevac’s honeymoon period in the new job is likely to end.

The daggers can be out sooner than that given the liking the local media had developed for his predecessor, but after that World Cup qualifier with the UAE it will be all businesslike on all fronts.

Soon we will learn of the extent and magnitude of the “change” that FAT president Gen Somyot Poompunmuang had been so anxiously seeking for so long.

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

However, at times he also hinted that some of the national team players are in line to get the boot and it goes without saying that some of them are deserving candidates for the sack.

It remains to be seen who gets selected for the national team and why.

At the advanced age of 63, Rajevac is about to start learning a new lesson in what he might have already experienced in Saudi Arabia and Qatar to an extent.

After his resignation, Kiatisak left behind a clear message for his successor: “We [Thailand] may be forgetting who we are. Everybody wants to play at the World Cup finals but we have to know ourselves.”

Add to it all the unwanted interference, egos of the officials and antics of the all-knowing media, the Serbian veteran of many battlefields may be found telling himself “Su Su Milovan Rajevac” in a few months' time.   

Read original story here.



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