<
>

New Thailand coach must understand culture, manage lofty expectations

After the appalling scenario of Kiatisuk "Zico" Senamuang stepping down last week as Thailand national coach, a foreign boss is likely to be brought in as his replacement.

The names of ex-Argentina boss Alejandro Sabella, Italy's Claudio Ranieri and Japan's 1998 World Cup manager Takeshi Okada have all been mentioned as possible successors.

There will be literally dozens of big names who will apply for the position. I hope it goes to a coach who really wants the job, and not just a "take the money and run" merchant.

Having worked under Peter Reid and Bryan Robson, as assistant boss and under-23 coach for Thailand between 2008-10, I would offer the following five tips for success to any prospective candidate:

1. Know the culture

It is difficult for any foreigner to fully understand the culture of Thailand, but it is important to at least try to adapt. No outsider will "change Thailand", as I have heard a few naively say. The concept of "losing face" in a hierarchical society like Thailand is a massive issue. If you abuse a player in public, he is unlikely to support you again. To do it privately is fine, but not in front of his peers. Also, never cross one of the bosses, as they could seek revenge, and your days will be numbered.

2. Respect the power of Thai media

Large media organisations in Thailand have vested interests in the game and can dictate an agenda. I know from personal experience that if you make a leading journalist "lose face", then the agenda can be to destroy the coach, irrespective of results. Also, with the power of social media growing, a wave of resentment -- or support -- can be generated by the power of internet trolls. More than one Thai national coach has been driven out by the powerful Thai media, despite winning games on the pitch.

3. Make the most of ASEAN's best players

Thai players are top class. They are technically gifted, hardworking and tough, on and off the pitch. Training with them is a pleasure. They give everything, and genuinely want to improve. The wages have grown incredibly in recent years. Also, Zico worked hard to enforce improvements in international travel for away games, after the old days of 32-hour journeys, and having to spend 10 hours on airport terminal floors in between connecting flights.

4. Manage unrealistic expectations

No matter what results any new coach brings, there will be unrealistic expectations from fans and administrators alike. Zico won the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, two Suzuki Cups, advanced to the Asian Games semis and helped Thailand become the only ASEAN country to make the final round of 2018 World Cup qualifying. Despite these incredible achievements, the Thai game's top administrator declared that he was "embarrassed" by recent results. So unless the new coach lifts the World Cup, he might be deemed a failure at some stage.

5. Bring in own staff

A new coach must bring in his own, loyal people. During my time, we had some excellent staff members who showed professional loyalty (Zico was my assistant at the 2009 SEA Games). However, more often than not, support staff are appointed by the FA of Thailand. In my experience, some of these assistants are not only incompetent, but also reporting directly to the administration, making the head coach's job more difficult.

Despite the footballing challenges and potential pitfalls, it is a great country, with wonderful fans and gifted players. Thailand deserves the best coach it can get to build on the excellent work that Zico has done.