Following Thailand’s dismal return of only one point in their qualifying group for the 2010 World Cup, local coach Chanvit Phalajivin has been replaced by old monkey head himself, Peter Reid. The Football Association of Thailand (FAT) appears to be turning back the clock in a bid to move forward as they once more opt for a linguistically-challenged Scouser named Peter to coach their national team.
The most successful period in the history of the Thai national team was a few years back when former Aston Villa and England striker Peter Withe arrived with a no-nonsense attitude a very-much-nonsense accent. Under Withe’s stewardship, Thailand won the ASEAN Trophy twice and the King’s Cup. They also reached the semi-finals of successive Asian Games in 1998 and 2002 as well as progressing to the final qualifying rounds of the World Cup for what remains the only time in their history.
Rajamangala Stadium was a great place to be during those World Cup qualifiers and it was a golden period for Thai football with the natural flair and flamboyance of the Thai players harnessed to maximum effect by Withe’s strict regimen. The Thais played some great football and were more than a match for their Middle-Eastern opponents in terms of skill but ultimately paid the price for their lesser physiques and a lack of stamina that saw them unable to maintain their game plans for a full 90 minutes. Many games were lost or drawn after Thailand had dominated the early stages. Even so, the Thais could hold their heads high as they didn’t look out of place on the bigger stage.
Despite his success, Withe was never fully accepted by some FAT members and, following a couple of poor results, he was fired in 2003. Such ludicrous reasons as his wearing shorts instead of a suit on the touchline were bandied about but, behind the scenes, the politicking was much simpler. After Thailand lost a difficult match to the UAE, FAT president Vijitr Getkaew puffed up his chest and pouted, "Peter should have reported to me about everything that happened but he did not come. This means that he was not interested in the result.” However, the seemingly oversensitive Getkaew revealed his true sycophantic colours as he continued, “Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra wants to see the Thai team go to the World Cup finals so we must try our best to reach this target.”
Following Withe’s departure, the Thai national team fell into rapid decline. Thailand has employed 10 foreign coaches in recent times. First, German coaches were hired so that Thailand could play like Germany. They didn’t. Next, Brazilian coaches were hired, then fired, and then rehired so that Thailand could play like Brazil. They didn’t. Finally a Thai coach was hired, presumably so that Thailand could play like Thailand. They did and slipped dramatically down the FIFA world rankings. Not surprisingly, their best success came under the most stable period with Withe’s 5-year tenure the longest incumbency.
Perhaps the FAT men are beginning to accept that their nation’s footballers have neither the ruthless efficiency of Germany nor the dazzling talents of Brazil and so they turn once more to the perennial plucky losers of England to guide them out of the wilderness. Enter Peter Reid.
Considering Reid’s predilection for the long ball game, many question his appointment but there is enough pedigree and acumen to suggest adaptability. Reid’s managerial CV includes the renaissance of Sunderland some years ago and a stint as coach of the England under-21 team. However, his proudest moment must surely be his brief spell as manager of Leeds United, a pinnacle in any manager’s career. It was a stint that included a last-gasp rescue from relegation out of the English Premier League – an achievement that earned Reid a brand new contract thus ensuring a healthy pay-off when he was sacked a few months later. “Good business” has always been what outsiders do at Leeds United.
Only time will tell whether Reid appreciates just what he is letting himself in for in his latest endeavour. Thai football desperately needs a total overhaul starting from the grassroots level and going all the way to the top. The lack of a strong domestic league, lazy players and interfering executives all play their part in stunting evolution.
The word is that Reid will bring in a fitness coach and physio from England to support him, and there’s even talk of him being allowed to pick the team with no interference from the FAT men – a novel concept in Thai football. However, Reid may have been publicly promised a free hand in team selection but, as Peter Withe and his apparently offensive apparel found out, it’s behind the scenes where the real politics are played out.
There’s no doubt that Reid is thick skinned, but let’s just hope he wears a suit on the job because, unless you happen to be called Lola Beaver or Lindsey Lovedick, there’s nothing worse than FAT members interfering in your business.