Thai players and officials celebrate after winning the Suzuki Cup in December. (Photo by Pattarachai Preechapanich)
Kiatisak Senamuang, who resigned as coach of the national team on Friday, 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.
Born in Udon Thani and raised in Khon Kaen, Kiatisak began his club career in 1991 at Krung Thai Bank.
He won several domestic titles with Krung Thai Bank, Singapore Armed Forces and Vietnam’s Hoang Anh Gia Lai.
He also played for Thai clubs Rajpracha and Police and Malaysian side Perlis.
Kiatisak joined English club Huddersfield Town in 1999 but did not feature in the first team squad and returned to Thailand after one season.
Nicknamed Zico after Brazil’s legendary forward, Kiatisak made his international debut for Thailand in 1992.
He scored 71 goals in 134 matches for his country.
One of the most memorable goals of his international career took place at Bangkok’s Rajamangala National Stadium in the quarter-finals of the 1998 Asian Games.
Kiatisak opened the scoring in Thailand’s 2-1 win over South Korea in one of the biggest upsets in Asia’s football history.
Apart from his skill, he is also renowned for his backflip goal celebrations which earned him the nickname ‘Backflip Master’.
He began his coaching career at Hoang Ahn Gia Lai and has since managed several clubs including Chula United, Chonburi and Bangkok FC with little success.
Kiatisak is mobbed by Thai fans after his side’s victory in the 2014 Suzuki Cup. Photo by Tawatchai Kemgumnerd)
He was appointed coach of the national U23 side in early 2013 by Worawi Makudi, then-president of the Football Association of Thailand (FAT).
His main task was to end a six-year SEA Games title drought. However, Worawi asked him to be caretaker coach of the full national team and take them to play a friendly in China.
Reluctant to take the job, Kiatisak mainly used his U23 players for the match in Hefei.
Thailand won 5-1 in one of China’s most embarrassing losses that prompted a riot by angry Chinese fans in the city and led to the sacking of Spaniard Jose Antonio Camacho as coach of China.
Later that year, Kiatisak regained the SEA Games title for Thailand when the tournament was held in Myanmar.
He became coach of the full national team in 2014 and again had an instant success by guiding Thailand to the Suzuki Cup title for the first time in 12 years.
That year, he also steered Thailand to fourth place at the Asian Games in South Korea.
Kiatisak led Thailand to the ongoing last-12 team stage of Asia’s qualifying round for the 2018 World Cup finals.
It is the only second time that Thailand have reached this stage of the continent’s qualifiers for the World Cup finals with their first being the qualifying event for the 2002 World Cup.
Thailand are in Group B along with Japan, Australia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Iraq.
When the draw was made, Kiatisak admitted that the upcoming task was difficult.
However, he was also confident that his men were good enough on this stage.
“We want to prove that we can play against the Asian giants. The likes of Japan and Australia will give us a good opportunity to show that we can,” he said.
Unfortunately, his World Cup dream soon became a nightmare.
The Thais suffered four consecutive defeats before salvaging some pride with a 2-2 home draw with Australia in November.
The draw with the Socceroos proved some people in Huddersfield still remember him.
“Former Huddersfield Town man Kiatisak ‘Zico’ Senamuang breaks down in tears after Thailand claim draw against Australia,” the Huddersfield Daily Examiner said in a headline on its website.
It added: “It has been an emotional time in Thailand since beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej died after 70 years on the throne, with the tie against Australia coming on the final evening of a 30-day mourning period.”
In December, Kiatisak’s men retained the Suzuki Cup as Thailand became the most successful nation in the Southeast Asian championship with five wins, one more than Singapore’s tally.
The triumph appeared to be the beginning of the fall of Kiatisak.
FAT president Somyot Poompunmuang began talking about “change” to lift Thailand from the Southeast Asian stage to a higher level.
Following Thailand’s 3-0 home loss to Saudi Arabia and 4-0 defeat at Japan in the World Cup qualifiers last month, Somyot vented his frustration and anger with words like “embarrassing results” and “change is inevitable”.
The “change” did come about on Friday when Kiatisak announced his resignation as coach of Thailand on his Instagram account.
Thai players toss Zico after winning the 2013 SEA Games title. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)