When the Thai dream of making it to the World Cup finals eventually came to its expected and logical end in Saitama on Tuesday, it also cut short the nightmare national team coach Kiatisak Senamuang had been living through for some time.
FAT president Somyot Poompunmuang, right, and then-national team coach Kiatisak Senamuang during a promotional event recently.
He was always the only likely candidate to be the fall guy in the wake of losses that Football Association of Thailand president Pol Gen Somyot Poompunmuang bluntly declared as “embarrassing”.
Nicknamed Zico by the Thai fans when he used to be the pin-up boy of Thai football, Kiatisak should have seen it coming but he may have had other considerations.
Media reports put his salary at a princely sum of two million baht a month, an amount he, in all likelihood, is unlikely to earn elsewhere, at least in the near future.
Kiatisak renewed his contract for a year only in February following a lengthy bickering between him and Somyot, fanned gleefully by the media, during which the job seeker looked more anxious than the employer.
It was to be his ticket to a financially secured future as the job entailed even heftier purses in product endorsements as he made sales pitches for chicken essence, energy drinks, mobile phone systems, cars, and even roof-topping materials.
Whatever marketing mileage those firms were able to derive out of these endorsements is not known and also irrelevant, as his employers were left scurrying for ways to hide their blushes after the routs to Saudi Arabia and Japan, which came within a space of six days only.
Seven goals conceded and none scored sums up the Thai team’s performance over that fateful week during which everyone was fed plenty of bravado and lectures on being realistic.
Kiatisak told the media that his team were out to “avenge” their 1-0 defeat to Saudi Arabia in November and that the Middle Eastern giants were likely to find out that the Thais are “no pushovers”.
The result however was a 3-0 thrashing in front of tens of thousands of local fans at Rajamangala National Stadium, where Thailand put on one of their worst shows in the recent history after Kiatisak was completely outfoxed by Saudi Arabia’s Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk.
There was a very brief mourning period and there followed promises of an all-out effort against Asian powerhouse Japan in Saitama.
Kiatisak’s words before the match were: “Getting a point against Japan would be a great achievement.”
However, his men either didn’t hear him or the coach forgot to tell them because they never played for a draw. Instead, they kept running into the Japanese defence wall and gifting them with the opportunities to counter-attack and shoot four goals past the Thais.
After that spineless show against Saudi Arabia, it would have been a smarter move on Kiatisak’s part to limit the damage and make the result look somewhat less mortifying.
That’s not all.
Kiatisak was outfoxed off the field as well as he was led into a trap and he merrily walked into it.
After witnessing the hammering at the hands of the Japanese from the sidelines, 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.”
Is there anything new in this rhetoric? No, there isn’t.
Somyot asked the same question time and again since after the Suzuki Cup which Thailand won to retain the trophy in December.
One should admire Somyot for his patience and his seemingly unwavering commitment to catapulting Thailand to the top echelons of Asian football.
He wisely persisted with Kiatisak and gave him the length of rope the coach needed to hang himself
Thailand were always in line for defeats to both Saudi Arabia and Japan and they did lose, giving Somyot the fodder he needed.
However, Kiatisak was so anxious to retain the job that he didn’t see — or rather opted to turn a blind eye to — what was in store for him. He didn’t even bother to convince the FAT to alter a clause in the contract which allowed his employers to sack him without any compensation, citing dissatisfaction over the team results.
The Thai bid to reach the Russia 2018 finals was only a dream and these only last for a certain period of time.
The good thing about these reveries is that you can start again and the time for the Thais to start fantasising again is here now.
Kiatisak has made the decision and the FAT has got the opportunity to kick off the change it had been soliciting. Instead of wrangling over what should or shouldn’t have been, let Somyot set the wheels in motion for his cherished plan. After all, if the things don’t work out, the FAT chief has offered to resign as well.
Thai players react after their 4-0 loss to Japan. photo: reuters