How Singapore football hit rock bottom

Thais' rise result of strategy

Thailand's Chanathip Songkrasin is chaired off after scoring against Myanmar during the AFF Suzuki Cup semi-final in Bangkok on Thursday. Reforming the domestic league has had a major flow-on effect.
Thailand's Chanathip Songkrasin is chaired off after scoring against Myanmar during the AFF Suzuki Cup semi-final in Bangkok on Thursday. Reforming the domestic league has had a major flow-on effect.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Success of Thai Premier League a vital cog in overall plan to raise level and dominate Asia

While it remains to be seen if the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) can arrest the slide in results by its various national teams and revive the sagging S-League, Thailand have been steaming relentlessly ahead.

As Singapore neglected its domestic competition by playing the LionsXII in the Malaysia Super League, the Thais saw their fortunes rise with the ascent of the Thai Premier League (TPL).

To the Thais, it is no longer good enough to dominate Asean, they want to make an impact in Asia. To do that, they privatised the domestic league in 2009, encouraged provincial teams to take part instead of concentrating on Bangkok-based clubs and ensured teams adhered to strict licensing criteria.

Big corporations like Toyota, Mazda and Chang beer have pumped in sponsorship money. Last month, Chiangrai United were able to sign 23-year-old defender Tanaboon Kesarat from Muangthong United for a record 50 million baht (S$2 million).

TPL clubs produce average gates of around 6,000 but top teams like Buriram (stadium capacity 32,000) and Muangthong (15,000) regularly play in front of full houses. The average salary is about $4,000, about $1,000 higher than that of an average S-League player. National players stand to draw $15,000.

In last year's Asian Football Confederation Champions League, the continent's top club tournament, Buriram even beat more illustrious sides such as South Korea's Seongnam (2-1) and China's Guangzhou R&F (5-0 and 2-1).

  • PILE-UP OF LOSSES

    National age-group football teams' results in the past two years:

    UNDER-23

    Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-23 Championship qualifiers: Drew with Laos 0-0, lost to China 0-5, drew with Mongolia 2-2.
    Friendlies 2016: lost to Cambodia U-22s 1-3, lost to Japan U-22s 1-8, lost to Syria 1-2.
    SEA Games in 2015: beat Philippines 1-0, lost to Myanmar 1-2, beat Cambodia 3-1, lost to Indonesia 0-1.
    Training stint in 2015: lost to Spartak Moscow reserves 1-3, lost to Hamburg reserves 0-5, lost to Yemen U-23s 0-3, drew with Uzbekistan U-21s 1-1.

    UNDER-22

    Bangabandhu Gold Cup 2015: lost to Malaysia 0-1, lost to Thailand 2-3, drew with Bahrain 0-0.
    Friendlies 2015: lost to Syria U-23 1-6, lost to Cambodia national team 0-3, drew with Cambodia U-22s 2-2.

    UNDER-21

    International Challenge Cup 2016: lost to Iran 0-1, beat Hong Kong 5-0.
    Friendlies 2016: lost to Iran 0-1, 0-2, lost to China U-22s 1-4, 0-1.
    Nations Cup 2016: lost to Malaysia 0-3, drew with Vietnam 2-2.
    Hassanal Bolkiah Trophy 2014: lost to Indonesia 0-6, lost to Vietnam 0-4, lost to Malaysia 0-3, lost to Cambodia 1-3, lost to Brunei 1-3.

    UNDER-19

    Friendlies 2016: Lost to Bahrain 0-1, 0-4.
    Asean Football Federation (AFF) U-19 Championship 2016: drew with Vietnam 0-0, lost to Malaysia 1-2, beat Philippines 2-1, lost to Timor Leste 0-2.
    AFF U-19 Championship 2015: lost to Myanmar 0-1, lost to Malaysia 0-4, lost to Vietnam 0-6, drew with Timor Leste 1-1.

    UNDER-17

    Jockey Club International Youth Invitational Football Tournament 2016: Drew Hong Kong 3-3, lost to Chinese Taipei 0-3, beat Guam 4-1.

    UNDER-16

    AFF Youth C'ship 2016: Beat Philippines 3-1, lost to Myanmar 1-4, lost to Malaysia 0-2, lost to Australia 2-6, lost to Vietnam 0-3.
    Lion City Cup 2015: drew with Liverpool 3-3, beat Singapore U-15s 3-2.

    UNDER-15

    Under-15 International Challenge Cup 2016: drew with JDT 3-3 (lost on penalties), drew with PVF Vietnam 0-0, beat Matsumoto Yamaga 2-1.

    UNDER-14

    Under-15 International Challenge Cup 2016: lost to PVF Vietnam 1-6, drew with Mendiola FC 3-3, beat Northern Football Academy 5-3.
    Jockey Club International Youth Invitational Football Tournament 2016: lost to Hong Kong 2-3, lost to Chinese Taipei 2-3, beat Guam 3-0.

    TOTAL RECORD (62 GAMES): 10 wins, 13 draws, 39 losses.

"The TPL has made the players think more professionally and they now feel they can have good careers," Kiatisuk Senamuang, the Thai national team coach, told The Sunday Times.

"The players take care of their fitness. Previously, they got tired after 60 minutes but now, they can go on for 90 minutes, no problem."

A case in point is the Thai national side's ability to score goals in the last 10 minutes in each of their three Group A wins in this year's Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup.

All these have made the Thai national team favourites to win the Cup for a record fifth time later this month. Yet, Kiatisuk has a far bigger ambition - that of winning the Asian Cup.

The 43-year-old said: "It is because of a strong TPL that the national team is able to select many quality players."

Former national defender R. Sasikumar, now the managing director of sports marketing agency Red Card Global, lauded the Thais for not standing still.

He said: "The Thais snapped out of their Suzuki euphoria, focused on their league and now, their league is solid, the value is there, rich individuals and corporations are behind it."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 11, 2016, with the headline 'Thais' rise result of strategy'. Print Edition | Subscribe