The recent results from Wimbledon show that at least some Thai athletes are capable of competing at the very highest level. In the 2004 Olympics in Athens, the boxing team brought back one medal of each denomination and hopes are quite high for a similar level of success. Women boxers have also been successful in world title fights at the lightest weights, while the Olympics also witnessed victories in the women’s weightlifting competition. Not every sport is going to be successful, of course, given the average build of Thai athletes and the level of support available – but the victory of Spain in the Euro 2008 Championship showed that being shorter and slighter than opponents need not be a critical disadvantage.
Which makes it all the more disappointing that the Thai (men’s) football team has seemed to be going backwards in recent years. The just concluded World Cup 2010 Qualifying Campaign ended in five defeats and one meaningless victory, while the Kingdom was defeated in the final of the last Southeast Asian championships by Singapore – while countries such as Vietnam in particular are showing real promise of involvement. Despite the corruption in Vietnamese football (well, Vietnam as a whole to be honest), the domestic league is quite competitive and nationwide and that is making a significant improvement.
In Thailand, meanwhile, the FA of T have vacillated between appointing foreign and Thai managers of the football team and have not given any of them enough time. Since the reign of Peter Withe, when it really looked like the team could make the next step forward, things have stagnated or actually worsened.
The new manager seems set to be former Everton and England midfielder Peter Reid, widely and rather cruelly known among football fans as ‘Monkey Heid,’ owing to an unfortunate physical resemblance. Reid, it is said, has ‘fallen in love’ with Thailand after some gigs here working for satellite TV, although it is also true that he seemed to have little prospect of getting a new managerial job in the UK. Reid’s managerial career has been mixed (his playing career was excellent). Initial success at Manchester City and Sunderland was not matched at Leeds and Coventry. He has a reputation for playing quite a rigid long-ball 4-4-2 game which seems unsuited for Thailand – unless the FA of T can start naturalizing some tall centre-forwards born overseas – while his reputation for falling out with players appears to be an accident waiting to happen in a system such as is found here. Still, he is old enough to have matured and achieved wisdom as a manager and let us hope that he can identify players willing to play for him and a system under which they can flourish.