Socceroos clash more than just a result for Thailand

Thailand may be bottom of their 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying group, without a win or even a point ahead of their clash with Australia, but that doesn’t tell the full story of the development of Thai football in recent years.


Thailand's starting XI ahead for their 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier against United Arab Emirates Source: AFP

Just making it to the final round of World Cup qualifying, for the first time since 2002, is an achievement in itself.

It adds to a growing list of Thailand's football achievements that include back-to-back Southeast Asian Games titles in 2013 and 2015, the AFF Suzuki Cup title in 2014, a semi-final appearance at the 2014 Asian Games and their women’s team qualifying for the World Cup for the very first time in 2015. 

At club level, too, the domestic Premier League of Thailand (PLT) is thriving off the back of super clubs such as Muangthong United and Buriram United, who have won the last eight titles between them. 

The most pleasing development for PLT administrators, however, has been the rise of the second tier clubs such as Bangkok United, Bangkok Glass and Suphanburi, with Bangkok United pushing Muangthong United all the way in the title race this season. 

"The league is getting stronger most definitely, and more exciting," PLT deputy CEO Benajmin Tan told The World Game. 

"I think Bangkok United and even Bangkok Glass, they’re teams that are actually challenging for the title and I think there are more clubs following suit.

"There is some news already about Chiangrai United strengthening the team for the new season."

Tan credits the development of the league to the passion of the fans and owners, but explained a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed with the J.League in 2012 helped the league on its continuing path towards elite professionalism. 

"I think the MOU with the J.League has been a success for both leagues," Tan said.

"We have sent staff to the J.League to study and they came back with ideas on how we improve the league. 

"At the moment we are working with AFC and FIFA on a four-year strategic plan, and the four main pillars is to create a financially stable organisation and establish the basic infrastructure for the athletes.

"For example training centres, improving the human resources within the FA, and lastly to create an environment that consistently projects a positive image of the FA and Thai football.” 

As the best league in Southeast Asia, they are mindful of their role in developing football across the entire region, and to assist in that - they recently announced new foreign quota rules for 2018, that added an additional spot on club lists for a player from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). 

"We are aiming to be the hub of ASEAN and we want to attract the best players to come and test themselves in the Thai league," Tan said.

"We have been trying to find ways to grow our league, including commercially, so that is one of the main reasons we are having this introduction of an ASEAN player slot."

Tan’s vision is much broader than just ASEAN, however, and he wants the Thai league shown around the world, which means he is placing extra importance on English-language coverage to attract new fans. 

"I believe the Thai League should be watched and followed internationally," he said. 

"We have some different English coverage with clubs like Chonburi, Muangthong and Suphanburi, but we hope that more clubs can broaden their media. 

"We are working with our media team for next year to expose the league more internationally (and) are working on the English content on the official website and also the social media platforms."

To ensure a positive image of the league, in which all the national team players play, Tan said it is pivotal that the Thailand national team continues to perform well. 

"The performance of the national team will always reflect on the football system in the country," Tan said. 

"So it’s always important to keep the league exciting and vibrant. We need to keep in mind that whatever we do to develop and grow the league we need to keep the national team’s performance in mind."

A result against Australia on Tuesday night (AEDT) would certainly help that image.

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4 min read
Published 13 November 2016 at 10:18am
By Paul Williams