FFT's Telling it like it is: Gary Stevens, Thailand

In the latest edition of our series, former England and Tottenham defender Gary Stevens tells us in his own words about his brief, volatile stints in charge of two Thai clubs...

We are part of The Trust Project What is it?

When I took over at Army United in Thailand in 2014, I had the back-end of one season and could move the players I did not want out and bring in what I wanted. We then had a pre-season – longer than most – and we started terrifically, winning four of the first five games to top the table early on.

You’re aware they already fired two coaches before the season is halfway over, but I didn't expect the same would happen to me

We then lost three games, I was rested and then fired soon after. I didn't have an inkling it was going to happen, absolutely not. All I can say is, it is their club and they have to do what they believe is right. If I am not right for them, or if I do something they don't like, they have the right to make a change. I have to accept that, although I didn't necessarily agree with it.

When I first went in, I worked with what was there. I was told that I could bring in some staff, but due to the way it was going to be funded, it didn't happen. In the end I did bring in someone I wanted, but in all honestly I don’t think the club was happy about it. He was a younger lad, which is not always appreciated in Thailand.

I like to learn from youngsters as they have a different viewpoint, but one of the senior coaches felt that he had been demoted. In my opinion he wasn't, we just had a bigger team of coaches with different duties, and I think that was the beginning of the end. He didn't like it and I believe he influenced the club and the decision-makers.

I think the culture has a lot to do with it. The feeling is that if the results aren't going as the owner wants, they have to change the coach. He is the head of the football team and he must be the reason it isn’t working out. Of course, it takes time for a coach to get the players that are there playing the way he wants them to play and it takes times to get the players he thinks will get results for the club.

Stevens doing some punditry work for Astro. Photo: Twitter

The owners need to get away from the thinking that 'it's clearly the manager's fault, he's been here for six games and we haven't won enough'. After six games you may have won all six and then everyone sees the coach as the answer, but in those six games you may have played lower level teams and been lucky in a couple of games. You win six and you are brilliant, but if you lose four, it doesn't mean you are no good.

But it happens. You hope it doesn't and you hope that they value you for what you are. I think I could have done something special at Army United, but I didn't get the chance. Army are just above the drop zone now and have never been as high in the table again. They may get relegated.

It was frustrating, but I don't dwell on it too much as it will negatively affect me. I know I did a great job for that team, the club and the players. As well as being head coach and trying to win games, I believe it is my duty to produce something on the pitch that the fans like – which they did – and improve the individual players. If players under me regress, that is also my problem.

I like the lifestyle in Thailand and I stayed. Soon after I left Army I took the job at Port FC. I thought I could turn Port around. The new owner took over and after five games, he sacked the coach and brought in another coach. After another five league games, they sacked him and hired me. I had seven games, which took us to the halfway point of the season, and at that stage the transfer window was open and we were working on bringing players in.

I was going to be judged on the second half of the season after I brought in some players. After seven games results admittedly weren’t better, but we were starting to play well and deserved more. Then they sacked me. I said 'I thought you were going to give me a chance and now you have brought in 10 new players, so you obviously think that the existing ones aren’t doing enough'. But what can you do?

Of course you’re aware they have already fired two coaches before the season is halfway over, but I didn't expect the same would happen to me. I thought that finally they decided they had found themselves a good coach. I knew I could do a good job. If you are told that you are going to be judged on something and then you are not, then they have moved the goalposts. Again, they own the club and it's their money and they can do what they want.

It was frustrating, but I don't dwell on it too much as it will negatively affect me. I know I did a great job for that team

In Thailand, it is a battle to get put into a contract that if they sack you, then they will pay you out. If you are on a two-year contract, then there is no way they will pay you in full. Most want to pay a month's wages. You are on a rolling monthly contract in effect and even if you have an amount specified, they will try to negotiate you down.

I was the third coach in Port that season and come the end of the season, they had gone through five different coaches and were relegated, not surprisingly. Let's be honest, anywhere in the world, if a club appoints a coach and there is no example of gross misconduct, well, the club has made the mistake as they appointed the wrong person. When does the chief executive become accountable?

But I learned a lot. You have to adapt yourself as much as possible without compromising your coaching beliefs, while dovetailing with the culture. If you are in Thailand, shouting at players is not appreciated. You just don't do it. Saving face is important and if you criticise someone in front of lots of people, not only are you likely to lose that one player, but three or four of his best mates too.

But overall, I had a great time with the players and fans at Port. I have been back a few times and chatted with the owners. I hold no grudges. Thailand is still a great place.

You can follow Gary on Twitter @GaryStevensUK