SEA Exports: Zico's decision to coach Port FC slightly disappointing

Former Thai national team coach Kiatisuk Senamuang recently took up his next role, guiding local side Port FC. But FourFourTwo columnist John Duerden says ‘Zico’ should have set his sights higher…

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Kiatisuk Senamuang can be the victim of his own coaching success. He creates expectations. 

That is why, not long after leading Thailand to the final round of World Cup qualification for the first time in 16 years and clinching a second successive AFF Suzuki Cup title, he was looking for a new job. 

As the leading coach in Southeast Asia ... he should have more ambition than taking over mid-table club Port

Now, as the leading coach in Southeast Asia and blessed with the highest profile, he should have more ambition than taking over mid-table Thai Premier League club Port.

Just a few short months ago, in November 2016, there he was taking the plaudits of a full Rajamangala Stadium as Thailand drew 2-2 with Australia in Bangkok.

Thailand were superior to the Asian champions, who were relieved to leave for home with a point. 

It would prove the high point of Thailand’s qualification campaign. Reaching the final round on the road to Russia was a fine achievement, but being in a group with Japan, United Arab Emirates, Australia, Iraq and Saudi Arabia was always going to be tricky.

Zico has had great success, and recognition, in recent years

These are teams that have to be faced if Thailand are to progress, but it did lead to some short-term pain.

There was no way Thailand were going to jump from the top of the ASEAN tree to the top of the Asian rankings without taking some punishment.

Plenty of legendary players have entered the coaching game and struggled. But Zico took over the Thai national team and led (it) to new heights

Not everyone recognised, however, that this was a vital step in the development of Southeast Asia’s premier football nation.

In March, Football Association of Thailand (FAT) chief Somyot Poompanmoung called the results "embarrassing".

The 43-year-old quit soon after, jumping before the push came.

If his coaching talents are not appreciated in the downtown Bangkok offices of FAT, they are elsewhere. In the past three years, Zico has shown what he can do.

Plenty of legendary players have entered the coaching game and struggled. But Zico took over the Thai national team in 2013 and led the War Elephants to new heights.

It wasn't just the two Suzuki Cups and the place in the 2019 Asian Cup (a first qualification since 2004), plus the progress made along the road to Russia. 

The coach encouraged Chanathip to head overseas

It was about the identity of the team, the pass-and-move groove that Zico has instilled. In Southeast Asia, you knew how Thailand were going to play. 

Thailand had a brand and so did Zico. As soon as he became free, there was plenty of interest from Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia (the day is not yet here when the top boss in Southeast Asia can move to the bigger leagues in the east).

I don't want to coach a team that could play against either the Thai national team or a Thai club side in the future

- Zico

It would have been fascinating to see the coach, accustomed to moving outside of his comfort zone, try one of the big clubs elsewhere.  

If there was any coach in the region that could have gone to another country and made a difference, it was surely this one.

To have success in Thailand and then abroad would have really cemented his reputation and, perhaps, encouraged others to follow in his footsteps.

All benefit when coaches from inside the region move around.

Nobody knew this better than Zico. A legend as a player, the forward did not just star for Thailand but left his homeland to play in Malaysia, Vietnam and Singapore and also tried his luck in England with Huddersfield Town. 

Not much impact was made in West Yorkshire but sometimes, as the founder of the Olympic movement Pierre de Coubertin said: “The important thing in life is not triumph, but the struggle.”

In November, he told this writer something similar.

“Thai players have it too easy at home,” he said. “Going to another country gives you a bigger challenge and it makes you a better player and person.”

As national team boss, Zico encouraged the likes of Chanathip Songkrasin to broaden their horizons. 

It therefore was a little disappointing that Zico took over Port in June.

"I received several offers to coach teams from outside Thailand,” Zico told Thai media.

“I didn't want to go there because I don't want to coach a team that could play against either the Thai national team or a Thai club side in the future.”

Given his record as a player and coach, such reasons don’t sound like the real Zico.

He may want to show fans in Thailand that he can bring club success as well as national team glory, yet there were opportunities overseas to broaden his coaching horizons.

Given what happened with FAT, surely the tactician would relish the chance to take on a Thai team?

There is nothing wrong with Port, but Kiatisuk Senamuang should have broadened his horizons once more.