Chaiman: 'Football in Thailand today is what Singaporean football used to be'
A five-time S.League winner with Warriors FC, Therdsak Chaiman was better placed than most to witness the growth of Singapore's fledgling football league.
The 42-year-old's first taste of local football came when he was on loan at the side led by Fandi Ahmad in 2002, where he immediately established himself as a fan favourite before re-joining them permanently from 2005 to 2009.
Now, after sadly watching the league he helped build up slowly slip into decline, he tells FourFourTwo how the country's football can rise again.
You spent six years playing in Singapore, are there some aspects of the game in Singapore that you have picked up and brought with you to Thailand?
I learnt a lot of things from the S.League. I played under coaches like Fandi Ahmad, Richard Bok and Kim Poulsen. From these coaches, I learnt how to organise a training session, and how to speak to the players.
I also found that the players in Singapore were very professional. So I learnt from them about how to lead a more professional lifestyle from someone like [Aleksandar] Duric, for example.
You can see how he watches his diet and keeps in shape, such that he is so much fitter than players half his age. So these are the things I have brought back with me to Thailand.
Do you still follow the S.League from Thailand?
I still keep tabs on my former team Warriors FC. I know they were champions in 2014, but last year they didn’t win.
I remember when I was playing in Singapore, the league was still very exciting. My team was very strong. We had John Wilkinson, we had Duric, we had Kenji [Arai] and very good Singapore boys like Shaiful Esah and Noor Ali. Then, SAFFC (present-day Warriors) was strong, Tampines were also strong, Home United were also strong, and Geylang wasn't bad.
But I have heard that less people go to watch the games now, because the Singapore Football Association now has a team playing in Malaysia (formerly LionsXII but excluded from the 2016 Malaysia Super League season).
In my opinion, there is no need to have foreign teams like Brunei DPMM or Albirex Niigata competing in the S.League.
When all the good players are not in your local league, fans will start to lose interest. In the past, you had clubs like Sembawang Rangers, Gombak United, Jurong FC and Woodlands Wellington, but now they are no longer in the league.
I think the Singapore government should support the local teams, rather than to put money into a team playing overseas.
In my opinion, there is no need to have foreign teams like Brunei DPMM or Albirex Niigata competing in the S.League. I remember in the past they had the African team (Sporting Afrique FC) and the China teams (Beijing Guoan and Dalian Shide) and they did not help the S.League.
If you replace the foreign teams with local teams, you could have up to 40 or more players playing at a professional level. There will be more chances for young local players to play.
What do you think of Hassan Sunny’s performances at Army United this season?
He’s done very well in his first season. Not many teams in the Thai Premier League would use up their foreign player slot on a goalkeeper, so it is a sign of how much the army team values him.
I think he is very happy here because the stadiums are always full for games and all players want to play in a packed stadium.
Do you think Thai teams would be interested in signing more Singapore players?
I think there are a few Singapore players who are good enough to play in the Thai Premier League. Khairul Amri is someone I like a lot. He is strong and can hold up play well as well as score goals.
But it also depends on the salaries they are expecting. If they expect a monthly salary of S$12,000 then it would be very hard for a Thai club to sign them. At the same price we could sign a player from the J-League or the K-League.
Not many teams would use up their foreign player slot on a goalkeeper, so it is a sign of how much Army United value Hassan Sunny.
But if a Singapore player wants to challenge himself and is willing to accept a lower salary, there would certainly be clubs who are interested. And they should come and after one season, if they play well, the club will be willing to increase their salaries. On the other hand, they may get a bigger offer from another club.
How did you end up playing in Singapore?
Back then, coming to Singapore was a step up for me. The Thai league at that time was very different from what it is today. It wasn’t very well organised, there were very few fans and the pay wasn’t very good.
A national player at that time only earned 30,000 to 40,000 Thai Baht (S$1,500) a month. The S.League was much more professional and I was able to make a much better living
It was only with the creation of the Thai Premier League that things really took off. Today a first team player for a Thai Premier League team can easily take home at least S$4,000 a month, while a national team player could earn S$15,000.
Congratulations on being appointed as head coach of Chonburi. How do you feel about your new appointment?
For me, I am not overly excited, because I have been with Chonburi for six years already, so I am very familiar with the players and the system in Chonburi.
I have to thank the chairman for giving me the job this season. I am grateful for the opportunity to move up the next rung of the coaching ladder after having been an assistant for the last three years under Witthaya Laohakul, Masahiro Wada and Jadet Meelap.
I am sure it will not be easy. Next year will be a big challenge. I want to do the best for my team and most importantly we must play good football.
What are your targets for the team?
Coming up immediately will be the AFC Champions League playoff on February 2 against a Myanmar team. That is an important tie because we want to go as far as we can in the tournament.
The ASEAN Super League is not something that will benefit Thai football as a whole.
In the league, we hope to be in the top three. Last year we were fourth, so we want to move back into the top three. It’s not going to be easy because there are many good teams around like Buriram, Muangthong, Bangkok Glass and Suphanburi. So we really have to be organised and prepare well for our games.
I will be promoting five or six promising young players from the academy into the first team next season, so it will be very important to integrate them well into the team in pre-season.
I hope we can win a trophy. Any trophy next season will be good to reward our fans for their support.
The talk in Singapore is about the launch of the ASEAN Super League in 2017. Do you think it is something Thai clubs will be interested in being part of?
I don’t see how participating in the ASEAN Super League will benefit Thai clubs. The Thai Premier League is doing very well now.
I don’t think the top teams like Muangthong United, Buriram United or Chonburi will be interested in flying off to play in Indonesia on Wednesday and coming back to play in the Thai League on the weekend. What for? You won’t be able to focus.
In my opinion, it’s not something that will benefit Thai football as a whole.
All images: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwo