Vidmar driven to help Bangkok's Glass Rabbits improve in leaps and bounds
Few people know the Australian national team better than Aurelio Vidmar. The former Olyroo coach and Socceroo assistant was appointed as boss of Bangkok Glass this month, just weeks before Australia arrive in the Thai capital for a vital clash in the final round of qualification for the 2018 World Cup.
So is it the perfect time for Vidmar to pass on a little inside information to Thai boss Kiatisuk Senamuang?
“I could never do that!” Vidmar tells FourFourTwo. “I'd be crossing the line. I think Australia will go through, though they have a couple of tricky ties.”
I would agree that this league is the best in Southeast Asia. Technically, it is very good
In a group that also contains Japan, United Arab Emirates, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, Vidmar is backing the Samurai Blue to also qualify automatically, but he believes the War Elephants can sneak into the third spot and enter the playoff route to Russia.
“I do honestly think Thailand can do it. They don't traditionally travel well but they will win games here (at home), that is for sure.”
He does not expect that to happen, however, when Australia are in Bangkok on November 15.
“Australia will have to be wary, but they have the intensity to wear down Thailand after the hour,” he said. “As you watch the league here, after 60-70 minutes, everything opens up a little.”
There was a stark lesson in exactly that in his first game in charge of Bangkok Glass back on August 6. His team fought back from two goals down at title-chasing Bangkok United to tie it at 2-2, but then conceded late goals in a 4-2 loss.
Vidmar, who parted ways with Australia's under-23 team in March and is enjoying life back in the daily grind of club football for the first time since leaving Adelaide United in 2010, is looking to inject a little Aussie-style intensity to the team currently lying third in the league.
“There is a history here of training being long and slow. I want to make it shorter, more intense. I am slowly starting to implement that and they have responded well.
“It is tricky because the last two months they have been playing Wednesday-Saturday, Wednesday-Saturday as they are trying to cram the games in before the FIFA windows coming up.”
As well as intensity, there is also the need for a little more defensive solidity for a team that has conceded seven goals in his first two games.
If we can tighten up then we can start to improve over the next few weeks and build on to pre-season next year
“If we can tighten up then we can start to improve over the next few weeks and build on to pre-season next year. We can then put ourselves in a good position for next season.”
This season, despite Bangkok's current third-place spot, the title is out of the question, with a gap of 17 points between Bangkok United in second and then one more point to leaders Muangthong United.
The Glass Rabbits have never really challenged for the title and never finished higher than the third-place achieved back in their first season in existence in 2009.
The priority in 2016 is to secure that third spot, get a crack at the 2017 Asian Champions League playoffs and then focus on next season and perhaps a real tilt at the title. For a 49-year-old who rejected recent offers because they were not challenging enough, there are clearly plenty of challenges ahead in Bangkok.
“They don't compete financially with the likes of Muangthong and Bangkok United, but in a way that's good as they have their own academy and like to promote from within.
“The facilities are fantastic with their own training facilities, two pitches, baths, saunas, changing rooms and lots of staff. It is very comfortable for players who only need to worry about their football.”
Coaches have more to think about, especially in Southeast Asia where turnover is high. Still, this is a good time to be in the Land of Smiles. Football in the country is on the up.
“I would agree that this league is the best in Southeast Asia. Technically, it is very good and interesting too. A lot of the teams sit back but then change the way they play without notice. Last week, we played Sisaket, a team that had played 4-3-3 for ages and then played 5-3-2 against us."
Vidmar not only led Adelaide United to the final of the 2008 Asian Champions League, he spent his club career in Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and Japan.
I can try to change things here and there, but we know we have to be smart. We can't make drastic changes and upset everyone
While his face is perhaps not quite as fresh as it once was – though fresh enough for a club that likes to sign handsome players in a bid to attract female fans that will, in turn, attract males – his eyes are open.
“It is always difficult to come in as a foreigner to try to understand their culture and what makes them tick.
“After watching a bit of football, I can try to change things here and there, but we know that we have to be smart. We can't make drastic changes and upset everyone, but have to slowly chip away and educate.
“There are areas to improve such as players looking after themselves better, but we have to give them the opportunity to want to make that change.”
There are also other on-pitch improvements that could be made – literally.
“Being able to have every pitch in excellent condition would be a big step forward. Perhaps only four or five clubs have decent surfaces. Last week, we played on a rock-hard pitch with little grass and that can be improved. They pay a lot of money for players, so a little towards the pitches too would help.”
Vidmar certainly has the challenging job he had been seeking.
“We are ready to work hard. The level here is technically very good and they are going places. It is a great place to be.”