The Only Way is Up. How Thailand Could Overtake Belize in the FIFA Rankings.
As the last century came to a close, Thai league football was off the radar for most foreign fans, but the national team was in rude health. With a world FIFA ranking of forty third under the guidance of Englishman Peter Withe, the national team must have looked forward with great confidence to the new millennium. But, two years later, Withe was shoddily sacked and six further coaches came and went with less than wholesome support from the FAT.
Although the local leagues have massively increased in popularity since then, the national team are at an all time low. In Asian rankings,Thailand sit only two places above Nepal and one below Tajikstan, a country whose only professional league, the Vysshaya Liga sounds more like a Scrabble rack with potential. A group of only thirteen teams, clubs like Xayr and Khunjand go head to head in an organisation recognised by FIFA for less than twenty years. Just to make it that bit more depressing, in their last three games, Tajikstan have lost against both The Philippines and North Korea, only beating 164th ranked India. So they are not exactly on a roll.
In world rankings, placed one spot above Thailand, is the football hotbed of Belize. They have a Police United, but this one is made up purely of local officers. I’m sure their season record of played ten won ten reflects more on passing and movement than stopping and searching. It would be good to visit the scorers of their three conceded goals before they are up for parole. Juventus Belize (not a great end of night pub decision for the team finishing second from bottom of the Belize Premier League Northern Section) lost their last game six nil to the San Pedro Sea Dogs. I kid you not. Serie A Champions Juventus must be delighted. With two leagues of six (what happens to unlucky thirteen?), the season must be one of non start action where the teams face the rigours of a ten game regular season. The one thing they share with bigger leagues is upheaval and politics. The Belize Premier Football League was the premier division of football in Belize (begging the question; “can you be the first of one?”) Last year it merged with the Super League. So, this tiny English speaking enclave in South America with a population of only 300,000 ranks higher than Thailand’s 67 million people. Who would have thought that Thai national football progress would beggar Belize.
So what’s to be done for Thailand to scale the heady heights of Ethiopia and the mighty Suriname? The key advice is this:
Don’t waste time putting out small fires.
Suspending a single referee for his basic errors is like punishing a dog for barking. If they don’t know any different, what are they going to learn from four weeks in the dog house? Five key performance indicators need to be produced and, once they have been confidently met, others will take their place so there is a narrow field of targets instead of spiraling down in the pointless “you don’t know what you’re doing,” argument.
The first five indicators should be:
Referees only stop games for head injuries. Players do not.
After a free kick, opposing players must immediately retreat ten yards or get carded.
Any hands on officials by players or team officials is a card.
Players injured near the touch line must roll off for attention.
Players stretchered off will receive five minutes of career saving medical attention, timed by the fourth official.
Once an offence has been indicated, kick or throw the ball away to receive a free yellow card
The way that some clubs use simulation as a tactic doesn’t mean they must be targeted, but their behaviour must be stamped out across the board. It was depressing to see a foreign player at a top TPL club realise after one game that by diving he would get a competitive advantage and that, by staying on his feet, in the current environment he was punishing his team. The two underestimated drivers for change are the fans and TV. Supporters must be less tolerant of the pantomime often taking place before them and Truesport and NBT need to remind clubs that their 135 Million Baht investment is in sports, not drama.
Thai football has a lot going for it, but it is not the EPL or Bundesliga. Thai professional football is in its infancy, a time when English football made some basic errors like forcing professional players to wear different coloured shirts to their Corinthian spirited amateur team mates,creating an offside rule where goals were virtually unknown and only a “rouge” (like winning a short corner in hockey) was often the deciding factor and actively encouraging violent conduct to test a man’s character. These mistakes were made because football in the nineteenth century had no blueprint to follow. In the twenty first, it is a matter of choosing the best blueprint available, and those are found much closer to home. See you in Belize City.