Two years ago you would be forgiven for not knowing that Chiang Mai had a football team representing the city. Things have certainly changed. A few months ago in a match against Buriram, during the play-off stage of the second division, Chiang Mai FC drew a crowd of 23,000, which is more than some English Premiership Clubs have yet had this season. Chiang Mai has suddenly become a city obsessed with football. Huge investments have been put into the club by the new president, and recently CMFC hired a renowned, award-winning coach.
Rene Desaeyere is a Belgium national who has made football his life’s work. He played first division professional football in Belgium from 1966-1984 for Beerschot, Antwerp and R.W.D Molenbeek until he became a coach in 1984. He has coached over 20 clubs, including Cerezo Osaka in Japan where he won Coach of the Year Japan (West) and Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma in South Korea which he took to the final of the Asian Football Confederation Cup. With his last club, Muangthong United FC, he won Thailand’s Manager of the Year Award after winning the country’s Premier League and taking Muangthong to the semi-finals of the AFC Cup. Wherever Desaeyere has been in Asia he has collected awards and silverware. The Chiang Mai football supporters are anxious to see how he will fare with his new club.
“I’ve just had 8 coaching sessions,” Desaeyere tells us during an interview at the Amari Rincome hotel on Nimmanhaemin Road, but he says he’s already very familiar with the players and their abilities. His first game in Division One was a loss to Thai Honda, though CMFC won their second against Samutprakarn Customs United. Desaeyere says he expects a tough season for Chiang Mai. “The hardest thing in coaching is bringing 14/15 players to every game fresh and at the height of their abilities, who can play a full 90 minutes. All players have different needs, they need to be given an individual training programme, and need to reach the top of their game. That is what I’m working on at the moment.”
On the differences between coaching in Europe and coaching in Asia he explains, “You have a lot of the same problems in Europe as you do here. Of course there’s a difference in standards, Europe has 150 years of football behind it.” He explains that as a manager it is important to know the cultural framework in which you work: “I had two players in Korea who played alongside each other, they were both good players but I couldn’t understand why their coordination wasn’t good. They couldn’t play together. They got along, they were friends, I thought. I asked them why they couldn’t play together and they told me, ‘We can’t be friends, he’s one year older than me.'” Desaeyere explains that the younger player had to respect the older player, he couldn’t criticise him, a cultural norm that made it hard for them to work together.
Desaeyere admits that in Thailand a coach must be careful and respect the culture, though the players must also know that they have a European coach and things will be different. One of the biggest difficulties he says is that, “Thai players get over a loss easily, they say ‘mai pen rai’ whereas in Korea they keep that loss in them. In Thailand there is less passion.”
He says football is relatively new to Thailand, but soon he hopes to be involved with the progression of football in the country. “Twenty years ago Thailand had a better team than Korea and Japan,” he says, and adds that Korea has in the last decade improved tremendously, not just as a national team, but at all levels. “It’s all about grassroots football. Chiang Mai and other cities must provide academies and Thailand can catch up. In 10 years everything can be different. We need to start with 4 academies in Chiang Mai, north, east, west, south, and have four good coaches. From each academy four or so players will make the selection and those players will play together for the city. It will cost a lot of money, and will take a lot of energy, and there must be a good level of coaching. Muangthong has done great because they have a super academy.” At the moment CMFC has players from Africa and beyond. The Thai league allows teams to have seven foreigners in the squad and five players on the team. Chiang Mai has players from Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Japan and Paraguay. “Young players can come to us, play a season or two when they are starting out, and when they get older and have more experience, if they are good enough, they can move on to Europe,” says Desaeyere.
He laments that presently CMFC doesn’t even have their own pitch, although they have great training facilities at PTIS where they recently started training, as well as 700 Year Stadium. “If you don’t have a good field it affects the productivity, you reduce your investment in training,” Desaeyere says. CMFC has, however, been promised a new field by their president which we are told will be ready in the near future.
But greatness will not just come with better facilities says Desaeyere. Thai players, he tells us, still don’t have the awareness that European players have, “They react, because they are not smart enough to know the best position to be in. This makes more contact than you need in Thai football, they chase the ball too much. When they can view the game better, there will be less contact.”
On his personal experiences he tells us he’s played in every country in Europe. One of his most memorable games was for Antwerp when his team knocked Aston Villa out of the UEFA Cup in 1975. “My friends thought that not possible,” Desaeyere tells us, laughing.
With Desaeyere’s track record and vision of what football could be in Chiang Mai, the city’s football players and supporters should hope he’ll be here for a while. “I’m happy here,” he says, “the atmosphere in this city is great. I like this area,” he says motioning outside to the busy Nimmanhaemin hub. And you never know, years from now the same area might be the place your favourite Thai footballer wolfs down the odd bottle of beer behind his manager’s back.
VIP packages are now available at CMFC. VIPs will be met at the stadium by “glamorous” girls [Ed. Do we women get glamorous men?] and taken on a tour of the stadium. You will see the manager in action with his players prior to the game and also have your photo taken with the team. After the game you can enjoy a buffet. You’ll also get to meet up with the manager after the game and discuss the game. The cost of the whole day is only 1,400 baht and also includes a gift of a signed photo of you with the players and staff of the club.
The numbers for this event are strictly limited, so please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your ticket for what will be a great occasion.
For more information visit CMFC’s website www.chiangmaifc.org.