Next Sunday (21 May) Port take on T1 strugglers Super Power Samut Prakan FC who, at the time of writing, have one solitary point from their first 13 games. To whet your appetite for the game, we had a chat to Super Power coach and Thai football veteran Jason Withe about life in the basement of T1, his long coaching career in Thailand, and dodgy refereeing at the PAT…
You recently left a Director of Football position at Sukhothai to take on probably the toughest job in T1 this season, managing Super Power. Why did you decide to take the position?
I was asked to come in and cover Sukhothai for the AFC Champions League with the view of any head coaches job coming available I could leave which was agreed by the club. Although I have the skills for the role of Director of Football I do feel I’m best suited to the role of head coach at this stage in my career and I enjoy the challenge of being on the grass working with players.
Super Power are rooted to the bottom with just one solitary point so far. Are you seeing signs of progress since you arrived and do you think you can turn things around? Why do you think the club has got off to such a start?
Since joining the club I was shocked at the player recruitment process and some serious questions have been asked as to why 36 players have been signed with 14 players over the age of 30yrs, and I was totally shocked that the club had only signed 1 striker! We have 5 right backs and 4 left backs and this is a club that’s struggling financially. There have been signs of progress but in this position the most important thing is to pick up points and we have fallen short of this.
What’s it like managing a team in an atmosphere like the PAT? Is it intimidating or motivating?
I must say I enjoy the atmosphere and the closeness of the supporters. Coming from England it’s something that we are used to and the problem with many stadiums this side of the world is many clubs have a running track around the pitch which very much distances the crowd and can diminish the atmosphere. My only concern when playing at Port is the referees being influenced by the crowd which I have witnessed first hand. I remember playing at Port with Songkhla Utd and we were winning 0-1 with 5/10min to play. Port injured one of our players and the referee wouldn’t allow him back on the pitch when he was ready so we were at a disadvantage of 10 men while Port were pressing for an equaliser and of course they scored! Straight after this he allowed our player back on the pitch. He then gave around 8 minutes’ extra time – where this came from I don’t know and yes you guessed it Port got the winner in the 98th minute! (The referee is always right and I have absolutely no doubt that was the case here – Ed)
On a similar note, I remember as a teenage Coventry fan shouting abuse at your dad when he was playing for Villa at Highfield Road 🙂 Do you think Thai fans are generally too polite (Port fans excepted of course!) and do you miss the edgier atmosphere in England, or do you prefer the Thai way?
Really good question but in this day and age we live in a very different society. Abuse from the terraces seemed to be acceptable in those days but I’ve been witness to seeing the wrong type of abuse in England which has no place in the game or society. It’s always great being involved in games that have a good atmosphere and I remember working with the Indonesia national team and the home national stadium was almost full with 80,000 people 3 hours before kick off. It was the best atmosphere I’ve been part of.
A mixture of both would be ideal and there are parts that I wish could be replicated everywhere. I like at the end of the game when the away team stand in front of the home team supporters and the supporters sing to them which is very respectful and nice to see. I’m not sure you would get Arsenal fans doing this to Spurs players or Celtic fans doing this to Rangers players!
Are you surprised at how well Port are doing this season? Do you think Super Power can spring a surprise?
I’ve watched Port a few times this season and although their form can be a little unpredictable they have some good players who can cause problems for any team in this league. As for us causing a surprise…it would certainly be a nice surprise for me if we did! We are in the process of rebuilding and starting from scratch and the chance to bring in some fresh faces for the second leg would be helpful.
You’ve been in Thailand on & off for a long time now due to your father’s involvement with the national team. What do you like about living & working here?
I’ve seen Thai football grow and change here from when I first came here in 1998 and we always said that Thailand has the potential to be a real powerhouse in Asia. It is great to see the league is so much stronger than when I first came here and the clubs are a lot better organised. I’ve always been open as a coach in my journey of continuous learning and working in different countries experiencing different cultures. I have made many friends here over the years and enjoy working with Thai players and I also enjoy Thai food – a little too much at times!
What are the biggest challenges for foreign coaches working in Thailand, and how have you dealt with them? What advice would you give to new foreign coaches here, particularly in terms of handling Thai players?
The biggest challenge is adapting to the Thai culture and I was lucky because my father was already working as national coach so I had his help. I find that they want you to impart your knowledge of how you can improve the team but it really is a step-by-step process and you really need to work with owners, coaching staff and players who are open minded. I always tell the players that although I have worked here for many years and understand the Thai culture I have a different mindset and they need to be open to change. This works with many players being open from the start but some players here still find it very difficult working with foreign coaches. Coaches must also remember what might work in their own country might not work here so being adaptable and flexible is essential.
Dealing with players here is the biggest challenge as many Thai players can be very sensitive. I find all players want to learn and improve themselves but how you impart your knowledge is essential. Although players here are becoming more professional this is very dependent on the clubs’ outlook and professionalism. I recently visited Buriram and spent some time with their coaching staff and looking at their setup. I would have to say they are running very much in line with clubs in the UK and Europe. If all clubs worked the same way I’m sure the national team would benefit from this. All clubs here should be looking at Buriram as a model club to align to.
You won the Thai league & cup double with BEC Tero in 2000, at the age of 29. What was it like managing here at such a young age, in a country where in general younger people aren’t always taken as seriously as older people?
I came here from the UK and had played for West Brom, Burnley, Stockport County and a few other decent clubs. I was already highly qualified and an FA tutor delivering FA qualifications so I was really comfortable and confident in my coaching and imparting my knowledge. Although I was young and had a few players older than me I never felt any problem with any of the players and as I am now I feel it’s important to be open with players and let them have an opinion. Buy-in is essential from all players and you will get found out very quickly if you don’t have the knowledge to back it up. I didn’t have a problem with this and players I have worked with here have always bought into my methods which have proved successful.
Finally, prediction time! Who’s going to win the T1 this season, and which 3 teams are going down?
I’ve seen a lot of Muangthong this season and they have really been impressive. Their only hurdle might be balancing the AFC Champions League with their domestic campaign and staying injury free.
As for the 3 teams going down I’m sure people will be predicting us as one of those teams but i feel it will be very dependent on what teams bring in for the 2nd leg. I know for sure we will be fighting like many other teams around us not to go down.
Big thanks to Jason for taking time out from Super Power’s relegation battle to answer our questions. We wish him all the best for the rest of the season (apart from on 21 May of course!)