Since Zico took over the top job at PAT Stadium from previous incumbent Jadet, things have not gone quite to plan. Whilst Port are sat comfortably in mid-table with very little chance that they will get sucked in to a relegation scrap, results have certainly taken a downward turn. Additionally, optimism generated by some promising performances has had to be checked, as Zico’s curious managerial decisions have undone some of the good work that has been done on the training pitch.
As I have cast myself in the role of Jose Mourinho in one of my previous articles, it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch that I now name myself Supreme Sandpit Justice, with absolutely no authority over all things Port. Under consideration today is the case of Zico’s tenure to date. It’s been 80 days. Well, US Presidents are arbitrarily judged after 100 days, so why can’t Port managers be judged after 80? Everything is smaller in Thailand. After some extended post-match drowning-of-sorrows on Sunday, I’m still only operating at about 80 percent, anyway. Not the full baht, that’s for sure. Three aspects shall be up for consideration in today’s trial: transfers, youth policy and tactics.
Zico became Port manager with just a few days to turn around Port’s already shambolic transfer window. Under cover of the wall-to-wall media coverage of the appointment of Zico, the club then quietly announced the departure of fan favourite Maranhao, which not only cost Port one of their best players, but handicapped the new boss by ruling out any more changes of his foreign contingent.
Once the smoke cleared, transfer rumours about Zico’s former Natonal Team charges inevitably began to materialize. Stories about Kroekrit Thaweekarn and Mongkol Tossakrai were particularly widely reported. With both players known to be Zico favourites, there seemed to be reason to expect that deals would be done. Kroekrit has been rumoured to be on the way out of Chonburi for what seems like forever, and Mongkol was surplus to Muangthong requirements after the arrivals of Leandro Assumpcao and Siroch Chatthong. With time running out, Mongkol was reported to have finally made the switch – to audible sighs of relief from PAT Stadium – but at the last minute he changed his mind and chose Pattaya United. The deal for Kroekrit also never materialized, while late moves for Buriram striker Supachai Jaidet and Ratchaburi winger Rungrath Poomchantuek also fell through. Deadline day then saw Port let promising youngsters Tatchanon and Pinyo leave the club on loan. More about these youngsters to follow.
So, how should Zico be judged on the transfer window? He shouldn’t. He came in late on and did his best with some ambitious last-minute bids in trying circumstances. Those fell through, but blame for Port’s shambolic transfer failings can hardly lie with Zico, nor even his predecessor Jadet. Port’s managers have very little say when it comes to transfers, with the decisions being made ‘higher up.’ The High Ups, therefore, are where the blame should rightly be apportioned.
Verdict: Not Guilty
After his successful spell in charge of the Thai National Team in which Zico was known for bringing through a young, exciting generation of players, Port fans could be forgiven for being hopeful that Zico would continue this policy at Port.
Those hopes were soon dashed, as youngsters continued to have their path to the first team cut off. As mentioned earlier, excellent youngster Tatchanon, who was criminally overlooked under previous manager Jadet, continued to be frozen out before being offloaded on deadline day. Not only was Tatchanon let go, he was loaned to Chonburi, where the chances of him actually getting any game time are extremely slim. Additionally, Pinyo – a former under 23 National Team player – was loaned out just as he finally returned to fitness, after a long spell on the sidelines.
Exciting new left back Yossawat, Port’s sole source for optimism in the transfer window, has looked the most likely to break through, but has ultimately managed just 90 minutes since his arrival. This has been partly due to a family tragedy that Yossawat suffered shortly after his arrival, but also partly due to an older, more experienced but much worse alternative Panpanpong being consistently preferred. In the one game Yossawat started, Port kept a clean sheet.
Meechok – who broke in to the first team as a teenager in 2015 – has not even been making it on to the bench with regularity in 2017. Taking his place on the bench has been Pakasit – a player so poor he looks out of his depth in friendlies against lower league sides. Meechok’s form may have dipped a little – largely as a result of vastly reduced game time – but he’s not that bad!
The question of who is at fault for the clear bias against younger players is an interesting one. Both Jadet and Zico have a history of developing younger players with some success, but during their tenures at Port, there has been no indication from their team selection and substitutions that young players have a path to the first team. In order to absolve Jadet and Zico of blame, therefore, one has to say that the manager does not have the final say on picking the team or making substitutions. With the aforementioned High Ups regularly sitting on bench, it’s not a wild stretch of the imagination that this could be the case. If I had to guess exactly what was going on, I would attribute certain out-of-place team selections to the High Ups, but say that Zico does most likely have full authority over substitutions.
So, what’s the verdict on Zico and youth policy? Well, it’s impossible to say with any certainty. If the decisions being made are all his, then the blame is also his. If not, then the High Ups are again doing their best to kneecap their own chances of success.
Verdict: Jury Still Deliberating, verdict expected by the start of next season.
It must be said, the substitutions made on Sunday are the main reason I am writing this piece. They really were awful. Firstly, Siwapong was brought in for Suarez. Suarez was one of Port’s better players against Sukhothai, but was withdrawn with Port 3-1 up, and replaced by a journeyman midfielder who has played just 45 minutes for Port all season. They came in the 5-1 defeat against relegation candidates Honda. Siwapong once again showed that it’s possible for just about anyone to be a professional footballer, regardless of how utterly useless they are at football. The void in attacking midfield meant that Port’s ability to attack was blunted, and Port were facing one way traffic from then on. The game finished 3-3. At fault for the third goal were Zico’s other two substitutes. Jetjinn got skinned, then Adisorn gave away a penalty with a ridiculous body-check. I even saw Pakorn playing right back for a period in the second half. What’s that about?!
It wasn’t the first time Zico has made some bizarre substitutions, either. Suarez and Genki, two of Port’s best players against Chiang Rai, were replaced by habitually ineffective forwards Kaludjerovic and Tana, as Port again surrendered the initiative in a game they were dominating and snatched defeat from the jaws of a draw.
So, what is my verdict? Well, the team have been playing OK on the whole, but results have not yet materialized, and there must be a reason for that. Promising performances against Chiang Rai and Bangkok Glass in particular showed that Zico was starting to develop a decent system, but it doesn’t really count if you then undo that good work with silly substitutions. Jadet managed more with the same squad, and he was hardly a master tactician. Sorry, Zico.
Sentence: Suspended Sentence. Will be remanded in to Sandpit custody for a good talking to over a couple of bottles of Leo in the case of Wuttichai or Siwapong getting further game time.
I’m firmly in the camp of giving managers time to put their ideas and philosophy in to practice, particularly in a situation like this where there is so much redundant infrastructure built up around the manager that he has to dismantle to operate with any sort of autonomy. My judgment, then, is that Zico needs much more time, which will with any luck be spent creating a system through which he has control of as many aspects of team management as possible. If Zico is able to do that, then transfers and youth policy will surely take a turn in the right direction. Let’s hope the early indications on his tactics – particularly substitutions – are not as bad as they look. Once he has had the opportunity to bring in some of his own players, we will know more.