In Defence Of Pakorn

 

This might be the hardest article I’ve ever written. The most divisive player on the Port books is ever the subject of feverish debate in the Sandpit and online, so much so that the man himself celebrated one of his goals last season by sitting down and typing on the turf, a show of defiance to his keyboard warrior critics.

 

 

Now, it’s only fair for me to acknowledge that I have, on numerous occasions, been one of those critics. I think almost everyone has been at some point. When you’ve watched the Midfield Monk as much as any regular viewer of Port has, you just have to have had moments of frustration, rage even, at Pakorn when he’s at his worst. So, before I come to his defense, let’s first briefly hear the critics’ case.

 

The Critics

He’s lazy. Unfortunately, we are not blessed with GPS data in Thai football, but if we were it would likely prove that he covers less ground than any other Port outfield player.

He’s slow. Most wingers have a bit of pace. Pakorn doesn’t.

He’s predictable. He’s very good at a few things, but when he does them on repeat, it becomes easy for the opposition to predict what’s coming.

His stats are skewed. They’re only so good because he hogs the ball and takes the majority of dead balls in the final third.

He’s soft. Our goalkeepers aim kicks at Pakorn with absurd regularity, considering that he seldom challenges for, let alone wins, the ball. He doesn’t do 50/50 tackles either.

He’s inconsistent. Even Pakorn’s fiercest critics won’t deny his talent, but they will berate him for not showing what he’s capable of week in week out.

When he’s bad, he’s bad. His highest level is unplayable. His lowest is unfathomably poor for someone of his ability.

He’s untouchable. At times Pakorn seems to be undroppable, not because of his performances but because forces on high seem determined to keep him in the team come rain or shine.

He’s not in demand. Other than Police Tero on two occasions, I can’t think of another team who has expressed a serious interest in signing Pakorn.

And most importantly…

He’s selfish. He shoots from corners. And freekicks. A lot. This undermines his teammates, who are often reduced to being bystanders while Pakorn single handedly goes for glory.

 

The Defense

He’s lazy. Not any more. Maybe. Hopefully. Yes, we’ve seen Pakorn turn up for pre-season looking like he’s bankrupted half of Bangkok’s buffets in his month off, but that is not the case this year. After being called up by the national team for the Suzuki Cup, Pakorn has had an extra month’s hard training and so far in pre-season has looked like Port’s sharpest player. I’m not saying he’s our fittest or hardest working player all of a sudden, but he’s certainly pulling his reduced weight. I’m quietly hopeful that this is going to make a real difference to his performance level this season.

He’s slow. So? With the ability to make a yard for himself and whip the ball in with either foot, that’s basically irrelevant. Some players need pace to be effective, Pakorn demonstrably doesn’t.

He’s predictable. Predictably effective. I’m not sure that Thai goalkeepers would agree that he’s predictable. Pakorn’s propensity to shoot when most would cross must keep goalkeepers on their toes a bit. They certainly can’t be charging cavalierly off their lines to punch or catch many of his deliveries for fear of the ball flying over their heads and into the top corner. We’ve all seen him do it before. Also, is it fair to criticize Port’s top assister for shooting too often? How many assists does he have to get year in year out to be considered a team player? Will it ever be enough? Port’s other wingers do go for glory less often, but they also provide less chances for their teammates. It doesn’t seem to add up; it’s not magic, just Pakorn.

His stats are skewed. He’s a dead ball specialist. In the last two seasons he’s scored 13 and assisted 32. Only Suarez can boast better numbers, and his combined total is only 5 ahead, despite playing in a more advanced position. You can try to put an asterisk by those numbers all you want, but you’re fighting a losing battle. Penalty takers take penalties, dead ball specialists take dead balls. Does Kane’s Golden boot at the World Cup have an asterisk next to it? He did his job, taking the responsibility of converting from the spot, and Pakorn frequently shoulders the burden of taking the majority of Port’s set-pieces, and doing so pretty bloody well. Most of the time. Other teams have dead ball specialists too, and most of them don’t manage to churn out the volume of goals and assists that Pakorn does.

He’s soft. Fair enough. I can’t pretend this hasn’t annoyed me at times, but I would also be annoyed if he got himself injured and we were stuck with a vastly less productive player on the right wing. Players who get kicked can either take the punishment and most likely pick up a few knocks, or stay well away and avoid injury to the best of their ability. You can put this one down as a less than forceful defense. I would like to see him challenge for the ball more often, although I think I understand why he doesn’t.

He’s inconsistent. And which of our attackers isn’t? We’ve leveled the same criticisms at every creative player at Port at some point. The fact that he has so much natural ability makes it more frustrating in his case, but that doesn’t mean that Pakorn should be singled out for more grief than other players who have just as many off days. It’s seen as a positive when a striker can play poorly and still score. Should the same not apply to Pakorn when he underperforms but then provides a moment of quality that leads to a goal?

When he’s bad, he’s bad. And which of our attackers isn’t? Again, I think this can apply to Port’s other attackers just as much as it can apply to Pakorn.

He’s untouchable. He doesn’t pick the team. I can only remember Pakorn being dropped on a couple of occasions under Jadet. He was left out of the XI when Port traveled to Honda in 2017, only to be brought on with Port 5-0 down. He scored a free kick. Typical. I can’t remember the other occasion(s) in any detail, but I remember him coming back with renewed purpose and showing us what we’d been missing without him being in the side. What I’m trying to say here is that dropping Pakorn every now and then is not a bad idea, and I don’t see calling for him to be left out occasionally as a criticism. A rested, motivated Pakorn is what he all want to see, and if dropping or resting him is the best way to achieve that, than that’s what Jadet should do. Pakorn’s not picking the team anyway, so there’s not a lot he can do about it.

He’s not in demand. Thankfully! The Sandpit has had occasion to bring up the Pakorn issue with a few T1 bosses, and none of them expressed an interest in trying to sign him. Police did try and fail a couple of times, but otherwise there is surprisingly little speculation surrounding the future of a player who puts up such impressive numbers every season, while other Thai wingers summarily fail to match his output. Even the national team staunchly refused to give him a go until the Suzuki Cup last year. Their lack of interest in Pakorn surely doesn’t stem from doubt of his ability but rather his attitude. Again, I can’t put in a particularly staunch defense here, as I have quite reasonably questioned his attitude on numerous occasions, but I do think that the criticism is sometimes a little exaggerated. He’s never said anything derisory about Port or our fans, and as far as I know he’s never refused to train or play, aside from maybe asking to be subbed off a couple of times in minor games. He’s hardly Nile Ranger, is he? Last season he did make a stupid error, agreeing to play an exhibition game in the middle of a packed schedule, resulting in him fainting and being rushed to hospital. A silly thing to do no doubt, but to my mind the likes of Wuttichai, Wagner, Kaludjerovic, Thiago and even Suarez have all demonstrated having a more disrespectful attitude than Pakorn.

And finally…

He’s selfish. Yes, but… This is the hardest of all for me to make a decent defense of, although I’ll get by with a little help from some perhaps unlikely allies. Does he genuinely believe the team is better off with him shooting from way outside the box rather than helping build an attack? There’s no way to know, but the alternative is that he simply wants the glory for himself, and I don’t think that’s true. The former is clearly far less grievous than the latter, and I’m going to run with that idea for a moment. If you think he’s just a glory hunter I doubt I’ll be able to change your mind, but if, like me, you have a little more faith in the Midfield Monk, read on. A particularly avid Pakorn fan would praise him for taking responsibility, rather than being selfish, and trying to make something happen while others show less willingness to risk the ire of the fans if it goes wrong.

This is where things get interesting. It’s an argument made not by me or another random fan, but by his teammates. Whilst opposition coaches may not talk about Pakorn in particularly glowing terms, Port players have not had any time for criticism directed at the Midfield Monk, even off the record. He provides an outlet, they say. He takes the heat off the defence with his forward runs and passes. There’s a lot of pressure on him to provide, and he does an admirable job. Of course you don’t have to agree with these players, but it’s certainly interesting that they defend him so vociferously.

I must admit to having had my own sneaking suspicions that they may well privately be the ones most frustrated by him. Not so. If the likes of Josimar and Boskovic are to be believed, the way Pakorn plays makes life easier for the rest of the team, who see him as an indispensable cog in the Port machine. Far from being a divisive figure, his presence is appreciated by his teammates, who see just how talented he is every day in training as well as on match days, and appreciate having a teammate who is always willing to put his best foot forward when the time comes, unless what’s in front of him is a tackle, obviously.

 

 

I realize there’s every chance I won’t be changing many minds here in any meaningful way. I’m not sure I’ve even fully convinced myself of some of my arguments, and I expect to encounter the inner struggle brought on by Pakorn fatigue again very soon. What I hope I do achieve is to give those on the fence about the Midfield Monk something to cling on to, and a way to defend him when he’s being mercilessly slagged off on the terraces. Does he deserve it sometimes? Absolutely, but he’s our player and as such I’m going to defend him against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

The best right foot in Thailand has my unconditional support this season as he prepares to finally fulfill his potential, and I’ll be damned if I go in to the season where he becomes the best domestic player in the league with a negative frame of mind! I am, perhaps against by best instincts, thankful that we don’t have some other winger who works harder but produces less. This is your year, Pakorn. Now get out there and show ’em!

 

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