‘We’re Going to Win! We HAVE to Win!’: The Sandpit Meets Martin Steuble

 

He’s been here already. He’s gone to get some food.

Mark from Phu Chai Coffee tells us as we arrive fully 20 minutes early for our interview with Port left back Martin Steuble. We should have known the hard-working Swiss-Filipino would beat us to the punch. Very much as you see on the pitch, he’s a dedicated professional who can’t help but make a good impression. 

We grab a table in the back of Khlongtoei’s best coffee joint, and within a few minutes Martin is back and ready to get chatting. First things first…

How on earth do we actually say your name, Martin?

“It’s pronounced Shtoybler

We all decide it’s best that we stick with Martin, and before we know it we’re talking football.

 

 

How did you first get in to playing football?

Well, growing up in Europe football is so prevalent, you played at school, you played basically since you can walk. My father got me involved. He wasn’t a professional player, but he obviously loved sport and he got me in to it. That’s how I started.

When you started playing did you play as a defender?

No, no, no. I was always a striker or a midfielder. I was always scoring goals, that’s what you enjoy doing. Nobody starts off and wants to be a defender!

And how many positions do you play now?

 I just played right back for the national team. I can play left back, right back, holding midfield…

What do you think is your best position?

The one I like to play most is actually holding midfield.

Who were your role models as a young player?

I’m not very big on role models. I grew up at a time when Zidane was very good, Ronaldinho… those were the players I looked up to. But then when you’re in the youth team you always pick role models from the first team playing in your position. Most of my youth I was with Grasshoppers Zurich, so they had players like Giovanni Elber, Ricardo Cabanas, and then they had a few foreigners like Richard Nunez, a Uruguayan player. Those are the players you cross in the dressing room so you look up to them and try to learn from them.

 

 

Were there any other players from your youth team that made it big?

Switzerland is very small. From my team and my age there are only one or two who made it really, really big, but those who are a few years younger actually won the under 19 World Cup with Charyl Chappuis, Haris Seferovic, Ricardo Rodriguez who is playing for Milan… These players maybe didn’t have it easier to make it, but we were slowly shifting from buying foreign players to developing youth players and trying to sell them, so I think from my year there were not many. I struggled myself turning pro and trying to make it in Europe. It was very hard, but I think now honestly I would say it’s easier. The numbers of young players who come up and make that step up is so much higher, but also you have to say the young players nowadays are so much more developed than we were. 

Did you support a team in Switzerland?

Yeah, Grasshoppers. I’m from Zurich myself, so it’s my home town club. 

Why did you make the decision to leave Switzerland and move to the US?

I was playing in Switzerland for a few years and I found myself in the second division. Not too much money involved, not too many supporters, but you train daily, it’s professional. Football is the same everywhere, you have a green-keeper who gets mad at you when you go on the field, you have a kit man who gets mad if you don’t turn the socks around, so football is the same everywhere, but anyway I found myself in the Challenge League, and then this thing came up with the national team. I started playing for the Philippines, and my coach back then was Thomas Dooley, he’s a big name in German football, and also in the US he captained the national team in ’94. So he was the one who got me a trial at Sporting Kansas with Peter Vermes who is the head coach now, and I just gave it a shot. I went there on a two week trial, it was during the World Cup 2014 so the national team players from this club weren’t there, I trained for two weeks and they signed me so I ended up there.

How did you like the MLS? It must have been very different from Switzerland!

In many ways it’s better and bigger. They love big entertainment, so that’s what it is. I joined Sporting Kansas the year before they were champions, so it was actually the champions’ team. I didn’t have many appearances, I was fielded maybe 3 times in my 5 month stay, but it was OK for me because I saw that the players were good, they came back from the World Cup and I was trying to fight for my spot, but it didn’t work out.

The MLS is very special because you sign a contract with the league, not with the team, so they can just say “Martin, tomorrow you’re going to Chicago” and you have no say. Also, another mistake people make is they think soccer in the US is very small, but that’s only because they compare it to other sports like American football or basketball. But soccer in the US is not small. Every single game we would have 25,000 fans, and they’re crazy! National anthem, fireworks, every time. Crazy! I loved it!

 

 

Were you playing alongside any famous players?

Yeah, we had Matt Besler, national team captain for the US, Graham Zusi, who was also at the World Cup and Benny Feilhaber who was at Hamburg a few years back. Those were the big names.

And after the US it was on to the Philippines. How did that move happen?

Well, representing the national team you’re on the radar, and then there was this big project coming up in Bacolod – Ceres Negros. To be honest they’re the only team. There are some other teams that are professional, or they’re trying to be, but the difference is huge. Philippines is still a developing country, and it’s not a football country at all. We have other sports that dominate like basketball, boxing, even volleyball is bigger. Even college football is bigger than the professional league. It’s really not a football country. 

Is that why there are so many overseas Filipinos in the national team?

Yeah, to be frank there’s very little grassroots football. We just don’t have much of it. I imagine if I had a 4, 5, 6 year old kid and try to get him in to soccer in the Philippines. Who’s going to coach him? Someone who hasn’t played much football. Who coached me? Players who played, coached… So it’s completely different, and that’s the thing about the Philippines, they don’t realize that the time is now for us. It’s now or never with this generation. You won’t find another Stephan Schrock, who played so many Bundesliga games. You won’t find players like Neil Etheridge who’s playing in the Premier League. It’s not going to happen in the next 100 years, so we have to put everything in to this generation.

I noticed the attendance for the last national team was about two or three thousand.

Yeah, 2 or 3 thousand Chinese. 

Great result by the way, drawing with China!

Thank you. This is another thing, though. The federation took a bet with the tickets in this match. I guess they thought that Chinese people are rich, so we can make the tickets expensive. But then normal people can’t afford it. The Chinese bought it. People asked how many they sold and they were never frank about it. “Oh, like five thousand” and then you turn up at the stadium and everything is red. It’s your home stadium and everything is red. With my old club Ceres, it’s privately owned by a guy who runs a Public Transport bus company, and we sold out our stadium every single time when we had an AFC Cup game. Why? Because he made it free for everyone. “Come and support us” you know? “Wear yellow and come!” And everyone is happy.

We have similar issues here in Thailand where if teams reached out to their fans they could really increase their attendances. 

But this is the thing. You complain about how things work in Thailand. I joined my team and everyone was complaining about the referees. You don’t know what’s going on in the Philippines! So, yeah…

 

 

OK, the less said about referees the better! And after the Philippines it was on to Port FC. How did that happen?

What happened is that the club Ceres is privately owned and the board members all started to sue each other about shares and everything. The owner said frankly “I’m going to finish this season until December but I can’t guarantee what’s going to happen after that.” He even asked the players to leave if we can. I was very happy in the Philippines with my club and everything, I would never have moved. My family is from Bacolod. But I had to make a move, and my agent Benni came up with the idea of moving to Port, and everything happened very quickly. Within two days I was here doing a medical.

Did you talk to any other Filipino players in the Thai League about the move?

No, but I spoke to Charyl Chappuis from Muangthong. With the guys like Falkesgaard we’re constantly in contact, but it happened so quickly!

What were your first impressions of Port?

I was in the Philippines for five years, so the Thai League is a huge step up. It’s so much bigger, so much better organised. The refereeing is so much better.

Myself and Tim burst in to laughter, but Martin isn’t kidding.

After I arrived I spoke to former Port player Patrick Reichelt, he told me about the atmosphere and this kind of thing, but you have to see it for yourself. I’m not a guy who expects too much, I just wanted to come here and do my best and try to deliver regardless of the circumstances. I wasn’t trying to take in too much, I was just trying to focus on trying to do my job. 

How long was it until you made your debut?

I was here 2 or 3 days and then I got subbed on in the away match against Ratchaburi. We drew 1-1, I got subbed in the last 10 minutes. A week later I made my home debut.

Which Port players have impressed you most since you’ve arrived?

I was impressed by many players, but I would say I was most impressed by the Thai culture. They don’t seem to try that hard but they’re amazing! They’re good, and they know they’re good, you know what I mean? I have to learn from that because I’m the complete opposite. I know I’m not the best football player, I know I’m not the most skillful so I really have to work hard. That’s what really impressed me with a lot of players.

Of course Sergio Suarez. We have many, though.

Who’s the hardest to play against in training?

Maybe Nurul. You can’t catch him, you can’t push him down because he’s down already. He’s hard to stop. 

And who trains the hardest? We usually ask this question and people usually say…

Go.

We were going to say Nitipong, but we haven’t interviewed anyone since Go arrived.

He’s 33 years old but he says he wants to play for 5 more years. Nitipong is a hard worker too, but I would say Go. 

Who do you think is the most talented player?

Bodin’s good, Sumanya’s good. They would be my choices. 

What has been your best moment since arriving at Port?

I remember the atmosphere against Chiang Rai. I’m really impressed with the whole stadium, how it’s set up, how it is and how it feels, so that really impresses me. Coming from the Philippines, knowing all that, I don’t take it for granted. For me it’s amazing to see. Every single game there’s so many people, and they cheer loud. It’s just great. This is really something. Every single game is special.

We were talking earlier about when the Philippines played China this week. More than half of Philippines starting XI are playing in Thailand now. Are you surprised about that?

No. The quota change and the state of the Philippines’ league are the main reasons.

 

 

Are there any more players in the Philippines who you think could make an impact at Port or anywhere else in the Thai league?

Yeah, there’s still a few players. You’ve got to think that Michael Falkesgaard and Stephan Palla joined from European teams, so those two were the door-openers for the rest of us Filipinos. They really performed well and we still have a few more back in Europe that are at about the right age where either they’re going to have a breakthrough season in Europe or they’re going to consider Asia. There’s still a few of these players out there. In Switzerland we have one young player, Michael Kempter, who plays in Zurich. There’s another goalkeeper, also half Danish like Falkesgaard. Then there are also a few players at Ceres who could definitely play in the Thai league.

Are there any positions in Port’s squad you think we could strengthen?

That’s tough. I think Port’s squad is pretty balanced, it’s a well-functioning team. We have all different kinds of players. Maybe strikers, but besides that, I think we have a solid defence. With Elias being called up to the national team, Selanon making his debut against UAE and getting an assist, and Tanaboon. This is 3 out of 4 already from the national team, and Kevin has also been a national team player. So I think we have a pretty stable defence, and I think with Go as a holding midfielder we have one of the best holding midfielders in the league. The captain Siwakorn is also for me one of the most underrated players in the league. He’s incredibly gifted, he works hard, and he’s a very important player for us. We spoke about our wingers already, and it’s hard to find players with this quality.

What’s your prediction for Sunday’s big match against Buriram?

We’re going to win.

Is everyone confident?

Yeah. We’ve got to win something. We’ve got to make it count. 

Are you worried about facing in particular players?

Nobody, no. We’re going to win. We have to win. Our team has come up from T2 together, you know? You play football to win trophies. Like me, I’m from a million miles away, but I’m here. Now I’m in Thailand I want to win something. I don’t want to say I was in Thailand and I finished second.  

 

Big thanks to Martin for giving up his afternoon to talk to us; to Mark at Phu Chai Coffee for hosting us; and to Tim Russell for the photos.

 

Tom Earls

Tom Earls

Having moved to Thailand aged 10, Tom has been playing or watching football in Thailand for more than 18 years. A keen follower of the Thai National Team and an avid fan of Port FC, he is a regular contributor to The Sandpit.

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