Fitter, Happier: The Sandpit Meets Rafael Monteiro

 

Since coming to Thailand in 2009, Rafael ‘Rafa’ Monteiro has become one of the country’s most well-known and respected fitness coaches. He was at BEC Tero when they won the 2014 Toyota League Cup, and Buriram when they won the 2017 T1 title. So it’s no coincidence that his arrival at Port in 2019 saw the Khlongtoey side challenge for the league title and win their first FA Cup. Rafa is one of the club’s unsung heroes, so we decided to find out more about one of the club’s most influential figures via a COVID19-enforced email interview…

 

Tell us how you got started as a football fitness coach…

I started in Rio de Janeiro in 2000, at Botafogo FC. I graduated in Physical Education, did an extension in Sport Physiology and one more extension in body composition and analysis. In 2012 I did my Master Degree in Physical Activity and Health in Barcelona. From 2000 to 2008 I worked for a few teams in Rio de Janeiro.

How did you come to Thailand? Which clubs have you worked for here?

I arrived in Thailand on 2nd April 2009. I was recommended to the Thai FA by the former Thailand National Coach, Carlos Roberto. My first experience was with the Thailand women’s National Team – the manager was Madam Pang. We played AFC qualifiers, SEA Games and other tournaments. After 7 months I moved to Bangkok Glass, where I worked for over 3 years. In 2014, I moved to BEC Tero Sasana – we won the Toyota Cup against Buriram, with that fantastic generation of young Thai players like Adisorn, Tanaboon, Narubadin, Peerapat, Jay Chanathip and others.

When Muangthong took over BEC Tero Sasana in 2015, I left to work at Buriram United for the 2016 and 2017 seasons. In 2018, I returned to Bangkok to work at my former (but new!) club, Police Tero. In 2019 I finally started to work for Port FC and for the second time with Madam Pang.

 

You came to Port in 2019. What were your first impressions of the club?

For most foreigners, we usually say that Port is a team whose fans make a huge difference. It is a club that I have a huge respect for and am honoured to work for. Great Staff and fantastic players.

We’ve all noticed a significant increase in the team’s fitness since your arrival. Back in 2017 in particular the team conceded a lot of late goals, but since 2019 that’s happened less often. What did you identify as the main fitness issues at the club, and how did you address them?

Uhmm, this is quite difficult to answer because I haven’t analysed Thai Port closely in 2017, but I know and believe that Rodrigo Pellegrino had done a great job at that time.

The fitness conditioning most of the time doesn’t depend 100% on the fitness coach; there many issues involved in the process of performance. We normally say that football games have many important parts like the tactical system, opponents, fixture schedules and so on. I really feel glad that fans are happy with team performance and I will keep doing my best to always keep the team at a high level.

Which players are the best trainers at the club, in terms of fitness? And you probably won’t answer this, but who are the laziest?!

Hahahah! It’s not a difficult question and I will answer it. ALL players (no exceptions) need a target to make them train hard. I can absolutely guarantee that there are no lazy players. The problem is, if a player feels that he is not important to the team, he will lose his focus. The most important thing in my job is to make them fit in a enjoyable way, that’s easy. Players need to enjoy the training, otherwise they will not reach the target that I want.

I always assume responsibility for the players, because is quite easy to blame them saying that they are lazy, you know. But in the group we have many players who are genetically perfect for performance, like Go Seul Ki, Heberty, Selanon, Kling (Siwakorn), Elias, Rochela, Fluke (Kanarin)…and the whole team hahahahah!

Have you had any success trying to manage the players’ diets? Your predecessor Rod said it was almost impossible to get Thai players to eat like athletes, and foreign players we’ve interviewed have told stories of Thai players eating KFC or McDonalds before games…

It’s another complex question hahah. I’ve been in  football for 20 years and performance has 3 pillars: Training, Rest and Food. If you don’t have one of them, you won’t reach a high level. I normally never interfere in players’ diet. I am more concerned how they are training and if they are improving or not. If I see that some player is not OK, I start to track his lifestyle. Some of them live alone and have no idea how to make proper food. Normally I invite a nutritionist once a year to give some knowledge to them.

What do you think are the biggest issues for new foreign arrivals in Thai football when it comes to training? I’m thinking climate, food etc. How do you help them to adapt?

It will depend on where they come from. Normally for Brazilian players, weather is not a big deal. But for some European players, when they come from cold countries, we have to progressively increase their training load and sun exposure.

Food yes, it’s a big deal. It’s necessary to adjust to a new menu for most of them every time that the team travel to play somewhere. But in my opinion the most important issue is culture – players have to spend hours and hours in friendly conversation with their Thai teammates!

How have you been helping the players keep fit during lockdown? Have you addressed the psychological as well as the physical aspect? How long will it take the players to get match-fit again?

Yep, me, the fitness staff plus the physiotherapists are trying to do our best to keep them fit and healthy. Of course it’s not the same as normal football practice.

Every day I send a training programme on our LINE group and players have to record the video and send to me. I recorded videos with many kinds of training programme and players just need to follow.

Your last question is the most difficult one. Because it’s the first time that we had this situation, and had to keep athletes training at home for a long time. It makes us curious about how long they will take to be ready without any serious risk of injuries. We are watching on social media some players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos and Messi training at home –  I mean in their luxury home gyms, haha! These players have all the facilities that are important to keep their levels of fitness.

So my challenge was to make a programme for their exercise inside a small apartment, using a minimum of equipment. This has been a challenge for all our fitness staff. Hopefully the videos can guarantee that Port players are doing their best every day!

 

Big thanks to Rafa for taking the time to answer my questions!

 

Tim Russell

Tim Russell

The founder and editor of The Sandpit, Tim has been in SE Asia since 2003 and in Bangkok since 2012, where he runs a travel tech business. Tim has followed Port FC since 2014, and is also a fan of his hometown club Coventry City, and French club AS St-Etienne. He has written for the likes of Football365, ITV.com, NME and The Quietus, and is a regular contributor to God Is In the TV. He's a keen photographer and his work can be seen on his website.

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