Posts

Swede As! The Sandpit Meets Elias Dolah

 

Since joining Port from T2 side Songkhla at the start of 2017, big Thai-Swede Elias Dolah has become a fixture in Port’s defence, terrifying Thai strikers with his size and no-nonsense tackling. Off the pitch however, Elias is a friendly, laid-back, eloquent character with a lot to say about Port and Thai football in general. The Sandpit met up with him to find out about his beginnings in Swedish football, his first year at the PAT, and what 2018 might hold for him and his team…

 


 

Tell us how you got started in football…

I come from a village outside Lund in the south of Sweden and my first team was my village team, Dalby GIF. I played there until I was 15-16 or so, in central midfield. I played defence also, but usually central midfield. Then I moved to Lund and played there for 4 years, in the junior and then the senior team.

 

 

I guess your size was less of a big deal in Sweden?

Right, I wasn’t oversized when I was young, I was the same as everyone else, so I played central mid, that’s where I played my best games in the Swedish First Division (the 2nd tier of Swedish football – Ed). But when I came to Thailand they saw my size and wanted me to play as a central defender.

 

When you were growing up, which players were your heroes & role models? Which team did you support?

I got a Chelsea shirt from my father when I was 6 years old – back then Chelsea weren’t the team they are now so I thought it was a nice team to cheer for. At that time Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was the goalscorer so he was my hero. But the role model for me was my big brother – he was a footballer but he studied law & had to give up football. He’s two years older than me & was the one I always looked up to. Now I don’t really have any players I look up to but Maldini is the defender I’ve always admired, I often watch his Youtube clips, he was so consistent. He kept up that level for so long, until he was 40!

 

How did the move to Thailand come about?

My father is from Narathiwat in the south of Thailand so I was visiting my relatives and my father said “Maybe you should go & train with a local team”, and he started doing some research and got in touch with Songkhla which was the closest team, and they were in the TPL at the time. So I did some pre-season training with them the season they were in the TPL, and they wanted to sign me, but I still had one year left on my contract with Lund and in Sweden you can’t just break contracts like you can in Thailand! So I went back to Sweden and played one more year, then agreed a 2-year contract with Songkhla to see if Thai football was right for me.

 

What culture shocks did you experience moving from Swedish to Thai football?

It was a bit of a change! It was the first time I’d moved out from my parents’ house so that was a change too. Swedish football is like most European football – it’s more structured, more organised, more tactical, you have to follow the tactics and if you don’t you will not play. Here it’s more impulsive – if someone feels like going on a run they’ll do it! It’s more free, more end-to-end. It’s something we players have to manage – we can’t just go-go-go all the time because in the end we will lose.

Thai clubs need a whole new way of training, diet, lifestyle. Come in at 9, take it seriously, this is your job. The players’ diet isn’t controlled. I think it’s a lack of knowledge about what your diet does to you. In Sweden we learn about this in school and when playing, the coaches told us what to eat. We went to Chiang Mai for the Leo Cup last week, even though it’s just a friendly game, we didn’t have any lunch – we flew at midday when we were supposed to eat lunch to prepare for a game at 6pm, so we had to take care of lunch ourselves and most people went to McDonald’s! Some of the foreign players don’t eat Thai food so they have to try & find something to eat – David (Rochela) always eats rice & eggs! He just mixes fried eggs & rice, it’s funny, it’s his way of dealing with Thai food.

 

What about the talent of Thai players? Is there a lot of potential here?

If they take care of themselves then they can be as good as Swedish players. Here in Thailand they need to get more chances to play – don’t pick players because of age hierarchy. That’s a big problem in Thailand, younger players don’t get the same chances as older players.

 

Who’s the best player you’ve played against, and with, in Thailand?

I think Theerasil, he’s quality. He’s a good target player, even though he’s not the biggest or strongest, he finds the spaces. And I’ve played with Sergio (Suarez) for 4 years now. From the beginning he impressed me and every day he still impresses me, he has really good technique and if he plays in the right position – creative central mid… Also Nitipong, he has something really good going on. He’s really serious and professional, he goes to the gym every day even when we don’t have training.

 

What were your first impressions of Port?

My first impression of Port was playing at PAT Stadium. That was amazing – in T2 the crowds are usually really small, you play in these shit stadiums, some of them don’t even have showers, then you come to PAT Stadium and you think wow, this is what Thai football is all about. Playing Port home & away I thought this is something else, it’s not like playing against teams like Ang Thong or Krabi. I got a really good impression so to be able to come here & play was perfect. The fans are amazing.

 

Port had an up & down season, with some amazing performances interspersed with some…not so good ones. Our defence conceded a lot of goals & penalties, why do you think this is? What are you doing to tighten things up for 2018?

I think it’s the lack of a base…if you feel like the game isn’t going your way, as a player you need to be able to fall back on a base, like a holding pattern, and if you don’t feel like you have that to fall back on when things are going badly then it can be really difficult. That’s what happened in some of the games where we performed really badly, like Thai Honda away (groans from all assembled). That night we didn’t do anything right, but we had nothing to fall back on. On the days when we’re playing well and everything’s working we can beat anyone. We also need to focus when we play smaller teams – you see some players going “sabai sabai”, and only getting fired up when we pay bigger teams. I think it’s natural, it happens everywhere, but it has something to do with professionalism.

Also last season, even when we were 2 goals up, we always found a way to concede a late goal. That comes back to what I said about having a base playing style. What is our philosophy? What is our style of football? We just need to learn to finish off games. The clinical aspect of our games has to be better. And sometimes you need to learn when to foul!

 

 

Was the Zico appointment a big disruption?

It was the wrong time to appoint him, because at that time we were performing well, we were in a very good position. Maybe we could have performed with Zico if he’d been appointed at the right time, but at that time we didn’t need a change. But nobody played well under Zico, the whole team played badly, Josimar scored once in, what, ten games…it’s not easy to win when you play shit.

Zico tried to make the team more professional and he could make decisions, because of his status. We could go and talk to him and he could change stuff. Big stuff. He made some changes in basic stuff, in the locker room and so on, because he brought a lot of staff with him – we had double staff when he was there. 20, 22 staff! Things like, after training he introduced boiled eggs & bananas, so people ate the right stuff, not eating shit – good protein & nutrition after training, and we’re still doing that now.

But sometimes he took things a little too easy with match preparation – he was like “I believe in you so much, it’ll be OK, the results will come”, but we didn’t analyse the opponents much which is important, as you need to be prepared in your mind and all pull in the same direction. That’s a good thing about Jadet, his assistant coach takes care of this, he’s really professional and we watch a lot of videos of other teams. And it seems to be working.

 

You were unlucky last season in that several times you had penalties given against you for fouls outside the area…

Yeah I was unlucky but also it was against bigger teams so it’s kind of natural…sometimes when you have your back to goal and you can’t see the line it’s difficult to decide whether you should make the foul. And in Thailand, with my size, it’s difficult to have the referee on my side actually – other players can do what they want with me, they can pull my shirt, tackle me, because it doesn’t look that bad. But when I do something, even if I make a good tackle it can look harder than it is. I think I play fair but it’s difficult because of the size difference. But the level of refereeing in Thailand is going up, some of them are OK.

 

What were your best & worst moments of 2017?

The best has to be the win against Muangthong, because it means a lot for the fans and for the players. It was a big win. (Tom mentions the post-game dressing room celebrations) Haha, that’s something I miss from Sweden, because there, after the game, if you win you make noise! Everyone can hear you. You do it from a young age, celebrate a win, but it doesn’t usually happen in Thailand. It’s like, the second best moment was the away win in Chiang Rai. That was the best smash & grab win I’ve ever been part of – we flew up & back in the same day so it really felt like a smash & grab! Go there, 90 minutes, go home. And in the dressing room after that game I really wanted to sing, to make some noise, but the Thai people said no, take it easy.

The worst has to be Thai Honda. It made us look so bad – they were one of the promoted teams, and they got relegated, and we go there and we lose 5-1. It was so bad. I watched some of the Weera clips…(laughter all round) It was bad timing as I was maybe getting called up to the national team, I was a reserve when they went to Australia, but after that game…

 

What about your future at Thai Port?

I feel really happy here, I’ve signed a long contract – I signed up for 1 year when I first came, then after 2 months they wanted to extend to 3 years which I did, so I’m under contract until the end of 2020. There’s good competition for my position with Todsapol, it’s a good environment to develop, so I have no fears I won’t be playing. In the end it’s up to me to perform on the pitch. I played many games in 2017 and I’m satisfied with my performance.

 

Port have streamlined the squad for 2018 with older players like Wuttichai, Ekkapoom and Pakasit moving on…

Yes I was really surprised to see that when I came back! I thought that would never happen. I feel really bad about Ekkapoom because he was supposed to play in the last game at Ratchaburi but I injured him in training! And I couldn’t go to his wedding after that as I was flying back to Sweden, so I feel really bad…

 

…and Tana?

Haha, we came back for training and nobody even knew where he was! Then one day he was stood there at training without his shirt, and told me he’d been away with the police doing training for 3 months. He has this police grade so he has to do some training sometimes. But he’s left Port for sure. He’s a really funny guy, doesn’t take things seriously at all, but he can shine sometimes when he wants to! 

 

What are your personal ambitions for 2018?

Scoring goals would be fun! I scored one in the FA Cup. But the problem is every time we get a set-piece I always get the biggest defender on me, or sometimes two of them. But that creates opportunities for others. Otherwise, keep developing, I’m still quite young and still have time to develop and I want as much playing time as possible to perform in front of the fans, and together with the team get some results, as I really think we have a strong team.

As for the national team, they usually pick from teams that are performing well. Last year, whenever it was time for national team selection, and you look at the results we had, I can understand why noone from Port was picked. We could be really good, but we could be really really bad, and that made the players look bad. This season I hope there will be more of a spotlight on the team.

 

Are you surprised at the quality of players Mme Pang has brought in this time round? What are the club’s ambitions for the season?

Yeah, actually I am. Before it felt like we bought quantity not quality – we had 40 players, in training you had to stand in line! Now it’s under control and Madame has told us she wants a top 5 finish. Which would be good.

 


 

Big thanks to Elias for giving up his Saturday morning to talk to us, and to Joe & Rob at The Sportsman for their hospitality & cooperation. And don’t forget to listen to our podcast with Elias!

 

,

Jaws 2 (Lions 1): Chonburi FC 2-1 Port FC Match Report

 

“The shark does not love. It feels no empathy. It trusts nothing. It lives in perfect harmony with its environment because it has no aspirations or desires. And no pity. A shark feels no sorrow, no remorse, hopes for nothing, dreams of nothing, has no illusions about itself or anything beyond itself.” (Rick Yancey)

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat. I mean van”. So we told Keith when upwards of 15 people signed up for the Sandpit’s Wednesday shark hunt to Chonburi. Eventually 12 of us – still a good turnout for a Wednesday evening game outside Bangkok – arrive at Pattana decked in the blue & orange, and board the buses for a short and fairly uneventful hop down the coast, which Strunk fails to enliven by playing Supertramp on his phone.

On arrival at the stadium, our first task is to get hold of tickets. Remarkably (actually, not remarkably at all – this is Thai football) despite the presence of only 30-odd Port fans, they’ve already run out of away tickets and we have to wait whilst someone runs off to fetch more. Who would’ve thought that Port fans might turn up to an away game AND have the temerity to actually go in and watch the game eh?

 

A warm welcome from the home fans. Muangthong, look and learn

 

Tickets duly purchased, beer & food are next on the agenda (for some of us – both Keith and myself are untypically on the wagon), and whilst the former is easy to locate, finding some decent nosh other than rather chewy battered quail eggs proves more difficult. But eventually we find a Muslim lady who is selling fried chicken of such extraordinary succulence it’s almost enough to make me grab the nearest Koran, work out the direction of Mecca, and drop to my knees shouting “ALLAHU AKBAR”. An early leader in the 2017 Sandpit T1 Football Ground Food Awards.

 

CFC – Chonburi Fried Chicken

 

Fed & watered, we make our way into the stadium to find that, for a club of Chonburi’s stature, it’s surprisingly shit – the usual Thai running track affair with decent stands on either side and the away fans shoved behind one of the goals, with the Hubble Telescope required to be able to get a decent view of the pitch. Note to the Thai FA – if clubs will persist in playing in stadiums not designed for football, make it a legal requirement that the away fans get an area on the side of the pitch rather than behind the goal, especially if you’re charging 200BHT a ticket.

Anyway rant over, and it’s time for kickoff…

The Match

With Rochela & Tana suspended, Anisong (15), aka John Denver (“Annie’s Song” – thanks Dom) and Genki (18) come into the team; otherwise it’s the same lineup who pulled out their truncheons and gave Police six of the best, trousers down on Sunday night.

Port, as is their habit these days, kick off at a furious pace and dominate the first 20 minutes or so, with Dolah (4), Suarez (5) and Genki all spurning good opportunities to take the lead. On 21 minutes the ball falls to Suarez – who otherwise had a bit of a stinker – on the halfway line, and seeing Chonburi’s keeper off his line, he attempts an outrageous lob which just clears the crossbar. Had it gone in, we would’ve handed out the Sandpit Goal of the Season award there & then.

Unfortunately Port can’t make their pressure tell and are punished on 23 minutes when John Denver clumsily challenges a Chonburi player in the area and concedes yet another Port penalty, though in his defence it was a challenge that had to be made. Up steps Chonburi’s SFS Renan Marques who buries the penalty to give the Sharks a somewhat undeserved – at this stage – lead.

The large Port following continue to sing, as we did throughout the entire game, regardless, and our loyalty is rewarded on the half hour mark when Genki beautifully chips the ball over a defender Gazza-style and then sidefoots the ball to Suarez, and just when you’re thinking it’s a bad pass, in comes Pakorn (9) to smash it into the Chonburi net, sparking ecstatic scenes in the away end.

Chonburi spend the remaining 15 minutes of the half laying siege to the Port goal but thanks to some solid defending from the increasingly impressive Dolah and the solid John Denver, the score remains 1-1 at half time.

The second half begins in comedy fashion with the first tumble of the night, as Mike Strunk (to be known henceforth as Mike’s Drunk) gets into an argument with a carelessly placed megaphone. The megaphone, not having spent the previous four hours knocking back cans of Leo, predictably wins, and the big American ends up sprawling over two rows of seats. One of my Sandpit colleagues will later top this by falling into a pond, but more on that later.

On 47 minutes Suarez sends Pakorn free down the right but as he so often does, the mercurial winger sends his shot into row Z, should such a thing exist in the Chonburi home end. From that point it becomes increasingly clear that Jadet, on his old stomping ground, has told his players that a draw will suffice, and Port sit back and do their best to soak up wave after wave of Shark attacks. Dolah and Adisorn (13) are on particularly fine and defiant form, throwing themselves into blocks and tackles with gusto, whilst keeper Worawut (36) even manages to catch a few crosses rather than punching them.

On the hour mark a notable event occurs, as John Denver leaves (not on a jet plane, but with Rochela’s suspension over, we don’t know when he’ll be back again. But we’re happy to tell him that, whilst we’ll smile at him, and wait for him, no way are we kissing him) to be replaced by young Niran Hansson (33), at last making his Port debut alongside fellow Thai-Swede Dolah in the heart of the Port defence. Niran puts in a good solid half hour and looks well at home, and certainly helps his cause.

 

The Khlongthoey Army out in force as usual

 

Despite their negative approach, on 78 minutes it looks briefly as if Port have snatched a possible winner. Pakorn crosses into the box, Josimar (30) nods it goalwards, and Genki turns it into the back of the net, only for the linesman – erroneously, as video will later show – to flag for either offside or a foul on the keeper. And 11 minutes later the inevitable happens as Port are punished for their lack of ambition. Chonburi swing a free kick into the box, Worawut comes out waving to his mother, as Big Ron once so memorably put it, a Chonburi boot sends it back goalwards and Pinkong manages to block it, but the ball loops into the air and unfortunately lands on the head of sexy MF Prince who bundles it into the Port net and then parties like it’s 1999.

Port have one more opportunity in the 93rd minute when Suarez find Josimar on the edge of the Chonburi area, but under pressure from a defender the big Brazilian’s shot flies over the bar, to the despair of the Port fans (and Josi’s army of tech-savvy fans in Brazil) and to the relief of the pitifully small home crowd.

2-1 it finishes then, and given Port’s lack of adventure in the second half, it’s probably no more than we deserved. Chonburi had clearly done their homework on Port and realised that, if you stifle the midfield engine room of Siwakorn, Adisorn and Suarez, you stop Port doing what they’ve done to so many top half teams this season. The midfield battle was often brutal and attritional but always compelling, and unfortunately Chonburi won it and thus the game, with Josimar starved of service.

But hey, you can’t win ’em all and Port will play worse than this and win before the season is over. With the team lying 7th in the table, and with 4 of our remaining 5 games before the break against teams in the bottom 6, things are still looking bright for Jadet’s men. Time to forget this defeat, move on, and take it out on Pattaya on Saturday. Dolphins are, after all, gentler creatures than sharks.

As for we Sandpitters, after the game we split into two groups, with the sober, mature, responsible members of the group taking the early bus home, where we discuss such varied and pertinent issues as midfield formations, the Thai education system and urban poverty in Khlong Thoey; whilst the alcoholic degenerates hang around the stadium consuming the Devil’s brew and, in my esteemed colleague Dominick Cartwright’s case, apparently falling into ponds. Unfortunately, as Arsene Wenger would put it, I did not see ze incident.

 

Man of the Match – Elias Dolah

MOTM performances were pretty thin on the ground tonight, with the usual contenders – Siwakorn, Suarez, Josi – well marshalled by an organised Chonburi side, and keeper Worawut having a Weera Duckworth moment for the second Chonburi goal.

But in the absence of David Rochela, young Dolah stepped up and put in another energetic, inspirational and defiant performance, showing just how he’s grown in stature and confidence since his nervy early performances for Port. If he continues playing like this, Port will have arguably the best centre-back pairing in T1 and future Rochela absences will not be quite as feared.

 

Photos by Tim & Linny Russell. Big thanks as ever to Keith Wright for organising the vans, and to the Chonburi fans, thin on the ground though they were, for a warm welcome.

 

FIN.

 

Dolah Swaps Krona For Baht

 

Just days after The Sandpit suggested that Elias Dolah should be considered for selection by Thai national team coach Zico, the Thai-Swedish centre half has declared his intention to represent the War Elephants at international level.

Dolah started his career in Sweden, where he played for Lunds BK and then FC Rosengard. From there he made the switch to Thai Division 1, signing with Songkhla United where he played 23 times last season. Despite suffering an injury setback, the 6 foot 5 colossus impressed enough to attract the attentions of some of Thailand’s biggest clubs, including Buriram United and Bangkok Glass. Dolah was reportedly even offered trials by clubs in Japan, but the youngster chose Port FC, citing the atmosphere around the club and the fans as key factors in his decision.

Elias Dolah, 23

“I came to practice with the team, and they gave me a very warm welcome. My friend [Sergio Suarez] also recently moved to the club. We both work well together.”

“I was impressed by Port FC last season when we played at PAT Stadium. The fans were full of passion. If I compared them to a team in Sweden, it would be AIK. The atmosphere is similar.”

Turning his attention to his hopes for the future, Dolah said recently in an interview with Skånesport that he has set his sights on playing for the country of his father’s birth.

Of course, the Thailand national team is the best team in Southeast Asia. They recently drew with Australia in their World Cup qualifier. I hope that I will get to that point, but I have to play in the top league first. And now I am here.”

So, what of Dolah’s chances? At 1.96 meters Dolah offers something unique to the national team: height. Thailand have struggled defensively with long balls and set pieces for as long as I’ve been watching them. Playing in the recent Suzuki Cup with other South East Asian nations this was rarely an issue, but in the World Cup Qualifiers when Thailand have faced more physical teams like Iraq and UAE, their weakness has been brutally exposed. Surely a player of Dolah’s stature would help the team in a way that current starting central defenders Adisorn Promrak and Prathum Chuthong, who both stand at 1.75 meters, just can’t.

The switch to 3 centre halves that Zico first trialled with great success in the draw against Australia also opens up room in the squad for another defender. Pravinwat Boonyong from Bangkok Glass came in to the recent Suzuki Cup squad, but was distinctly unimpressive the few times he played, meaning Zico is likely to be looking elsewhere when he picks his next squad in March.

If Dolah makes a good start to the season, striking up a strong partnership with captain David Rochela and getting on the end of Pakorn’s ever-threatening deliveries, then Zico would be well advised to take a very close look at Dolah. He took a risk on young, inexperienced but physically dominant Ubon forward Siroch Chatthong last year, and ended up unearthing a gem.

Port fans will be hoping first and foremost that Dolah’s performances for his new club merit this kind of recognition, as a strong central defensive pairing will be crucial in next season’s push for a top 10 finish.

 

Dolah In The Bank

 

Thai-Swedish centre-half Elias Dolah has reportedly signed with Port. The 6 foot 5 defender was born in Lund, Sweden to a Thai father and a Swedish mother, meaning he will be able to bring his experience of European football to Port without taking up one of the five foreign player slots.

Elias Dolah, 23

23 year old Dolah played 21 games for local third tier side Lunds BK before moving to FC Rosengard and then Songkhla United in the TPL. He made 23 appearances for Songkhla last season, scoring one goal.

Dolah looks to be a shrewd signing, bringing much-needed physical presence to a Port squad that was somewhat lacking in height and strength last term. His arrival will increase competition for places in the Port back-line, where Todsapol (6) formed a solid partnership with Rochela (22) last season. He could also add a goal threat from set-pieces, giving Pakorn (9) a target for his pinpoint crosses.

Welcome to PAT Stadium, Elias Dolah!

 

Podcast

The Portcast Episode 9: Team Talk with Elias Dolah

 

In this fun quick-fire interview, Tom quizzes defender Elias Dolah on his Port teammates. Ever wondered who drives the fanciest car to training, who has “funny bones” and who Port’s most impressive new signing is? Elias gives us the inside scoop on all that and much more.

Thanks to Elias for being a good sport and answering all of our questions. We hope none of your teammates seek retribution on the training pitch! You can see Elias’ message to Port fans here, and the full interview will be published on The Sandpit tomorrow.