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…
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.