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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!

 

New Kids on the Block: The Sandpit Meets Niran Hansson & Patrick Bentley

 

As Port begin reestablishing themselves as a T1 club, one strategy seems to be to sign young, dual-passport players – those brought up and trained in footballing cultures more developed and disciplined than Thailand, but who crucially have Thai nationality.

Following the signing of Thai-Swedish Elias Dolah, Port signed two more dual-nationality players – fellow Thai-Swede Niran Hansson (who made an impressive debut in the friendly vs BBCU on Saturday), and the youthful 18-year old Thai-British Patrick Bentley, who grew up in Australia.

Both players are a total mystery to Port fans, so The Sandpit met up with them for a chat to find out more about two players who might be the future not just of Port FC, but also of the Thai national team…

 


You both have Thai nationality but grew up overseas. What is your experience of Thailand?

NH – I’ve been here on vacation many times with family. I was adopted when I was 18 months, so I’ve been back here with my Swedish parents to visit the orphanage. 

PB – I’ve been here every year since I was born to visit my mum’s side of the family.

And what’s been the hardest thing about adjusting to life here?

PB – Every foreign player has to get used to the weather. Playing in the humidity is hard. We’re used to the heat in Australia but not the humidity.

 

Tell us how you both got started in football and where you played before coming to Port.

PB – I grew up in Sydney, and I played in the Youth Premier League for a team called Manly Utd. Then I moved to a team called APIA Leichhardt where I played U18s and U20s in the NSW Premier League. I look at myself as a defensive midfielder, but I’ve also played centre back and right-back – I’ve been playing right back in training with Port. But I’ve been a defensive midfielder for the last 10 years. My dad is from Manchester and played football so I’ve been playing since I was 5. I didn’t have a choice. All my friends in Australia started playing rugby & cricket, but I stuck to football.

NH – I started playing with a local team in the suburbs of Stockholm, then got scouted by Brommapojkarna’s academy and joined the U15s, went through all the youth teams, and signed professional terms in 2015. I tried ice hockey for a couple of years but chose football when I was about 12 because I was better at it.

You were coached by Sweden legend Olof Mellberg. What was it like working with him?

NH – It was an experience. He has a long career behind him and I learnt a lot from him.

You’re a central defender but I believe you also like to play right back…

NH – I’ve been a central defender all my career but a couple of years back I started to play right back. In Sweden my height is nothing special, but in Thailand I’m tall, so in Thailand I’ll probably be more of a central defender.

 

 

 

How do you compare football in Thailand to the football you grew up with?

NH – In Thailand possession changes very often. They just get the ball and run. I still have the Swedish mentality of keeping shape and holding the line which doesn’t happen in Thailand. In Sweden we have 3 months of pre-season so we learn to hold our shape.

PB – Non-stop counter-attacking, that’s what I’ve noticed. 

NH – Communication on the pitch is also a problem. Thai players aren’t used to being vocal and maybe they get annoyed with me shouting at them! But somebody has to do it.

PB – In Australia we’re more patient. We spend a lot of time on tactics – I don’t know if it’s beneficial or not but some sessions we just work on positioning, off and on the ball. It was a bit of a shock as here it’s just non-stop backwards & forwards, it really tests your fitness. It’s a lot quicker and more direct than I’m used to.

Do you think if a team started using the more European possession style in Thailand they’d be successful?

PB: I don’t think so.

NH: Yes I think so. If your defence is organised, and you have a good offence, when the other team doesn’t play defence it’s easier for you.

PB – I guess so, but you win some & you lose some. Australia played Thailand recently and drew, were expected to win but should’ve lost. Thailand dominated the game and deserved to win. Yes they played counter-attack but they did it intelligently. It’s no less intelligent, it’s just a different style of football – it’s faster, quicker & more direct. Thailand took Australia by surprise.

 

Have you been brought to Port for the future or will you get lots of first team action this season?

NH – I don’t know yet. We haven’t talked about it.

PB – I guess it’s up to the coach – he expects everything from every single player, every player needs to be ready.

 

What was the process of joining Port?

NH – My agent had a couple of offers from Thailand – I can’t tell you who the others were! – and it all happened very quickly. We flew down, did a medical, and that was it.

PB – Port first approached me about a year ago via my mum’s friend who knows someone at the club. They invited me for a trial last year but I wanted to finish my last year of high school first, so I came here in January this year for a trial and got a contract.

And what were your first impressions of Port?

PB – Very welcoming, everyone greeted me and made me welcome. Noone made me feel left out. 

NH – I’d already spoken to Elias (Dolah) and he said it was a great club & a good place to be, and when I arrived everyone was very welcoming. The captain, Rochela,  he called me when I arrived and invited me to come down to training, and he was really welcoming.

PB – I was surprised by the big turnout for the friendlies. The fans are so passionate and friendly, they already knew my name, they come up & take pictures & ask for autographs. I’ve never had that before!

 

 

Niran, you scored in front of Zone B on your debut, in the friendly against BBCU. How did that feel?

NH – It felt great, starting my first game at home and just trying to get a feel of Thai football and playing with new players…I felt good, I played well I think. I hadn’t played a game in 2 months so my timing’s a bit out – I feel physically fit but the timing isn’t quite there yet. But it was great to get a goal!

 

Which other Port players have you been most impressed with?

NH & PB (simultaneously, without hesitating) – Suarez!

NH – There’s something special about him, he’s got great passing & vision. He’s on a different level.

PB – I also look up to Rochela a lot – his composure, his decision-making, everything about him on & off the pitch. He’s a role model, that’s why he’s our captain because he leads by example.

 

What are the club’s ambitions for this season? Top half, mid-table, or avoid relegation?

PB – Aim as high as possible, that’s what I’m hearing from the coach, Madame Pang, all the players. What kind of team would we be if we only aimed for mid-table?

What about your personal ambitions?

NH – For me, I signed a 3-year contract, so I think they have a plan for me to stay and as long as I’m comfortable I’m happy to stay. It’s good for my development to play with players like Rochela and Elias.

PB – I’ve also signed a 3-year contract. We’re both quite young, and they don’t want to just sign us then see us leave after a year. It’s a perfect club to develop with experienced guys like Rochela and national Thai players, so who knows where the next 3 years will take me?

NH – I’m here to play so I want to get into the first team as soon as possible and play as many games as I can.

PB – I’ve already achieved one of my dreams since moving to Thailand. 10 years ago my dad took me to see Thailand play at Rajamangala, and after the game we got into the pitch and my dad said “Maybe one day you’ll be playing here” – then last week I was training there with Port! I hope I’ll get to play an actual game there one day.

 

What kind of social life do the players have? Do they go out partying together?

PB – I wouldn’t know, I’m 2 years underage!

NH – I hang out with Elias.

PB – We all eat together pre-and post-training. They’re a great bunch of lads, and we all have the same goal which is to do well for the team.

NH – For me it’s 100% football. I try to do rehab in the morning, stay in the pool, just take care of myself.

PB – We don’t have that much free time, just a day off each week. When I’m not training I just eat, rest & stretch.

 

As young footballers, which famous players do you most admire or look up to?

NH – Steven Gerrard. He was a leader on the pitch, scored a lot of goals. He’s a real role model.

PB – I’m a massive United fan (NH groans) – not by choice! From my dad. So I’d say Paul Scholes, Giggs, Carrick – Carrick is my favourite player of all time, I’ve looked up to him all my life and I model my play on him. He’s very underrated and you don’t notice him on the pitch but he makes a massive difference. And I also really like Ander Herrera.

 


It’s heartening to see Port signing up potential stars of the future on long contracts, and both Niran and Pat seem to be very level-headed, ambitious young players who will – hopefully – be a big success at Port. Certainly – if his performance against BBCU is any indication – Niran will be making his full debut sooner rather than later. The Sandpit wishes them both well for the future.

 

Many thanks to Niran and Pat for taking the time to meet with us. Thanks to Max and Joe at The Sportsman Bangkok for hosting us. Interview by Tim Russell & Dominick Cartwright. Photos by Tim Russell. 

 

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.