Monday, September 07, 2009


Thailand are without a coach but Asia editor John Duerden believes that the right candidate is already in place...

Steve Darby and Peter Reid (BBC)

Bangkok or Burslem? Phuket or the Potteries? These choices are never as simple as they seem and Peter Reid has returned home to England after almost exactly one year in charge of the Thailand national team.

As far as Asian football goes, the departure of Reid to become Stoke City’s assistant manager is something of a loss.

There may not have been a huge impact on the pitch but the presence of an experienced Premier League coach, the last to take Manchester City to a higher-place finish than Manchester United, in South-East Asia helped raise the profile of the region.

Reid was still learning about his job, the country and the culture when he left with three years remaining on his contract. More than once the ex-Everton enforcer spoke of how much he enjoyed his Thai time but in the end he was more than keen to return to England, the Premier League and his family.

His major achievement was leading the team to the final of the 2008 ASEAN final when they lost to Vietnam on a heady Hanoi night that he will not forget in a hurry.

Now it is up to the Football Association of Thailand to decide what to do next - well, it is the decision of president Worawi Makudi. Nothing will happen until Worawi, still hopeful, according to the Thai media, that Reid may stay, returns home but already there is Brazilian interest in the vacant job.

In recent years the federation, whether by design or by accident, has alternated between domestic and foreign coaches. Steve Darby is a mixture of both.

The man may have a name that suggests a 1970s television detective but Reid’s sidekick is probably the best candidate for the job.

If you work in Asian football then sooner or later you will come across the man from Liverpool. That is why he deserves a shot – there is nobody from outside South-East Asia who knows the region so well.

When Reid was offered the job last summer, the first thing he did was call upon his fellow Scouser. Darby has coached in Australia, Malaysia and Singapore and is well-respected for his efforts on behalf of football in the region both on and off the pitch – not least, his coaching seminars and texts that have been well received by domestic coaches.

Reid knew that he needed Darby’s expertise and it was the number two who did much of the work on the training pitch with the players and travelling around Thailand watching game after game of what is one of Asia’s fastest-improving leagues.

The last thing that Reid did when he ended his Asian adventure was recommend to the FA that Darby be his successor.

It is reminiscent in some ways of South Korea in 2005. Dick Advocaat spent nine months in charge of the national team, called upon Pim Verbeek for local knowledge and a European perspective, and the number two became number one upon Advocaat’s departure and is now thriving as Australia’s coach.

If the Thai FA turns to Darby, it would ensure at least that the impact of Reid’s departure is minimised and that the work done over the past year continues.

A number of international players have already said they want the number two to become number one. Players usually do, but when talking to star striker Teerathep Winothai recently, he was fulsome in his praise of the genial tactician.

The Thai FA talks of the 2014 World Cup but for now the objective for the national team is to reclaim their number one spot in South-East Asia in the face of challenges from Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam. For this, at least, a man with local expertise and international experience is necessary.

The battles with continental powerhouses and the world can come later. First, Thailand have to qualify for the 2011 Asian Cup, and the team have made a solid start in their campaign. A creditable draw in Jordan was followed by an impressive one with Iran in Bangkok.

Next, in November, come two games against regional and group rivals Singapore, two matches that could make or break Thailand’s 2011 ambitions.

Preparations have already been made and given the fact Darby has coached in the S-League, winning the league and cup in 2003, and knows the nation well, he is the logical choice and would be in it for the long haul.

Logic doesn’t always come into it as far as football is concerned, especially in Asia and especially in South-East Asia - something that makes the region so fascinating - but with every problem comes an opportunity, and this is the case for Thai football at the moment.

John Duerden

Asia Editor