COMMENT: Vietnam should look to ex-Thailand boss Kiatisuk

By Scott Sommerville

After only 10 games in charge at Thai League T1 side Port FC, Kiatisuk “Zico” Senamuang resigned from his position on Wednesday due to a run of results that saw the team win only one match.

Following a 3-1 home defeat against Chonburi, Kiatisuk had his resignation accepted by the Bangkok club chairman, Nualphan Lamsam, and both parties headed in separate directions.

The Vietnam national team have been without a full team manager since the resignation of Nguyen Huu Thang after a disappointing Southeast Asian Games that saw a Vietnam U23 team exit at the group stage following some lackluster displays in the tournament.

Whilst Vietnam does have a history of appointing foreign managers, with the team’s memorable 2008 AFF Suzuki Cup triumph coming under the stewardship of Portuguese manager Henrique Calisto, the relationship with ASEAN neighbors Thailand is a fractious one.

The two teams have been rivals on the pitch for decades, with Thailand often coming out on top against their less technically gifted Vietnamese opponents.

However, the gap has been closing in recent years, and the appointment of a Thai coach to the Vietnam national team may provide the extra technical and tactical acumen required not only for Vietnam to finally close the gap but for the Golden Stars to surpass The War Elephants.

Although the appointment of another foreigner manager – and a Thai one at that – may not go down well with Vietnamese managers currently managing in the V.League, for the fans, if there is one Thai who would be given a chance, it’s Kiatisuk Senamuang.

Back in his playing days in 2002, Kiatisuk had just left Singapore Armed Forces FC and was looking for a new challenge and received a call from Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) chairman, the now-vice-president of Vietnam Football Federation (VFF) Doan Nguyen Duc.

Kiatisuk joined the club and was an instant success, scoring goals that helped the team to two consecutive V.League titles – the only two league titles in their history – as well as two Vietnamese Super Cup trophies.  After retiring in 2006, Kiatisuk took the helm at HAGL and helped the team to finish third in his first season as a manager.

Following spells in Thai club football with Chula United and Chonburi, Kiatisuk returned to HAGL for another season, before leaving for Bangkok.  In 2013 Kiatisuk moved into international management, becoming full-time coach of the Thailand U23 team, losing only five games in 40 and leading the team to win the gold medal at the 2013 Southeast Asian Games.

Kiatisuk’s biggest success came with the full national team, having taken over in 2014 he led the team to 3 regional titles, including the 2014 and 2016 AFF Suzuki titles, and 2016 King’s Cup.

More was to come as The War Elephants topped their Group F World Cup qualifying second round group, qualifying for the final stage, third round.  Drawn with Asian giants Japan, Saudi Arabia, Australia, the UAE, and Iraq.

Drawn into the same group with traditional Asian powerhouse Japan, Saudi Arabia, Australia, the UAE, and Iraq. Thailand entered the final round as massive underdogs, and despite struggling to collect points, they were impressive in narrow defeats away to Saudi Arabia and UAE.

The team picked up their first points in the group with a superb 2-2 draw at home to Australia.  Kiatisuk resigned just two matchdays later, following defeats to Saudi Arabia (home) and Japan (away).

Despite the poor results in the World Cup qualifying, it is worth remembering that Thailand hadn’t gotten this close to the World Cup in a long time and the team had not embarrassed themselves, despite some negative results.  No manager in world football would have been able to take Thailand further than Kiatisuk did, and it’s a credit to his management of the team that they got as far as they did.

With the Vietnam national team job up for grabs, the Vietnam Football Federation would do a lot worse than to hand the reigns over to this modest Thai.