As 2018 draws to a close, it is time to look back on the players, coaches and teams who have improved the most during the last 12 months.
Name: Thawatchai Damrong-Ongtrakul
Current Club: Prachuap FC
Past Clubs: Nakhon Pathom United
A successful Thai international in his day, Thawatchai's career was set to take off with his appointment as head coach of Bangkok United in 2014. However, he was released midway through his first season at the club, and returned to his former club Police United, where he oversaw their relegation into the second tier. Another unsuccessful campaign in 2015 with Chainat Hornbill followed, and in 2016 he battled at the wrong end of the second division table with unfancied Nakhon Pathom United. As such, not many expected much when he took charge of Prachuap in 2017.
The Wasps defied the odds to come third in T2, securing their first promotion to the top flight of Thai football. Not many people gave the minnows a chance in the top division, with their 5,000 seater stadium and modest local contingent looking very unlikely to weather the storm of the league's decision to trim their numbers by relegating five teams. However, their innovative, counter-attacking system stunned teams accross the land, and the side found themselves as high as second after 10 games. Their eventual sixth-placed finish marks an excellent campaign for Thawatchai, who can hold his head high after massively boosting his stock in 2018.
Achievements in 2018: Guided newly promoted Prachuap to an incredible sixth place during their first season in the Thai top division.
Name: Nguyen Duc Thang
Current Club: Thanh Hoa FC
Past Clubs: Saigon FC
Duc Thang began his stint as head coach of Thanh Hoa in May 2018 under immense pressure. Despite showing his talent as the coach of Saigon FC back in 2017, not many people expected him to do well with with Thanh Hoa in V.League 2018. However, under his guidance, Thanh Hoa improved dramatically, going on a seven game unbeaten run from May 2018 to July 2018, impressively finishing as runners-up. Thanh Hoa also advanced to final of the national cup before losing to Binh Duong in the final.
Achievements in 2018: V.League Runners-up, National Cup Runners-p.
Name: Stefano Cugurra ‘Teco’
Current Club: Persija Jakarta
Past Clubs: Royal Thai Navy
At his second season in charge of Persija, Teco managed to bring the league title to the capital side after 17 years of waiting. He was one of three managers who remain in their post at the end of the 2017 season, alongside notable coaches such as Simon McMenemy (Bhayangkara FC) and Roberts Rene Alberts (PSM Makassar). All of them finished in the top four in 2018.
This season, Persija finished as the league's best defence which only conceded 36 goals. Also, despite being the division's second highest scorers, there were no Persija players who finished among the top scorers last season, showing the strength of their teamwork.
This victory massively revived Teco's reputation in South-East Asia after difficult spells in Thailand, and he is now one of the most highly rated coaches in the region.
Achievements in 2018: 2018 Liga 1 Champions
Name: Mehmet Durakovic
Current Club: Perak FA
Past Clubs: Selangor FA
Durakovic's coaching career began with Port Melbourne Sharks in 2003. He then became the coach of the Football program at the Victorian Institute of Sport Football. In 2008, Mehmet Durakovic was appointed the inaugural coach of the Melbourne Victory Youth Team. He stayed in the role until 2011, when he was appointed as the caretaker coach of the senior team, following Ernie Merrick's sacking during Victory's Asian Champions League campaign. In November 2012, Durakovic was appointed as senior technical director at Victorian Premier League club South Melbourne. From 2013 to 2015, the Montenegrin boss served as the head coach of Selangor FA, a team that he had played for in the 1990s. Durakovic managed to bring Selangor FA to the runners-up position in the 2014 Malaysian Super League, and also made it to the quarter-finals of the 2014 Malaysian Cup.
In February 2017, Durakovic took over as the head coach of another Malaysian Super League side, Perak FA after the club terminated the contract of their former head coach, Karl-Heinz Weigang. He subsequently led them their best ever league finish in over a decade, coming second to Johor Darul Ta'zim in the Malaysian Super League. However, Durakovic's biggest accomplishment was their victory over Terengganu in the Malaysia Cup, securing qualification to the AFC Champions League.
Achievements in 2018: Super League Runners-up, Malaysia Cup Champions