Football Tribe SEA Editor
Sitting just four points above the relegation zone with seven games left in the season, Nakhon Ratchasima fans have turned on head coach Milos Joksic, calling for his dismissal. While results have not been ideal, I believe that the coach should not be punished, especially after having molded a team to match fan demands.
Last season, Milos was highly praised by fans and media alike, winning the Football Tribe 2018 Coach of the Year, chosen by both the readers and website staff. Korat finished in 7th place, picking up 47 points from 34 games, giving them a 1.38 points-per-game average.
This season, the side are sitting just above the thick of the relegation battle, and their points-per-game average has dropped to 1.22. For context, in 2017, the Swatcats came in 12th place with an average of 1.21 points per game. Given the added investment in the squad this year, returning to this level is highly disappointing for supporters, and has them understandably upset and calling for a change.
However, these numbers don’t tell the whole story.
Last year, despite finishing in 7th place with 47 points, the side were the second-lowest scorers in the division (rank 17 out of 18) having found the net only 36 times all season. Their success came from the fact that they were the divisions’ fourth-best defense – but not by a particularly healthy margin. Prachuap, who finished one place and six points above them, ended up scoring a whole 20 goals more than them, while only conceding 2 more. The Swatcats were also the highest-ranked team on the table to finish with a negative goal difference.
However, Prachuap, and in fact, all of the teams above Nakhon Ratchasima, could call upon fantastic individual talent in a way the South Isaan outfit simply could not. This was compensated for by Milos’ ability to discipline the side. However, the figures above show that the Swatcats final position and points total were bloated compared to where they could have been given their scoring and conceding numbers.
That in itself makes the drop-off this season seem not as severe – but it is further diminished when one takes into account that a large part of the Swatcats change in form this season has come due to a change in approach which was demanded by fans.
Despite finishing in the top half last season, Milos fielded criticism for playing ‘defensive’ football. Responding to this criticism, he has attempted to play a more open and expansive game. While the results may have not gone his way thus far, his bravery in transitioning away from the system he was comfortable with, in response to fan demands, should certainly be taken into account when discussing his potential dismissal.
Opting in previous years to build the defensive ‘spine’ of the team from foreign players, Milos went all out in the pre-season transfer window, signing Ivorian attacking duo Amadou Ouattara and Bernard Henry to join Leandro Assumpcao in the attack, while keeping Lee Won-Jae as their only non-Thai defensive-minded player.
The results have shown that these players have improved their performance in front of goal. The Swatcat’s output has increased by 0.33 goals per game (from 1.06 to 1.39), while the number they have conceded per game has risen by a much smaller 0.10 (from 1.29 to 1.39). In summary, Joksic has managed to successfully improve their goalscoring without compromising their defense to too high a degree. The data suggests that the drop in points tally might just be, as unsatisfying as this sounds, down to bad luck.
However, even if one disagrees with the statistics and what they suggest, it would be a bad idea to punish Joksic for these results on principle alone. Firstly, the Serbian boss was forced to change his style due to demands from the fans, not on his own accord, and should be given extra leeway for venturing outside his comfort zone for the sake of pleasing supporters. Secondly, their decline in recent weeks has been down largely to falling output from their forwards; Leandro Assumpcao, Amadou Ouattara and Bernard Henry – something that can hardly be blamed on Joksic.
Lastly, and most importantly, the positive effect of a steady hand to guide the ship is one of the most undervalued things in football. Joksic’s long-term commitment to the club, willingness to respond to fan demands and experience in keeping his side in the division mean that it would probably do more harm than good to dismiss him, and would be unfair given the coach’s work at Nakhon Ratchasima.