Football Tribe Thailand
BG Pathum United is set to return to the Thai League in 2020 as champions of the second tier. Their former head coach, Ricardo Rodríguez, is also hoping to do the same with his J2 League side Tokushima Vortis. Here is the story of Rodríguez’s short, yet memorable, stint in Rangsit.
As football fans, we are often guilty of falling immediately for the arriving head coach or manager. Yet, when things turned sour, we are also quick to chase then out of the club. However, in the world of Thai football, where the higher-ups are quick to make decisions, fans of most clubs don’t really get the chance to turn on their manager. In many cases, there is sympathy from the supporters when a manager is sacked.
Ricardo Rodríguez of Tokushima Vortis is one prime example of those – highly rated by the BG Pathum United supporters (or Bangkok Glass FC, as they were known back then) many, were gutted to see him leave. Rodríguez’s quality was clear to see during his short spell in Rangsit so there is no surprise that, with time to work, he was able to get Tokushima challenging for promotion to the J1 League.
The former Girona coach arrived at the Leo Stadium following a fantastic 2014 season with Ratchaburi FC, leading the Dragons to a 4th place finish in his debut season in Thai football. That remains the club’s highest finish until this day. And since then, Ratchaburi has already used up 10 coaches – none of them able to match Rodríguez’s result of performances.
In just one year, the Spanish tactician was able to double Ratchaburi’s goals scored and did so playing breathtaking football. Needless to say, as a Rabbits supporter, I was excited to see what Rodríguez could achieve in Pathum Thani.
Though BG had just won the FA Cup in 2014, we could see, with the benefit of hindsight, that much of the credits is due to the foundation laid by Attaphol Buspakom. The momentum was then carried on by caretaker manager Anurak Srikerd who lifted the cup. Yet, many suspected, even before the final, the management had their eyes elsewhere.
Rodríguez penned a two year deal with the club but lost his competitive debut to Buriram United thanks to Diogo Luís Santo’s winner (the Brazilian would go on to become arguably Thai League’s most prolific foreign striker ever).
Despite the unlucky start, Rodríguez managed to guide BGPU to 3rd position midway through the Thai League season – losing only twice. They also thrashed Malaysian giants Johor Darul Ta’zim 3-0 at the LEO Stadium before getting knocked out of the AFC Champions League qualifiers by Chinese Super League side Beijing Guoan.
Previously, the team had a general idea of how they wanted to play football. They wanted to keep the ball, play a passing game, entertain the fans and so forth, but there was no clear structure. Therefore the players’ creativity and individual brilliance became a key part in filling those gaps.
Under Rodríguez, the side looks far more solid in and out of possession. Slowly, we could start to notice a pattern of play emerging. The players also look much fitter and, as a result, the team started to score more late goals, both from open play and well-worked set-piece routines.
Heading into stoppage-time, 0-0 at home to Bangkok United, a rising powerhouse at the time, Rodríguez eye for detail won BGPU won the game via a short corner kick routine. Arriving from outside the box to avoid getting man-marked, Australian center-back Matt Smith powers in Wasan Homsan’s cross, earning the team’s first victory against Bangkok United in 3 games.
A month later, Lazarus Kaimbi’s stoppage-time goal would steal the club a point away at Chonburi FC then three days after that, an 84th-minute Darko Tasevski volley won the game at Army United. It’s a cliche at this point but simply put, Rodríguez was able to turn defeats into draws and draws into wins.
The first half of the 2015 season was one of the best times to be a Rabbits fan. The team was playing well, scoring goals. Rodríguez is bringing the best out of the superstars while also promoting youth. There were genuine talks in the media of BGPU as a title challenger. What more could you ask for?
Unfortunately, things spiraled out of control following a shocking 5-0 demolition by the hands of Muangthong United on Matchday 19th. The team didn’t have a chance to catch their breath and suffered another defeat to Buriram United just 3 days later. This time in the FA Cup round of 16. The club took two heavy punches and struggled to bounce back – picking up on 3 victories in there next 10 games.
At the start of the year, Brazilian striker Leandro Oliveira arrived from Port FC with huge expectations but turned out to be a massive flop with only 2 goals in the entire 1st leg of the season. The club had to depend on attacking midfielder Darko Tasevski and wide forward Lazarus Kaimbi. Tasevski, a Macedonian international, ended the campaign as the club’s 2nd top scorer (9) while Kaimbi came 3rd (7) even though he left at the beginning of the 2nd leg. Former Brisbane Roar captain, Matt Smith, also contributed 4 goals from set-pieces, 2 of which help the team to a 1-0 win.
Looking to boost the squad’s firing power, Rodríguez utilized his Spanish football knowledge and landed target man Aridane Santana and midfield maestro Daniel García Toti from the Segunda División.
Though he failed to find the net in his first five games for BGPU and returned home six months later, Aridane still managed to become the club’s top scorer (10). Toti added creativity in the middle of the park, acting as the key that unlocked the opposing teams who tended to park the bus against BGPU and is still an integral part of the squad today.
Speaking on the “This is Football Thai” TV show, BG General Director Supasin Leelarit praised Rodríguez’s eye for detail and the coach’s use of dietary supplements to enhance the squad’s fitness. However, there was also a slight dig hidden in the compliment, saying sometimes Rodríguez can be “too detailed” in certain areas.
Up until that point, no BGPU head coach has ever lasted from the beginning straight to the end of the season. And with results dwindle, despite big recruitment, the supporters began to fear the worst.
On Matchday 30th, BGPU lost away to newly-promoted Saraburi FC and Rodríguez parted ways 2 days later.
“I felt I did a fine job with Ratchaburi and [BGPU]” Rodríguez revealed soon after his sacking. “I think there’ll be a job offer from either Thai or foreign clubs. I expect to return to work soon.”
Time proved Rodríguez was right to be confident. He is definitely a great coach, maybe one of the best to ever take charge of BGPU. Toti and Smith, two key signings during his spells, would go on to make over 100 appearances for the club. The youth players Rodríguez helped develop, most notably Bordin Phala, is now a senior member of the Thai national team. Rodríguez possesses an eye for the long-term so it’s no surprise he’s doing so well in Japan.
In hindsight, Rodríguez may have been a casualty of his own excellent start in charge. He couldn’t live-up to the success of the first leg and once he decided to take a step backward in hopes to be able to sprint forward. The management just didn’t seem to have to patience – something that the leadership at Tokushima Vortis seems to have in abundance and are now clearly reaping the rewards of.