After honing his craft at one of Thailand’s biggest clubs, coach Santi Chaiyaphuak has embarked on a mission to take his hometown club to the top flight.
March 11th 2018 marked the end of an era for one of Thailand’s biggest clubs. Muangthong United, who had steamrolled their way to Thai League domination over the past two seasons, had just been drowned in the waterlogged pitch of the Sam Ao Stadium, home to newly promoted PT Prachuap FC.
The four-time champions shipped six goals in a game whose impacts continue to reverberate today. It brought to an end the reign of coach Totchtawan Sripan, and arguably began the stagnation which continues at the club today.
However, for long-time Kirin assistant coach Santi Chaiyaphuak, it was the sign of a new beginning.
Now the manager of his hometown club Ayutthaya United, Santi is preparing to come into his own, using the vast experience he built up during his time at the SCG Stadium. As he embarks on this new chapter in his journey, his first step into the limelight two years earlier remains a potent memory.
“All of the players were shocked when we lost to Prachuap,” Santi reflected. “In the press conference, Totchtawan said he was leaving Muangthong. All the players and I didn’t know because we were on the bus already.”
While the season had started slowly for the Kirin, there was no indication that Totchtawan’s time was nearing an end prior to this game. The coach was adored for his free-flowing possession football and had been highly successful over the past two seasons.
“He has a good character for a coach, and he has a good style,” Santi explained of his former boss. Drawn to his flexible football and possession-based system, suddenly being asked to replace Totchtawan appeared to be a very daunting task.
“Sarach (Yooyen) called me, and asked ‘what happened?’ He asked me to try and get Totchtawan to stay but it was too late already,” Santi reflected on his conversation with Muangthong’s captain. “Then in the morning, the president called me and told me to replace Totchtawan.”
However, this was nowhere near the true beginning of Santi’s story. Born in Ayutthaya in 1978, Santi came through the ranks at the now-defunct Sinthana FC, spending four full seasons in the Thai top flight before moving to Singaporean side Tampines Rovers. Upon his return to Thailand in 2009, the left midfielder enjoyed spells with Pattaya United, as well as future employers Muangthong United and Suphanburi. After retiring from football in 2012, the then 33-year-old joined Muangthong’s coaching staff. With his strong English ability and willingness to learn, he quickly climbed the ranks at the club, completing an apprenticeship with some truly remarkable mentors.
“At first I was an assistant to Jorka (Slavisa Jokanovic),” Santi remembers, citing the former Watford and Fulham boss as a key inspiration. Jokanovic made waves in Thailand, leading the Kirin to become the Thai League’s first unbeaten champions in 2016. The fact that his future exploits, including winning two promotions to the Premier League, started from such humble beginnings remains a point of pride for Muangthong fans and for Santi. “He is very good, he taught me many things,” he reflects, “I learned a lot from Jorka.”