Tribe Talk Thailand

TRIBE TALK: Ayutthaya United Head Coach Santi Chaiyaphuak

Credit – SCG Muangthong United Official

With his apprenticeship now over, 39-year-old Santi’s first test as head coach came against Ubon UMT just a few days later, on March 17th. 

“I tried my best, I didn’t take on too much pressure, and I knew about the quality of the players because I had been at Muangthong for a long time,” Santi reflected on his feelings before his first game. “Me and the players, we can talk like friends, which is why we had no [pressure].” 

Two second half goals saw Muangthong emerge triumphant, calming the nerves for the new caretaker boss and his clearly rattled squad. “We [had] to wait until the club chooses a new coach to replace Totchtawan,” he reflected, “the players knew the situation, so they tried their best.” 

The limited time frame didn’t stop Santi from experimenting with a number of tactical tweaks. His decision to move renowned attacking midfielder Charyl Chappuis into a deep-lying playmaker role remains a notable innovation, as was moving right-back Tristan Do further up the pitch. His choice to field youngsters Patcharapol Intanee, Suksan Mungpao and Sorawit Panthong also turned out to be a fruitful one, as they looked eager to repay his faith in them during this short spell. The early manifestations of his flexible football and emphasis on youth were already beginning to show themselves. 

However, Santi’s seven-year association with the Kirin would come to a halt later that season, as Muangthong’s higher-ups secured the coveted signature of former Serbia national team boss Radovan Curcic, who proceeded to lead the team in an entirely new direction. 

“When Curcic came, he bought many assistants,” Santi reflects on the difficult decision he had to make. However, having tried his hand at managing, and emerging with an impressive six-game unbeaten run, returning to a smaller role in the backroom seemed like the wrong step at a crucial moment in his career. It was time to return home. 

A short spell as an assistant coach at Suphanburi punctuated his two periods with Ayutthaya United. Santi marked the first by helping his side secure their place in Thai League 2, arriving in time to lead the side to victory over Narathiwat in the third-division playoff. By the time he returned, Ayutthaya had finished bottom of the league in 2019, but were inexplicably saved by the folding and dissolution of both Thai Honda FC and Army, and the disqualification of Ubon, giving him the chance to take charge of the side in T2 once again.