With Thai League 1 at exactly its half way point here is my half term report for Chiang Mai FC.
As at least one of my old schoolteacher’s used to say – “Robert tries hard – he is very trying.”
And that could be the one line summary of the first half of CMFC’s first season in Thai League 1.
Where to start? The last three months have not been short of talking points but they have been short of positive results.
Some basic facts: Played 15. Won 3. Drawn 3. Lost 9. For 18. Against 35. Points 12. position 15/16.
The season started with some optimism. Two wins and a draw in the first five matches, The biggest threat to survival was the dire pollution which led to postponements and one match (Ratchaburi) that should never have been played in such awful conditions – although we did win.
Then the first big drama as the reality of our situation started to settle in. Chiang Rai FC decided at the near last minute, apparently through their Boon Rawd brewery owners who also own Chiang Mai FC, that we could not play most of our loan players (there are 9 or 10 players on loan from Chiang Rai) against them. Our threadbare squad did well and were unlucky battling to a 0-1 defeat.
The story is that this was enough for our Chairman, Chuchai Lerthpongadisorn, to quit Chiang Mai FC and return to JL Chiang Mai United citing all too apparent differences with the other board members.
Following Chiang Rai came two away defeats; 5-7 in a crazy game at Chonburi and 0-4 where we failed to show up at Trat who in fairness have been one of the surprise teams of the season.
Hard working draws back at home to Chainat and better still against Bangkok United were encouraging and Evson and Tossapol were back from injury and looking like a solid defensive pairing.
Our third win came against Prachuap where Chotipat scored with an unlikely header – the difference in a poor game.
The loss to Port was expected – but at least Ekanit showed up with one of the goals of the season.
By now it was clear that Chiang Mai would lose our home ground for the second half of the season allowing renovations to take place for the AFC 2020 under 23 tournament to be held in Thailand. The renovations are necessary and overdue.
There is nothing that the fans or the club can so about this. We do not own the ground. The lack of communication from the owners of the club continues to be a problem and as I write this I have no idea where our 12 July home game against MuangThong United will be played. Chiang Rai’s Singha stadium seems the most likely venue.
Although fans would love to keep the club in Chiang Mai for our remaining home games there really is no suitable stadium with the lights, facilities, pitch, crowd management and parking necessary for League 1.
Those same owners in their wisdom decided to bring in Surapong Kongthep from Samut Prakarn as Technical Director along with his Assistant Coach. The club insisted that coach Carlos Parreira was still in charge. The popular Carlos had been given a new one year contract for 2019 after last year’s successful promotion campaign. But this was unlikely – you can only have so many chiefs.
Rumours also started to fly about changes to the playing staff in the transfer window starting on 24 June 2019. “Book” Ekanit is expected to end his loan period and return to Chiang Rai. There are also rumours of Tossopol moving to Chiang Rai. His early season partnership with Evson looked promising when both players were fit. But he has looked far from his best, too many distractions, in the last two games.
All this uncertainty led to a dismal performance at home to Rayong where players looked distracted and, worse, disinterested.
Buriram was always going to be difficult game and although we saw a more committed performance from some we were out-classed, out-thought, out-paced and well-beaten.
Finally to round up a dramatic few months it appears that coach Parreira has been removed after the Buriram game. He had been asked to manage a club with his hands and feet tied, with no new investment and decisions made for him by the owners. It was an impossible position that he managed by earning the goodwill of the fans and the support of the players. He will be an asset to another club.
As for our playing staff there are few success stories.
Evson: he makes errors but his commitment cannot be faulted. He is a powerful player who can compete in this league.
Eliandro is our leading scorer with six; strong and direct he can be so frustrating to watch when the final pass or effort on goal does not match the preceding build up.
Azadzoy came into 2019 after a long achilles injury from last season. He started slowly, grew stronger, but more recently the quality moments are less frequent. Too often he appears on the fringe of the game looking more frustrated than involved.
Neither Eliandro or Azadzoy have scored in our last four games. Between them they have scored 11 of our 18 goals this season. When they stop scoring we struggle.
Of the Thai players there is little to say other than that a decent League 2 side which over-performed to be promoted is struggling in League 1. League 1 success is also made harder this season after five teams were relegated and just three promoted.
Suwannaphat makes up the back three with Evson and Thossapol. But the difficult and physical work is done by the latter two. Simple example -watch Suwannaphat’s non-defending for Buriram’s second goal. We are a quality defender short. I have always liked Thossopol but the last two games have seen him far from his best.
Chotipat, Saharat and Surawich have played as wing backs. all are struggling to make an impact at this level.
Pichitphong, bless him, keeps going – the brain knows what it wants to do; the legs are ageing. Gionata is Pichitphong junior without his mentor’s experience and guile. He fades into anonymity as the game progresses. Neither he or Pichitphong are a goal threat.
Which leaves the midfield goals to come from Ekanit with three this season. A good young player who should continue to improve and who knows how to score goals.
Then there is Nont. Now, as a member of the goalkeeper’s union, I have some empathy for the young goalkeeper. I do think he was more decisive and stronger earlier in the season. Now there are too many mistakes; too much waving at crosses; too many balls pushed into dangerous areas. Against some of the big foreign forwards in the league his lack of height is a problem. In his defence I have seen worse keepers in this League.
So where does that leave us for the second half of the season.
The Chairman has gone.
The Coach has been replaced.
Our ground is closed for renovation
Some of our better players look certain to leave in the transfer window with no obvious replacements
But we love underdogs and the core of supporters will stand by our team. It is time for the owners, management and the team to stand up and be counted as well. Do they want League 1 football in 2020? Realistically there are few quality teams in this League beyond Port FC, Buriram and maybe Samut Prakarn (we will see them next weekend.) So there are points to be won.
Who we recruit in the transfer window will be critical; though for ambitious players we are not looking like a great career move. The early fixtures; Samut Prakarn, Sukhothai, MuangThong and Ratchaburi will set the tone. Six or more points from these four games are a minimum for survival.
There are so many other issues – how the club is marketed (or in our case not marketed) with 2018 posters littering the city still; with a website that still has last year’s squad and fixtures; with a feeble club shop in a moobaan north of the city; and of course with no home ground for the rest of 2019 and no initiative from the owners or the Thai League who could (with a little effort and goodwill) make remote fixtures more attractive through better timing and double headers with Chiang Rai also playing their home fixtures.
Rarely has a club and a city so badly needed new owners with a genuine passion for the game and a strong attachment to Chiang Mai.
For now, survival…and if we don’t survive let’s at least go down fighting until the last day of the season.