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Thailand's soccer team reinvented itself under the leadership of Peter Withe. They became aggressive, cohesive, focused and... winners.


James Loving - National Radio Text Service

May, 1999


He inherited a team that was in shambles after an embarrasing Tiger Cup showing. He took a team that was humiliated and within TWO months, he transformed losers into winners. - The Former England & Aston Villa Striker PETER WITHE MADE A SILK PURSE OUT OF THAILAND'S SOW'S EAR With Wins Over SOUTH KOREA and ARSENAL



Thailand isn't known for making good business decisions, as evidenced in its struggle with the Asian economic crisis. Thailand isn't known for being rational, as evidenced by its banking history of making loans without adequate or ANY collateral. In Thailand logic is seldom a part of the equation. BUT .... If there were a jewel in Thailand's crown of decision making, it would be the hiring of Englishman PETER WITHE to coach its National soccer team.

Withe took the job in October 1998, only one month after the Thai team was disgraced in a soccer match. It was something that Withe preferred not to talk about. He simply referred to it as a certain game.

So what was that Scarlet Letter that scarred the minds of many Thais but when asked & they couldn't remember? I soon found out.

Thailand's "The Nation" newspaper reported that in a Tiger Cup game with Indonesia in September of 1998, both teams tried NOT TO WIN, fearing they would have to face Vietnam in the semifinal. The Indonesian team took matters in their own hands by kicking the ball into the goal for the winning tally & FOR THAILAND. Thailand then lost 3-0 to Vietnam.

The following month Withe took the job after several years away from the game. He inherited a team that was in shambles after the Tiger Cup showing. He took a team that was humiliated and within TWO months, he transformed losers into winners.

When Withe first heard about the position, all he knew was an Asian country was looking for a high profile coach for their national team. He wasn't aware it was Thailand. At the time Withe was the head of European scouting for Aston Villa. Why would someone leave the comforts of the Western world to take a job with a team in disarray in another country and leave family and friends behind?

"I was missing the day to day involvement with players," Withe said. "I was missing coaching. I felt that I was a good motivator &a good coach. I wanted to work with National players. When I found out it was Thailand, I thought to myself, What a great opportunity to help BUILD a nation up.

"I've done it before with other clubs. I've gone to clubs (as a player and coach) where they've been in the doldrums just a little bit. I've managed to have a little bit of success. The opportunity came so I grabbed it with both hands."

Withe gathered his tattered troops and whipped them into shape. He assembled a group of players who jelled into a side that plays an up-tempo, exciting, lively brand of soccer &.WITH GUTS and HEART who exude CONFIDENCE in their abilities. It came from Withe.

He rebuilt and led his LITTLE DAVID squad to victories over two of SOCCER'S GOLIATH'S, ARSENAL in May 1999 and World Cup competitors SOUTH KOREA in the Asian Games, December 14, 1998.

"When I first came here there seemed to be a little bit of a doubt when we played certain sides," he said. "They felt a little bit inferior. I've tried to knock out inferiority complexes. I've said to them, and I believe in it & There's no one in the world that you can't beat as long as you're mentally prepared, to go out and face the challenge. If you go out with a challenge thinking I'm going to lose, you're going to lose. If you go out thinking in your mind that we're going to win the game, positive all the way through, you can win."

For the most part, Withe was pleased with the skill level of the team, but their shooting ability had something to be desired.

"Technique and skill, they had an abundance of it," he said. "They've shown a great determination to learn. Their shooting has improved 75% since I've been here. When I had first (arrived) and did a shooting session, there were more balls that went in the stands than went into the net. I said to them at (that) stage & the safest place for me to stand is in the goal because I'll never get injured because you don't hit it."

At that point, Withe changed the Thai team's shooting strategy, "I concentrated on that it wasn't so much power, it was hitting the target. They were under the impression that to score a goal they had to hit the ball a 100-kilometers an hour. I showed them that you didn't' have to do that, [that] you could actually pass the ball into the goal and score. They're learning."

The Vietnam experience came full circle for the Thais. In the recent SEA Games, the two teams fought to a 0-0 draw in the first round. They met again in the Gold medal match. Thailand took the medal with a 2-0 victory (Saturday Aug 14). The win gave the Thais their fourth consecutive SEA Games Championship and well earned respect as being the best soccer team in Southeast Asia.

Within the first 10 months of Withe being on the job, his program has paid dividends. Who would think that a bunch of PART TIME soccer players (there is no professional league in Thailand) could defeat powerhouse sides like ARSENAL and World Cup competitors South Korea? It happened but many can't believe it.

"Arsenal!!!" &. Exclaimed a traveling Australian man that I met at a Bangkok restaurant. "Thailand beat Arsenal???

You bet your sweet bippy they did BRO. Not only did they give the powerful English Premiership team a licking, and kept on ticking, they did it in a demonstrative manner walking away with a 4-3 victory May 22nd.

The four goals were more than ANY Premier League team had scored against Arsenal all of last season. They had the BEST DEFENSE in the Premier League. The Gunners had ONLY 17 goals scored against them the entire season. The Bangkok Post asked Arsenal manager ARSENE WENGER if he could recall when his defense had so many goals scored against them.

"I don't know - a long time," he replied.

The Post also noted that Withe was dancing a jig after the victory and in disbelief.

The Thais defeated a Goliath team that had an all-star lineup. The men in red had French World Cup star EMMANUEL PETIT, KANU NWANKO, NICHOLAS ANELKA, DAVID SEAMAN, TONY ADAMS, MARTIN KEOWN, PATRICK VIERA and MARC OVERMARS.

It was Anelka who was transferred to Real Madrid in June for a record 23.5 million pounds ($37.6 million). Yes, they were without the services of DENNIS BERGKAMP but & SO WHAT, the mighty midgets did it and Withe was instrumental in making it happen.

THAVATCHAI SAJAKUL was Thailand's soccer manger during the Asian Games. He is now an MP (Member of Parliament). After the match with Arsenal, Sajakul commented on the Thai victory.

"To talk about it, probably the public would not believe it," he said.

Sajakul said the team was more organized under Withe's leadership. He went on to share his thoughts on Withe's value to the team.

"He's got all kind of abilities to handle any team, especially a team like Thailand. I think psychologically he's very good." Sajakul also mentioned that Withe's football knowledge would help Thailand's future success in the game.

"It's the best team we have ever had," said Thai manager VIRAT CHARNPANICH to the Bangkok Post after the Thais won the SEA Games gold medal match against Vietnam. "But we have a long way to go," he added in reference to winning the Asian Cup and qualifying for the World Cup.

Yes, Thailand is raising its head from the ashes of adversity. They are now tasting, the trill of victory after suffering through the agony of defeat. In the land of smiles where smiles are hard to come by these days, Peter Withe has helped put smiles back on faces and restore pride for a populace of people whose country is going through trying times. He's the man responsible, BUT & WHO IS PETER WITHE and how did he do it?


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