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In the second part of our two part interview (read part one here), former player and new coach of Buriram F.C, Sasom Popprasert tells us why the TPL still has a long way to go, why he worries about foreign players and why people need to start looking at the game as a business.

So where do you see Thai football at the moment?
It took a hundred years for football in Europe to get where it is. We’ve just started playing football professionally. The footballers must learn, I must learn, the fans must learn, the referees must learn, the association must learn, everyone must learn. Look at today’s Thai football players, they come from being semi-pro, or amateurs and then turning into professionals.

So everyone needs to get more professional about the game?

As a professional, you have to be strong in all areas. Your heart, your mind, your discipline you have to have everything but you have to learn to change. It takes time to become a professional. For example, go back in time and look at Steven Gerard who is now nearly 30, what was he born with? Professional football. When he was a kid he probably got Liverpool shirts as presents. Then take one of our top football players, like Datsakorn Thonglao (currently at Muangthong United) who’s also almost 30, what was his first present? Probably a doll. Dasakorn was trained to be a professional where? Vietnam, abroad.

You think we’re still a long way off from that?
I believe that if you take a Thai kid who is now 10, in 15 years, you’re going to see the professional in him, if Thai football remains this strong. He’s going to be a complete soccer player. I don’t call Thai Port current players professionals, because they’re just changing from being amateurs. What I always taught them, though, is that they have to act like professionals, do everything like professionals. Professional soccer players don’t have to be asked if they’ve eaten their meals or be ordered to go to bed early.

What do you think about Thailand’s chances internationally?

Right now, we have to admit that the national team is really low on good players. So low that we have to worry. What I mean is from the U16 and U19 teams, you can actually count the ones who are going to become professional soccer players. The same players are used again and again. No new players rise up, this is dangerous. We urgently need to spend money on training our young teams our U10s, our U12s it's vital.

What are Thai players lacking?
We need a Zidane, Messi or Maradona, to truly go international. Having good soccer players, but nothing stands out about any of’s difficult.

What do you think about bringing in foreign players to the TPL?
I think it’s both good and bad. Good because they have some characteristics that Thai players don’t: responsibility, strength, and the perspective of real soccer professionals. But on the other side let’s say 5 out of 11 players are foreigners it’s good for marketing because people have fun watching the match. But in the soccer structure itself, we only have 6 Thais on the field. For example, about a hundred Thai players get to play in a week when it should be a thousand.

Do you think they need to be changes to the rules?
I think 3+ foreigners would be OK, and the rest should be Thai players. That way, Thai players would benefit. If you use 5 out of 11 players, Thai kids won’t even try to become players. Don’t forget there’s already very high competition.

So football is more than just a sport?
Soccer is also a business. You can bring in politics or whatever, you sell ads, anything to start making profits. I don’t care how you get the money, but soccer is a business so you have to control the spending. If you invested 30, and you make 35 a year... that is success, the end. But if you invested 30 million, like Thai Port, and you get a revenue of 20. You now have a B10 million debt, I don’t think this is the way to do it. The point is soccer is a business, you should do anything to make a profit.

What can be done to make Thais watch more Thai football?
I think we’re on the right track. Football fans are starting to understand the culture of cheering. It’s up to us what we’re going to do to make these fans like customers. If I was owner of a club, like Thai Port, everyone in the audience is our customers. How do we make them think “Today I’m here to see Thai Port! The weekend is here!”

So football is just another form of entertainment?
It’s not sport, it’s entertainment. So what are we going to do to make them stay? Every second we’re here, it’s like watching a movie. Buy popcorn, buy coke, bring in the money. It’s a show where if you’re entertaining, you will keep getting customers. If you’re not entertaining, customers will go see another show.

Can football help to fix problems with young people in society?

Yes. Now I think the media has to promote it. Football nowadays has idols like Anucha and Kitpongsee from Chonburi they used to be dek van. And now they are big stars, earning good money playing football. You have to be daring. You have to give chances to those people. One of my players Ekapoom used to be a motorcycle taxi driver. Now he plays football and earns money. Or Annawin, who used to be a drug dealer - it reflects that these kids can change.

Monruedee Jansuttipan
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