Sukhothai FC have been one of the standout sides since the Thai League restart, climbing into the top half of the table and getting within touching distance of the AFC Champions League spots.
The Fire Bats’ rise has been no small feat, given that they are more used to competing at the other end of the table. Led by star foreign forwards Ibson Melo and John Baggio this season, the side’s local contingent is modest, and have all been performing far above their station this campaign.
The man behind this feat is Surapong Kongthep, Sukhothai’s 41-year-old head coach and one of the hottest coaching prospects in the country. Commonly known as ‘Coach Ahn’ by his players, Surapong has been praised for his tactical nous, leadership ability, and man-management, and – should he continue on his current path – could soon become one of the most celebrated names in Thai football management.
“For me, it is very nice to work with someone who will listen to you” says Valdir Bardi, a goalkeeping coach who followed Surapong from Samut Prakan to Sukhothai this season. “He always wants to know more about how we can prepare for the games.”
“I also feel free when I work with him, to give feedback, for example about the defensive system, or with the foreign players,” he added. “You know that when you have some trouble, he’ll have your back, so we can work with more confidence. This is why I like to work with him, and followed him as well.”
“I feel like he is a good leader,” adds Ibson, who similarly rejoined Surapong in Sukhothai this season after working together at the Sea Fang. “He is a Thai coach, but he [is just as good as] any foreign coach.”
Unfortunately for Sukhothai, their upward momentum was halted last weekend, as Surapong struggled upon a return to his old haunts. Samut Prakan City emerged victorious over their former boss in a 3-2 thriller. The result leaves them 3 points away from the last Champions League spot, but with incredibly tough games against Chiangrai, Chonburi, and Buriram to come before the end of the decisive first leg.
“We can see that we are in the running for it, but at the same time, we know our weaknesses,” Ibson commented. “We have to think game by game, solve our problems, and always think about the next match.”
Sukhothai return to action next Tuesday, November 10th, when they host defending champions Chiangrai United in what could be crucial for both sides’ aspirations this season.