Former Chainat Hornbill manager Dennis Amato made his name in Thailand by leading the unfancied side to the top division, and has since developed a reputation for his high-pressing football and his commitment to youth player development. What drives the German coach’s work, and what does the future hold for him here in Thailand?
Amato’s story in Thailand so far has been tied to the organization that brought him here. Sport Thai Bavaria, or STB, is Bayern Munich’s strategic partner in Southeast Asia, and works on various fronts ranging from commercial operations to scouting and youth development.
“Everything started about five years ago,” Amato told ThaiLeagueCentral. “As Bayern Munich was getting a partnership with STB here in Thailand, they were looking for a sport director to lead their programs here in Southeast Asia.
“We want to help Thai students from a very young age come to a professional standard,” he added, “and the final goal is to be good enough for competition in world football and to become Thai national team players.”
His work with the academy also brought him to Chainat Hornbill, who are linked to one of the academy’s main sponsors – sugar company Wangkanai. Amato put himself on the map after spearheading a promotion campaign in 2017, leading the side on an unbeaten run to finish comfortably top of T2.
Amato’s time in T1 was also a success, as he managed to help Chainat survive in a season when five teams were relegated due to the league’s downsizing plans. The Hornbills had a solid two years in the top flight, and Amato looks ready to get back into the thick of things this season.
Work with STB Academy
STB are far from the only organization hoping to develop players for the future of the Thai national team. Schools have always been the bedrock of football development in the country, and more recently clubs have been investing heavily in their own academies as the benefits of long-term planning become more apparent. Looking externally, Thai-owned Leicester City have made large investments in youth development through their ‘Fox Hunt’ program, while the Thai FA have hired coaches of the Ekkono Method to lead their youth national teams.
Where does STB fit into this picture, and what do they offer that is different to all of their effective competitors?
“There are actually two things which I hope are making a difference,” Amato said. “Our leading staff have come from Germany, [and they] have high education, up to the (UEFA) Pro License. Also, we really take care of everything – we have round-the-clock education for the kids. They really live, and sleep, and eat for their goal.”
The academy currently works with players starting from a young age, formally bringing them into the setup at age 10. It is a long term project, having only started in its fully-fledged form two years ago, but one that is already making an impact at the U12 level. Watching these players distinguish themselves and come through the ranks of Thai football will be an exciting watch over the next five years.
Development for the National Team
Despite its large population and love for the sport, Southeast Asia remains one of the untapped frontiers of world football, as no country from the region has ever managed to qualify for a World Cup. Many wonder why Thai players lag behind their European counterparts, and answering this query could hold the key for the national team’s future success.
“This question comes up very often,” Amato admits. “Actually, there is no difference, especially when you look at the youngest kids. There is no difference to any European kid – it’s the same talent, it’s the same two feet they’re playing with, and it’s the same heart they’re playing with. Where we are really seeing players go in different directions is at 13, 14 and 15 years old.”
The German coach was also quick to dismiss the idea that physical differences across regions are holding countries such as Thailand back – “how tall is Messi? He’s the best player in the world.”
Instead, the answer lies with the type and quality of footballing education available to young Thai players. “In Germany, kids have totally different opportunities and training possibilities. The facilities in Bayern Munich for the youth academy, or in Hoffenheim or in Leipzig, are much better than even professional men’s teams here in Asia. This opportunity, to have or not have, is a big difference.”
Bringing Thai football up to that level will be a long journey requiring significant investment and dictated by a variety of factors that even reach far beyond the sport. STB’s mission is to bring them closer, even if by a little bit, and expand access to students across the country regardless of their socio-economic status.
Time at Chainat Hornbill
Despite coming to Thailand to develop the STB organization, Amato is most well-known for his work with Chainat Hornbill. His team became synonymous both with high-intensity pressing and the promotion of young players from lower divisions – both of which he is extremely pleased with.
“What made me proud was that people were realizing that we have a structure and a system,” Amato explained. “It was well known that Chainat would play pressing – and please tell me any team near the bottom of the league who have the courage to play high pressing.”
“We went into every game and we wanted to control the game. It doesn’t matter if the opponent was Trat or Buriram. I was lucky in Chainat that I earned the trust of the team very quickly, and that they believed in the system and the style I wanted to create.”
These efforts did not go unnoticed by the general public, who began to take notice of the unique style and bravery of the side who stuck to their guns despite the spectre of relegation hanging over them.
“The public was giving us credit for the style we played,” Amato recalls, “and were even cheering the little team from Chainat in the smallest region in the country, who were able to do good things and beat the big teams with the lowest budget.”
“Another point that I am really proud of is that we were bringing through some really good young Thai players – who are now playing in big teams in T1 – who came from T3 or T4, and from benches there sometimes, and played a good role for us in T1 because we gave them the trust and developed them in training.”
Names like dynamic midfielder Chatmongkol Thongkiri, young left-back Jaturapat Sattham, and Ratchaburi star and newly anointed national team player Kiattisak Jia-Udom spring to mind when discussing the side’s excellent scouting and player development under Amato’s guidance.
Looking to the Future
For the time being, Amato is very happy with the pace of life in Thailand and remains committed to helping develop the domestic football scene and supporting the future of the national team in any way he can.
“I’ve been here for five years, and I feel like a Thai almost,” he joked. “I love the country, I love the people, and the friendships I have here are amazing.”
In the time it takes for his efforts at STB to bear fruit, coach Amato believes that he can contribute to this development further by coaching at club level once again.
“I love to work with young players and see their development,” he said. “I like to work with these young 18 or 19 year old players, who at other clubs wouldn’t get a chance to play.
“I really would like to still be here when the team qualifies for the World Cup. And if there are any players in the team who passed my way and trained with me, and I could be part of this as well, that would make me very proud.”