For the second season running, Alexandre Gama has been tasked with rescuing a Thai League ‘fallen giant’ and bringing back the glory days. Returning to where it all began, expectations are higher than ever for the Brazilian boss, and the players he has enlisted to help him accomplish this feat.
Seven-time champions Buriram United found themselves in crisis just 8 games into the 2020-21 Thai League season, collecting 10 points out of a possible 24 to leave them in 10th place. With the way forward uncertain, the side turned to the man responsible for much of their past success.
Alexandre Gama won six major honours, including two league titles, in his first spell at Buriram from 2014 to 2016. Unsurprisingly, he faces high expectations upon his return to the club. His objectives for the remainder of this campaign include chasing runaway leaders BG Pathum and fighting to win the FA Cup, which are no easy feats. Its no surprise, then, that the Brazilian boss has invested in strengthening the squad.
“When I arrived, we thought we needed to change some players, to bring a new atmosphere and to bring new characteristics for the team,” he explained, in an exclusive interview with Thai League Central. “For me, this was important because it is better to work with players who you are very confident in, and fit with my philosophy and my style”
The players Buriram eventually settled on were Samuel Rosa Goncalves, Rodrigo Junior (known simply as “Digao”) and Maicon Marques from Brazil, along with Australian international Brandon O’Neill for their AFC Quota.
“Samuel is a powerful striker. He is fast, and he scores many goals,” Gama said. His Buriram debut against Chonburi FC last month proved as much, as he netted one and set up the other in what was an excellent first outing. “He has good numbers for scoring goals, and he can hold up the ball as well,” Gama added.
Game was also full or praise for Maicon. In terms of his characteristics, the coach cites his speed, one-on-one ability, physical strength and consistent end product as key reasons why he was signed.
“Maicon is a big talent, and he has a lot of experience playing at a high level,” said Gama. “We need one player to break the lines with some dribbling or quick movement, and Maicon can do this.”
Gama also mentioned that Maicon’s time playing abroad would help him settle in Thai football. The 30-year-old previously spent seven years with Locomotiv Moscow in Russia before an 18-month stint at Antalyaspor in Turkey.
“Sometimes we bring players and they don’t adapt,” Gama admitted. “But this player has a lot of experience living outside Brazil. I think he can help Buriram a lot and can improve our level.”
The coach had similar comments about Australia international Brandon O’Neill, who joined the club from K-League side Pohang Steelers.
“He played in the Korean league, which is more powerful and has more contact, and we really wanted him to (allow us to) play more aggressively,” Gama explained. “He’s a box-to-box midfielder with good passing and he can help build up the game.”
Lastly, possibly the biggest-name signing is Digao, former captain of Brazilian Serie A side Fluminense. He also has experience playing for prestigious West Asian sides such as Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal.
“Digao is a top defender in Brazil,” Gama said. “He is a very strong player who has the experience and mentality to help our defense improve.”
In fact, all three of his Brazilian recruits have a background with Fluminense, where Gama himself made his name as an academy coach before departing on his journey through Asia. He worked with both Digao and Maicon in their teenage years, helping them break through at one of the country’s biggest clubs.
“I selected them to start playing for Fluminense when I was working in the academy,” Gama said. “Maybe I was the first coach for these two players.
“Fluminense is a big club in Brazil and one of the best clubs for developing quality players. It is very difficult to play in the academy, and if a player can go to the first team, they are likely to be very good.”
Buriram’s struggle to settle on a consistent crop of foreign players has been a key reason for their struggles in recent seasons – struggles that their new coach will be expected to put a stop to with haste. Getting recruitment right is now more important than ever for the Thunder Castle, and big things will be expected of Gama’s newest signings.