Unfortunate Scheduling May Jeopardize Thailand's Asian Games Aspirations
As the Thai League plans to take a month-long hiatus in service of the 2018 Asian Games in Palembang, Indonesia, debates have once again been re-ignited about whether or not the country's league or national team should be prioritized in order to grow football in the country.
Both sides of the argument have genuine merit to them, but in the build-up to this most recent tournament, the Thai FA seems to have chosen neither option.
Many staunch Thai League supporters are rightly fearing that the prolonged break from league football may have major consequences in the league. With Buriram United sitting six points clear atop the table, it appears that only teams threatened by relegation will experience any major excitement in the final weeks of the season as the league seems set for yet another decline in yearly average attendances.
However, this sacrifice may be in vain, as the insistence on prioritizing the league action in weeks leading up to the tournament may have significantly dented the War Elephants' chances of returning home with a medal.
A disastrous campaign at the U23 AFC Championships in January saw Bulgarian Zoran Jankovic, who worked as an assistant to senior team coach Milovan Rajevac, relieved from his position as the head coach of the junior team. In his place, Worawoot Srimaka returned to take charge of the team which he had led to glory in the Southeast Asian Games of 2017.
However, since his return to the dugout, the side have only played three friendly matches, and are yet to field the best eleven available at that age group. Many of the players expected to make a major impact at the tournament, such as Port FC's Kevin Deeromram, Buriram's Rattanakorn Maikami or Chiangrai's Phitiwat Sukjitthamakul have all been key players for their club sides this season and have not been allowed to participate in many of the pre-tournament friendlies.
As the Young War Elephants heads to the "Alpine Cup" in 2018 ahead of the tournament to face Bahrain, South Korea, and Myanmar, most of the players likely to make a major impact this summer have been left at home due to their obligations to their clubs. As such, it leaves coach Worawoot with only a single friendly match against Nepal four days before the tournament begins to try and field his best squad.
The Thai League and National Team are in a perpetual struggle for priority, and it is a battle in which the FA can not afford to sit on the fence.