Milan legend Marco has no fears as he enters the Dragons’ den

Marco Simone breezed into the Ratchaburi press room as the club’s new head coach without a hint of the nervous tension of someone who knew that he could be out of a job in a couple of months.

The former AC Milan star was relaxed, smiled easily and talked at length in English about the challenge that lay ahead.

He reminisced about a trip to Thailand with the great Milan side of the 90s a quarter of a century ago and joked that he was ready to don his boots again if his new club needed him.

The more serious questions about the possibility of quickly becoming the latest victim of Ratchaburi’s notoriously short patience were skilfully handled as he suggested that such impatience was a part of the game across the world.

He also seemed very laid-back about the possibility that his stay at the Thai League club could last either two months or two years.

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Such an attitude might just serve him well at a club that has gone from progressing and progressive to shambolic in the last 18 months.

The completion of the impressive Mitr Phol stadium was a testament to the club’s ambitions to be among the top sides in the country, while consecutive placings of 4th, 7th, 6thand 6th suggested the Dragons were consistent but just a little short of becoming title challengers.

Since Spanish head coach Pacheta led the club to the second of two sixth-placed finishes in 2017, the club have employed six head coaches. This sudden instability saw Ratchaburi finish the 2018 season just a point above the relegation zone.

Manolo Marquez Roca was appointed as the new head coach in November but left in January, without taking charge of a competitive match.

Christian Ziege’s brief stay at the start of 2018 showed clear issues with how he thought things would run and how things actually ran, but Simone gently dismissed any comparisons by stressing that every situation was different.

Simone learned to be philosophical during his highly impressive playing career when he often had to play second fiddle to the likes of Marco Van Basten, George Weah, Jean-Pierre Papin and Roberto Baggio at Milan. He watched from the bench as his team-mates won the UEFA Champions League in 1990 and 1994, as his great talents just fell short of some of the world’s best players of the era.

But racking up 145 league appearances and scoring 45 goals for the Rossoneri during the club’s golden age points to a player with considerable gifts and he went on to star at Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco where he was a more regular starter and goal scorer.

It remains to be seen if his charms will inspire this stuttering Ratchaburi side. They have plenty of attacking talent but it has been the defence and an error-prone goalkeeper that have let them down badly this year.

Simone has had a modest coaching career to date, his biggest job at Monaco coming when they were in Ligue 2. Spells with Lausanne, Tours, Laval and Tunisia’s Club Africain have followed but, now 50, the Italian’s chances of a high-profile career are diminishing.

A challenging first Thai League fixture awaits when Muang Thong United visit Ratchaburi on Sunday. Simone gently deflected the question of how he would prepare for the challenge of the Kirins by highlighting that he needed to get to know his own players before looking at his opponents.

Few people expect the Italian to stay long in Thailand, but if he can harness the laid-back approach he demonstrated in the press conference, maybe he will be well suited to the job.

Having such a decorated former player in the Thai game is always a boost for its profile but another unhappy ending after a matter of weeks or months would not be good for its credibility.

Let’s hope that Simone defies expectations and sees out the season at the very least and then perhaps he will be ready for his career trajectory to go in a new direction.

‘The time is now’ for Bangkok United as new signings raise expectations

Bangkok United have a growing belief that 2019 will be their year as they look to finally lift the Thai League title after coming close for several years.

Mano Polking’s side have finished second, third and second in the last three seasons, but there is a strong feeling that it is now time to deliver after adding several proven talents to the squad.

Thailand wing-backs Tristan Do and Peerapat Notchaiya have arrived from Muang Thong United, while the attack has been bolstered with the additions of Mike Havenaar and Anon Amornlersdak.

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Photo credit: Bangkok United

The most important signing, however, could be El Salvador striker Nelson Bonilla, who made such a big impact with his 25 goals at Sukhothai in 2018. The 28-year-old admits that the prospect of lifting silverware was the main reason for making the move from Thailand’s former capital to Bangkok.

“I feel great to be here because it was one of my ambitions to aim for the top and win a Thai League title,” Bonilla said.

As one of several new recruits, Bonilla recognises the importance of his new club’s moves in the transfer market but is putting a collective triumph over personal glory.

“I believe that the club has recruited players in key positions that required attention after last season,” he said. “With the staff and the people that are working together, we have the best opportunity to take the next step.

“Last season, I worked very hard to achieve what I did at Sukhothai. This year, I will work extra hard again but whether I score five goals or 50 goals, it doesn’t matter as long as we win the championship and I have played my part in it.”

Bangkok United skipper Anthony Ampaipitakwong is also confident of success after seeing the club’s development over a four-year period.

“For the past four years, we have proven that are one of the top teams in Thailand,” said Anthony. “We have made a couple of key changes to our roster, but we’ve kept our core players together for a long time.

“This year, we believe we have another shot. If you had asked me last year, I would have said the same thing. I thought we could have won it last year. There nothing that is different, we have the same mentality. We just have to put it all together now to have a successful season.”

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Anthony believes that the quality of the additions to the squad can help the club overcome their rivals but he does not underestimate the challenge of integrating the new arrivals as they seek to become successful as a unit.

“The biggest thing with the new players coming in is getting chemistry because they have to adapt to our style and players and we have to adapt to how they play,” he said.

“We have two new wing-backs in Tristan Do and Peerapat Notchaiaya, who are tremendous players and national team quality. We have a couple of new foreign players up top who are also showing great quality.

“We expect them to come in and make an impact immediately. For the guys who haven’t been here, we have a standard and they’re going to have to live up to that standard with us and also bring us to another level.”

In 2019, Buriram United will be aiming for their sixth title in seven years, while Muang Thong and Port FC will also be looking to make a challenge. And Anthony admits he expects his team’s biggest threats to come from familiar places.

“Every year, it’s the same kind of teams that are challenging for things,” he said. “The teams that are there or thereabouts at the end of the year are the ones that can be consistent. We might have teams that start strong but then towards the end, they fall away.

“But the teams that always stay on top are the Burirams and the Muang Thongs. And then you have teams like Port FC and others who stay in the mix. These are teams that should give us a challenge but in the Thai League anything can happen.”