Walking his dogs, going to training and playing games of Call of Duty have kept Bangkok United and Thailand defender Mika Chunuonsee occupied since the Thai League was suspended as a result of the global Covid-19 crisis.
The Bangkok Angels won their first four matches of the 2020 T1 campaign and were set for a top-of-the-table clash at Ratchaburi when circumstances dictated that the season would come to a halt for a minimum of seven weeks.
With the number of confirmed cases of Covd-19 surging in Thailand, people in all walks of life have increasingly had to adjust to a very unusual situation.
“We’ve been told to stay at home as much as we can,” Mika told ThaiFootie. “Training is still going ahead but it’s about staying as safe as possible and minimising the amount of time we’re away from home.
“It affects some of the boys more than others because their daily routine is getting out of the house, going for lunch somewhere, going for coffee somewhere, then going to training and maybe going out for dinner somewhere before they go home.
“Now it’s straight to the training ground for three o’clock, train, and as soon as we’re done at six o’clock, everyone goes home. There’s a lot of strict rules and regulations now to make sure we stay healthy.
“If one person gets the virus, the whole team gets it, so the daily routine is basically, wake up, stay at home and go to training.”
While initial actions were to cancel or postpone events attracting big crowds, measures have become increasingly strict, and football clubs have had to keep up with a fast-changing situation.
“When the season was suspended, we had a few days off just to relax and take our minds off football as it was obviously going to be six or seven weeks without a match,” said Mika.
“We’re not allowed to travel outside Bangkok (apart from work purposes), and not allowed to travel abroad. We’re not allowed to go to public places like cinemas and shopping malls.”
With players used to building up to a whole season during pre-season camps or building up to a weekend or midweek match, having so much time without a clear focus is a challenge that few players will have to face in their careers.
“It’s difficult for every player around the world right now,” added Mika. “Different federations have different rules and different provisional dates for when football returns, and for us it’s still April 18th.
“Our target is to keep ourselves fit for the next game. But, the situation as it is, we can’t even be sure that it’s going to be possible to play that game.
“It’s obviously a difficult mindset because you usually go into training every day, aiming towards something. When you’re in pre-season, you know when the season’s going to start so you work hard towards it.
“Right now, it’s six weeks off and like another pre-season. We’re coming into training every day and trying to keep ourselves fit. We’ve got an amazing job as footballers so every day is fun and we can take our minds off things.
“But in terms of something to look forward to, it’s possible to say that our motivation at the moment is pretty low. There are more important things going on in the world because of this virus, so I think everyone’s worried about themselves and their loved ones.
“There are many things going on outside of football but in terms of football, all we can do is train every day and keep our minds focused. In terms of looking forward to the next game, we’re still a long way away from that.”
While global events obviously make football’s issues seem relatively trivial by comparison, it remains a source of frustration that Bangkok United’s momentum was halted after such an excellent start to the season.
“Since pre-season started in January, we haven’t lost a game,” said Mika. “We were on a roll and even in the matches played in pre-season, we were looking really good. Four games in, everyone could see that we were playing pretty good, and not just the way we were playing but also the way we were winning against good sides.
“It’s frustrating because there were another three games coming along and if we had won those three games, we would have been in a very good position in the league before the international break.
“Right now, it’s a great start because we’ve got 12 points, but we’re starting back from zero again because every team is back to pre-season mode and we have to build momentum again. The momentum that we had leading into the next three games was unbelievable.
“I was unfortunate to get injured just two games before the start of the season. Now, I’m back with the squad and I can feel the frustration because I felt that having such a great squad, we could have gone on and won the next three games.”
Mika missed out on the first four matches due to the injury sustained just before the season kicked off at home to Prachuap. Now fully fit, he believes the opportunity to have the whole squad together for pre-season has helped them make a flying start in T1.
“This was the first time in a long time that I had had a full pre-season,” Mika said. “The club knew this year was a year when we were going to make a push and ever player felt at their top fitness level, and it was the fittest I have been in two or three years. I think I had a good six weeks of pre-season and I was just unlucky to get injured a few days before the start of the season.
“My fitness levels are back to normal and I just hope that I can stay at this level for the rest of the season, along with the rest of the boys. This year, the fitness levels and the way we were playing and pressing has been really impressive. That’s down to the fact that every player has been there from day one of pre-season.
“In previous years, we’ve had things like the Suzuki Cup and Asian Cup and we were playing catch up after being disrupted by these tournaments. It’s the first time we have had a whole squad as one in pre-season.”
Mika turns 31 this month and admits that his age is one reason why restrictions placed on movement and social distancing recommendations haven’t made a huge difference to his life.
“For myself, the daily routine hasn’t changed that much because I don’t really go to malls,” he said. “Me and my wife like to go to coffee shops in the daytime but now we just try and stay at home as much as possible. We have dogs – Baloo and Nala – so we walk the dogs, have lunch at home and have coffee at home. Straight after training, I come back home and have dinner.
“When you get older, you spend more time at home with your family but obviously for the younger boys, it’s more of a challenge. They might get up at nine o’clock in the morning and have to stay at home until they leave for training, and then go home instead of hanging out with friends. I think it affects their lives more than mine.”
While there may be fewer opportunities for face-to-face social interaction, Mika is part of a group that still finds time to have a bit of fun once training is done for the day.
“Me and the boys have got into a little group on PlayStation for Call of Duty,” he said. “We now have a Bangkok United gang of about seven players. We all go home and play this at night. Every player’s wife right now is probably having a nightmare because we come home and spend about three or four hours in front of the TV playing PlayStation.”
On a more serious note, Mika is keen to ensure that everyone stays conscious of their responsibilities and personal safety during a very testing period.
“I want everyone to stay positive and not to put themselves in danger,” he said. “People should not think they’re not vulnerable to the virus. It’s more serious than anyone could ever have imagined.”