Chai Nat didn’t make this easy and in fact they had the better of the opening minutes of his game in my opinion but a clinical header from Teerasil after a cross by Buntao - who’s had a great season - clinched it in the end. Muangthong United now have the longest undefeated streak in TPL history.
How did we make the switch from unsuccessful and tired title-defenders last season to the superb outfit we see today?
No, this list is not in random order. By far our biggest liability of 2011 and earlier was the constant chaos off the pitch, most visible through the merry-go-round of coaching changes that occurred amidst a background of discontent in the boardroom. No club could realistically be expected to mount a serious title push when going through four coaches in one season, especially when one of those coaches was a liability on the pitch and uncaring off of it. Disputes concerning Siam Sport and possible conflicts of business interests certainly didn’t help, either. There were even concerns that people in control might be making rash moves to threaten the future of the whole club.
Relief came in a partial buy-out from SCG: Siam Cement Group. As stabilising influences go, you couldn’t ask for more than a part of the Crown Property Group with a ludicrously high turnover and efficient management strategy. And so it proved. Surely it’s no coincidence that our return to TPL form coincides with a season in which we kept the same (excellent) coach throughout, minimised off-field disputes as best we could and the boardroom remembered to keep a relatively low profile. In summary: Slavos has been allowed to do his job and he's done it very well.
|Slavisa was allowed to do a great job|
On that note, Slavisa has brought the club back to the standards Rene used to demand. All reports say coaching sessions have been first class and Slavisa has got the best from players like Jakkaphan, Buntao and Ekapoom, who all struggled to assert themselves initially. When players don't fit his plans, he's had the good sense to know what to do about it.
Of course all the stability in the world won’t be enough to win the league if your squad isn’t up to scratch. Luckily we made some excellent transfer moves. Mario Djovski, Adnan Barakat, Ri Kwang and the Thai Port trio all brought something extra to the club and showed total dedication and passion for their football. Promising youngsters like Kayem were given cover as Piyachart was recalled and some of the fringe players were released. Meanwhile, the core of a title winning squad - Kawin, Panupong, Datsakorn, Teerasila and Siaka were - kept on. Quality throughout the side. Pure quality.
|One word: super|
What’s that? You’re pointing a gun to my head and demanding I state which transfer was the most important? Well then I’d have to say Mario, for while we all expected a good player in this eastern-European, I don’t know if any of us expected a player that could probably hold his own training with a UEFA Cup side and show the amount of passion for Muangthong as this guy has.
It’s a sad but true cliche that football these days is a business. When Buriram United won the treble last year the perception was that they were the new financial powerhouses. Actually we outspent them on transfers even last year, although I’m sure the cost of building their new stadium more than equaled our transfer budget. But this year our merchandise, marketing and planning have all been first class. Shirt sale revenue is the highest in the Thai league, plans are in place to expand what is already a very high quality SCG Stadium and for an entire olympic village style construction in future and wage budgets are set to capture players with the quality needed to take us to the next level. With the financial backing of SCG, I don't see how any other club could outspend us in the foreseeable future.
Of course, one bit of business that I’m relieved did not go according to plan was the signing of Del Piero. I’m convinced this would’ve been a repeat of the Robbie Fowler debacle and the money will be far better spent elsewhere.
Not playing in the ACL
As Buriram discovered this year, playing either of the Asian tournaments during a league campaign places a strain on club and players that I honestly believe is overlooked by a large number of people. The mental and physical fatigue is clear to see in players by the halfway point in the season and in my opinion it definitely takes its share of league points away from any team. This is something we’ll have to be ready for next season but this season it was actually a refreshing break not to have extra tournaments on the fixture list.
So there you have it. From third place back to champions in five not so easy steps.
Massive credit has to go out to everyone involved at Muangthong from the directors, to the players to the rest of the staff for the unity, passion, commitment and intelligence they’ve shown this season. We’ve become - in my eyes - even stronger than the 2010 championship side. We no longer look like a club striving to punch above its weight in Asia but a club that looks ready to make a serious push for the recognition it deserves. In a season where everyone thought that Buriram’s only downfall could be the ACL distraction, we’ve actually looked far better than them or Chonburi, (though the 'Sharks' pushed us almost all the way despite their own ACL campaign) and could yet go the entire season undefeated. That's something that’s never been done before as far as I can recall.
The only disappointment was that we still haven’t captured either of the cups but there’s always next year for that. The biggest prize is always the league title and that has come home to where it belongs.
Muangthong United are the best team in Thailand. Thank you to everyone involved.
More pictures of the incredible full time scenes to come when available.