Nicknamed the Sharks, Chonburi FC are one of the best organised football clubs in Thailand and boast arguably the best academy in the country.
The Chonburi Football Academy team shot to fame on the international stage last week when they represented Thailand and reached the final of the 12th Danone Nations Cup World Finals 2011 in Spain.
A debutant in the 40-team tournament for under-12 players, the Chonburi team upset many big nations before losing 4-0 to Brazil in the final at the Santiago Bernabeu – home of Real Madrid CF.
“I am still frustrated when I see the tape of the match against Brazil,” said Witthaya Laohakul, who oversees the academy.
“We lost because our players were nervous and could not play like they did in training.”
In the group stage, Thailand defeated Italy 2-0 and beat Australia by the same score line as they began with a flourish. They then managed to get a scoreless draw with Russia in a tense encounter before they held Portugal to a 1-1 draw.
The Thais finished second in their group with eight points, two behind Russia.
In the final round of 16, the Thai kids stunned Japan 1-0 and saw off Canada by the same margin in the next round. In the semi-finals, they toppled Chile 1-0.
Thailand were one of the four Asian teams who reached the second round with the other three being Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia.
According to coach Supakorn Noi-ma, who travelled with the team to Spain, his kids showed their class against many good teams despite their physical disadvantage.
But he admitted that he was sad to see his boys being well beaten by Brazil.
“Playing in the final at the Santiago Bernabeu in front of a huge crowd made our boys nervous and this cost us dearly,” he said.
Witthaya, who is affectionately called coach Heng, did not join the trip to Spain. He said the win over Japan was the most impressive because Japan knew the Thai kids well.
“I was approached to set up an academy for a football club in Japan but I turned down the offer and then started our own at Chonburi FC,” said Witthaya, a former player and coach with Japanese clubs.
Chonburi FC launched their academy three years ago and Witthaya introduced a six-year (2010-2016) plan last year.
Children who are 10 years old or older can join the programme but first they must prove that they are skilful.
Speed and physical strength are required for those who want to join the academy and in some cases the kids’ family background will be considered, he said.
Apart from those who directly go to the club, Chonburi scouts will help find talented young players at football tournaments around the country.
“They will be tested every six months and those who fail to pass a test will be sent home,” said Witthaya, a former national coach.
The academy currently has 44 children in three different age groups – 12-year-old, 13-years-old and 14-years-old. Daily training starts from 6am to 8am in the morning and then 7pm to 9pm in the evening.
The club pays all fees including those for the trainees.
Apart from training and competing in Thailand, these players will play at least 12 matches in tournaments overseas every year to gain experience and mental toughness.
“It is important for them to play overseas so they can learn how to make a decision under pressure,” he said.
Witthaya is confident that if these kids are trained according to his plan they would be able to play for foreign clubs or be Chonburi players in the future.
“I want to see them grow and play at big clubs abroad – especially those in Europe,” he said.
“At least, they must be good enough to play for Chonburi FC, Sri Racha FC or Pattaya United.”
Claiming that his academy is the best in the country, Witthaya said he had tried to build similar academies around the country but his idea was rejected by the Football Association of Thailand (FAT).
“I proposed my academy idea to the FAT when I was their technical chief,” added Witthaya.
But Witthaya will surely have the last laugh if his ‘Baby Sharks’ keep making progress and become the country’s top players in the future.
SOURCE: Bangkok Post