Riding the Crest of Thai Futsal’s Bluewave
by our collaborator Steve HarrisPTT Bluewave Chonburi
imperiously took the title at the 2017 AFC Futsal Club Championship, outscoring opponents 27-4. They were unstoppable. But did you realize the team has been a red-hot sensation in Thailand?
Tachapat “Ben” Benjasiriwan is a dashing 25-year-old who has been the chairman of PTT Chonburi Bluewave Futsal Club since he was only 22. How can the chairman of one of Asia’s top futsal team’s be so young? He had the right father. That would be Adisak Benjasiriwan, who is known throughout the world as the face of Thailand futsal: the leader who brought Thailand to the world stage at the 2000 World Cup in Guatemala, instigated the launch of the Futsal Thailand League in 2006, and founded the club PTT Chonburi Bluewave in the same year. I sat down with Ben for about an hour on the last day of Chonburi’s Japan tour (training matches against Fuchu Athletic FC on July 5 and against Pescadola Machida on Jul. 6) in preparation for the upcoming 2017 AFC Futsal Club Championship.
Futsal-mania in ThailandOn Facebook, Magnus Futsal has 76,000 followers, Movistar Inter has 88,000 – and Chonburi Bluewave has 111,000! Ricardinho has 397,000 followers but PTT Chonburi’s 19-year-old ala Panut has 450,000. This is crazy (laughs)!
Ben takes time out for the interview on his last day in Japan (Photo: PTT Chonburi Bluewave Futsal Club)
Two years ago PTT Chonburi had about 50,000 followers and since then it’s almost doubled. This was caused by the AFC competition in Thailand last year (2016 AFC Futsal Club Championship). It was the first time the event was held in Thailand and we were suddenly getting 12,000 people at each match! It’s a record for futsal. On social media now the most popular posts are about player selections for the national team – those get a lot of comments.
Otherwise, it’s mostly fun stuff, like players talking outside of the pitch and just making jokes with each other. The game previews and reports are also popular on social media.
Panut’s Facebook page is wildly popular in Thailand (Facebook screen capture)
We have been promoting the league through free TV on Thairath TV, which broadcasts both the football national team and futsal league, so more people have been getting into futsal. 2016 was a big year due to not only the AFC club competition but also the Colombia World Cup (where Thailand advanced to the round of 16), so that year both major tournaments were on television. Most of Chonburi’s players are on the national team, so we are watched more than any other team. And we are broadcasted more than any other team because we are first in the league. In addition, the AFC Club Championship matches charged no admission, so anybody could turn up and watch. The crowds were big and when we reached the semifinal, the TV ratings were very high, like 6-7%, which is as high as a Thai soap opera – and it was in prime time. Futsal Runs in the FamilyYou took over for your father, who had been the chairman of PTT Chonburi and the head of futsal in Thailand. After a power struggle, he stepped down from his job as national administrator prior to the 2012 World Cup in Thailand. Was he prepared to quit the game for good at that time?
Futsal was in his soul – he loves the game – so he decided to focus on the club team (PTT Chonburi) instead of the national team. That’s why we brought (the manager) Pulpis back to PTT Chonburi. Pulpis was the Uzbekistan national team manager for one or two years and then came back to PTT Chonburi. After he came back we won the championship in Nagoya, Japan (2013 AFC Futsal Club Championship). My father was heartbroken when he quit his position at the Association. He had dropped out so far of the FA that he literally bought his own ticket for the Spain-Brazil final of the 2012 World Cup in Bangkok (laughs). There had been a lot of conflict in the national organization. At what age did you father tell you that you would be the PTT Chonburi chairman?
He didn’t tell me but I kind of knew that I would have to do it one day. I knew that from the beginning because I could see his passion for it. And as I was growing up with it, I saw the success we were having. When we won the Asian championship I saw the happiness in the team and I saw the happiness in my father. I just knew that I had to do it. I knew that I wanted to be like my father but the question was how, so I started to learn from him about everything involved in the sport. Since I’ve been in charge, my style of management has been different from his. I do lot of work with sponsors and that includes involvement with the players and their activity on social media. It’s important. I learned about business and know that good structure is needed to make a team better.How long will you be the chairman?
For a long time. Most of my working career probably.
PTT Chonburi Is Finally ProfitableAnd you have been chairman for three years now?
The chairman is on the bench in the training matches in Japan (Photo: Steve Harris)
Right after we took the Asian title in Nagoya in 2013, I assumed the role of PTT Chonburi vice president and had to learn from everybody – from the players and everyone else. And I would travel with the Thai national team to see the games and what they were doing. How have you changed after three years as chairman of PTT Chonburi?
It’s been a process of getting to know more people and speaking to them in the right way. In Thailand that’s very important. After I graduated (from the University of San Francisco, USA), I returned to Thailand but was a bit more American and tended to speak directly. I was respectful yet direct in an American way, but now I know that I have to be more patient. That’s very important in working with the media and everyone – talking to the press, making sure to use the right words. I think I have a better sense of what to say in team meetings, how to better inspire players. Do you and your father share the same vision for the team?
We have some disagreements because I have concerns about costs. I know that to make a team successful you have to give all that you have, but I look into the costs of everything. We had been running a debt until this year, but we are finally profitable because we got four new sponsors. And when I came in we started merchandising. Before that we shared the same uniform with Chonburi’s football team so we couldn’t sell replicas of the strip! Our uniforms were exactly the same – the only difference was that we had the futsal logo. So we branched out and started to make more profit from merchandising items such as jerseys, scarves, t-shirts, everything. We are more profitable because of the broadcasting, merchandising, and ticket sales. This is how we moved out of the red this year. How is your attendance at PTT Chonburi?
In our stadium we have a 3,000 capacity and we get about 1,500 or a maximum of 2,000 spectators for big games. But the Bangkok Arena is the one we used for the AFC Clubs. The capacity is 13,000 and every time the Thai national team plays there it fills up now. Did PTT Chonburi’s attendance increase in 2016?
The average had been 1,000 and it went up by about 50%. The problem is that the arena is a bit hot. There’s no air conditioner. We had very good momentum but then we had a big tragedy when the King passed away. So we stopped every activity to pay respects. Thai Futsal Players Are Mostly Police Officers and SoldiersAre the players on PTT Chonburi full-time professionals?
Yes. Some have part-time jobs. Suphawut is a police officer. Kritsada is a soldier but he’s trying to move to the police. And Jirawat is also a police officer. Why so many police?
When you are a police officer you get medals and promotions in rank. And the police want football and futsal players to play in the police league. They have multiple divisions – in both football and futsal. They even get recognized for success in competition in the police league. And it’s flexible work wise so that enables them to have careers in futsal – but they have to play in the police league, which is small. So all of these futsal stars are all policemen and soldiers?
60% police and 40% military. Is Panut (a 19-year-old player who took part in the AFC U-20 Championship and a new acquisition by PTT Chonburi) the first ever futsal star in Thailand?
Yes. Take a look at Panut’s Facebook page because he’s got more followers than Suphawut or Kritsada. He has been a sensation on social media. He just joined PTT Chonburi from the Navy team (Rajnavy), the same as Jetsada (a pivot from a rival team that played for PTT Chonburi only in the AFC Club Championship). Jetsada won’t transfer to PTT Chonburi because he has a very high rank in the military. He would like to come but he does not out of respect for his team.So how did he get permission to join PTT Chonburi this time?
National pride. We sent a letter to Jetsada’s team about needing him for success in Asia for our country, not just for our team – and they decided to help us. They decided to give us Jetsada for one month. How is the futsal pay?
There’s a wide variety. For PTT Chonburi the average is about 50,000 baht (2,000 US dollars) per month, but we have a foreign player (Xapa) who makes more. But Suphawut (the star pivot) gets the equivalent of 4,000 US dollars. In the league some teams only pay players 300 or 500 US dollars per month. Suphawut played for four months in Iran (the club Mes Segun). Why did you allow that?
The league stopped in Thailand and he was offered a higher salary – I think 6,000 US dollars. It also gave him the chance to play in Iran’s top league – and we might have to play Iran in the AFC Championship. So it was a kind of win-win situation for both him and PTT Chonburi and Thailand. The league had been postponed at the time due to the passing of the King so we wanted him to have that sort of experience instead. And we knew it was only for four months, which was short but would ultimately be a benefit for PTT Chonburi as well. What did he say about his experience?
It was a positive experience. At first he had to adjust to the style because they don’t seem to play in a system. They get the ball and they dribble and shoot for the goal. And the players told him to “shoot shoot shoot” – and he would always try to pass. It was a good experience because he played against (Iran champion) Giti Pasand and won against them. I think he didn’t score much: out of 10 matches he scored eight or nine goals. But he got to know how they play and how to change his style.
Thailand Has Too Many Bronze Medals – This Time We Want GoldHow do you feel about your chances at the AFC Club Championship that starts on Jul. 20?
Police officer Suphawut and Naval officer Jetsada are teammates on the national team but play for different club teams (Photo: Steve Harris)
Ideally, we want to get to the final of course. Last year we were missing Kritsada, a key player. We took (pivot) Jetsada on loan and he learned our system. And even though we were playing the semifinal in Bangkok the opponent (Iraq’s Naft Al-Wasat) equalized in the last 40 seconds.
The team has been playing really sharp for almost five or six years. And in the upcoming AFC Club Championship in Vietnam we will play Bank of Beirut (Lebanon) and Almalyk (Uzbekistan), who we played last year. We have played Bank of Beirut many teams and know they are a very strong team. We may eventually play against Group C, which is the group of death: Shriker Osaka (Japan), Shenzhen Nanling (China) and Giti Pasand (Iran). Having played Giti Pasand, we would like to play them more than Japanese teams. Frankly speaking, they don’t defend much – they only attack and attack. And the record shows that we have defeated Iranian teams more than Japanese teams. This is why we came to Japan to prepare. Thailand has finished in third place in many competitions, so it’s time for us to step up and win the title for a change. How has the reaction been to the Japan trip?
We’re happy because we got to know our weaknesses. In the first game, Fuchu didn’t pressure us much or try to get the ball. The second match against Machida was a very good experience for us. Everybody said they liked the second game. It was a serious battle that we got a lot from.
Pulpis vs. Miguel Rodrigo as Thai National Team ManagerYour father recently ended Miguel Rodrigo’s one-year contract as manager of the Thai national team and has brought back Pulpis. What is the story behind that?
Captain Kritsada views the action in the training match versus Pescadola Machida in Japan (Photo: Steve Harris)
Last year my father and I came to Japan to see (Japanese national team manager) Miguel Rodrigo after Japan failed to qualify (for the 2016 World Cup). We knew that Miguel might have time for us. He and Pulpis are close friends and managed by the same company. We knew we couldn’t get Pulpis at that time because he was under contract to Uzbekistan, so we thought that Miguel was the best and only option. We told him that he would come only for one year. Pulpis also recommended Miguel – and Miguel wanted to coach Thailand. So we told him from the beginning that he was going to be coaching for one year and we would see how he does. He knew that after one year that Pulpis’ contract was going to expire in Uzbekistan. And we knew that Pulpis was going to come back. Why was Pulpis the better choice for Thailand?
Pulpis had been living in Thailand for six or seven years before that, so he knew the players and the system and everything from before. Miguel was still very new to it. I don’t want to say that we chose Pulpis over Miguel – it’s not like that. Miguel was a coach that happened to have the time when we needed him. But we knew from the beginning that it was going to be Pulpis after Miguel. Even if Miguel had been amazing?
Miguel wanted to stay of course, but Pulpis also wanted to come. And we have been friends with Pulpis for a very long time and we know him very well. And I think that’s why we made choice. When do you think there will be a Thai coach of the national team?
The PTT Chonburi manager (Rakphol Sainetngam) has been learning with Miguel and Pulpis and many players. I like that the AFC has coaching courses in which they send out instructors. I think that the Thai coaches have to learn from Spanish and Brazilian coaches and more. And the time will come when we can adapt our own system. In about five or six years, I think we’ll be ready. So the Thai national team coach will come from this current generation of players?
Yes, I hope they’ll be the first generation. They are very wise in terms of futsal knowledge and have been playing in many styles.
The Future of PTT ChonburiYou have so many new PTT Chonburi fans. How do you educate them? How do you plan on marketing futsal?
Chonburi manager Rakphol Sainetngam (Photo:
That’s very important, so we have to start with the grassroots. We have a PTT Chonburi academy in Bangkok. We have been sending coaches over to schools to teach kids how to play futsal. Some people who have started watching it have been confused, so we have been trying to educate them. They say they don’t know the rules. We have information at the league site that hopefully is helping them to understand futsal. You have been successful in luring most of Thailand’s futsal talent to PTT Chonburi. Who decides on which players to acquire?
The manager and me. And we have one scout in Thailand who monitors the student league in which (Thailand U-20 national team pivot) Muhammad and Suphawut played – everybody grew up in that school league. We monitor the young talent from about the ages of 16 through 18. But since I have an (MOU) memorandum of understanding with the schools and universities we have more talent coming up. So we have the grassroots covered. The players now are only playing futsal – they used to be mixed. There are players who go to football because they get more salary, but the salary gap has been narrowing recently. Futsal is catching up.
Posted by Luca Ranocchiari