Published on July 20, 2007
You would think that Kittiratt Na Ranong - businessman, former president of the Stock Exchange of Thailand, a key member of the embryonic political group Ruam Jai Thai - would be too busy for anything else.
But he's a football nut, and beyond help.
Kittiratt is manager of the Thai squad competing in the AFC Asian Cup 2007, which Thailand is co-hosting with Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.
The tournament kicked off on July 7 with Thailand and Iraq playing to a 1-1 draw at Bangkok's Rajamangala Stadium. The local guys went on to beat Oman 2-0, but hopes were dashed on Monday when Australia stopped them cold, 4-0.
It wasn't Kittiratt's debut as a soccer manager. He's run national teams with members from mid-teens to 60, fair play for someone who was a dedicated player himself in university.
Kittiratt toed the ball for Assumption College in the Jaturamitr traditional-football championships hosted annually in rotation by Assumption, Suan Kulab College, Dhebsirin and Bangkok Christian College. But a broken leg benched him permanently at age 28.
He'd turned 40 by the time he returned to the sport eight years ago, and joining the alumni team was a thrill.
"The senior game isn't too rough," he says. "Senior football has become quite popular, since we can meet 10 or 20 of our old friends and classmates in the space of a few hours."
Since becoming the Asian Cup team manager, Kittiratt has taken pride in convincing his players to make the game more "graceful".
"Good management can make a football team succeed," he says. "You can take them from frequent losses to fewer losses. The players learn more respect for the rules and behaviour and become more sportsmanlike."
Kittiratt is also proud of having devoted two years readying the national under-17 squad, longer than anyone else. The team beat host Japan, although it lost to China and North Korea.
"Those two years were full of flavour," he says. "In the end, I told myself, that China had gone on to win the championship and North Korea were the runners-up. We beat the host and were inferior to no one."
And the situation has steadily improved.
"Never before have we had such good players, from clubs in Thailand as well as abroad. There are 25 players from clubs in the Thai league and five from foreign clubs."
Terdsak Jaiman and Sutee Suksomkit play in Singapore, and Datsakorn Thonglao, Nirut Surasiang and Sarayut Chaikamdee in Vietnam.
The team also features Kiatisak Senamuang, Teeratep Winothai and Tawan Sripan.
"Bringing these great players, whose ages range from 19 to 35, together as a team is very challenging," Kittiratt says, delighted with their preparations. "If the results are not satisfying, I don't know what to blame. We received good support from many parties involved."
The Asian Cup is second only to the World Cup for Asian teams, every match standing as a gauge of a nation's power, skill - and dignity.
"The results aren't evaluated only in terms of the scores, but also the fans' satisfaction," Kittiratt says. "We win if we can win the fans' hearts."
To make time for his players off the field - giving them encouragement and helping them any way he can, Kittiratt sacrifices his golf, socialising and hobbies.
As for his job as deputy director of academic affairs at Chulalongkorn University's Sasin Graduate Institute of Business Administration, he can't let his football duties get in the way. Sometimes he misses out on some sleep too.
If his friends miss him on the golf course, though, he can count on his family for solid support.
"My family's all involved. My three sons like football and my wife has followed the sport since we were dating."
Kittiratt shares one of his sons' love of Manchester United (the other boy cheers for Liverpool), but he pours his heart out for Thailand and his favourite player, Tawan.
His dream is to earn soccer all the popularity and support in Thailand that he believes it deserves, with players and fans who are proud of one another in equal measure.
Support, Kittiratt points out, can take many forms - not necessarily just financial. And the benefits can be wide-ranging.
"If people learn about winning and losing, there is less chaos in society, and the country will be able to move on," he says.
It's an outlook he might soon use in offering political guidance.
Asked how his proposed party is shaping up, Kittiratt says he hasn't spoken with the other members lately - too busy with football!