BANGKOK – Japan’s former national team coach Akira Nishino has formally agreed to be head coach of Thailand’s national soccer team and its under-23s, the Football Association of Thailand said Monday.
Nishino, who led Japan’s national team to the round of 16 at last year’s World Cup in Russia, will steer Thailand through the Asian qualifiers for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
He will also guide the under-23 team’s efforts at the 2019 Southeast Asian Games in the Philippines, and the Asian Football Confederation’s U-23 Championship 2020, to be held in Thailand.
During an interview with local broadcaster Thairath which aired Tuesday morning, Nishino said he had watched the Thais for some time and had grown interested in coaching a team he believes has the potential to become one of Asia’s best.
“The strength of the Thai team, it made an impact on me. It’s a team I’ve been interested in for a while,” Nishino said. “There is some similarity to the style of Japanese players and teams. I feel there’s a lot of potential for growth.
Thailand had been seeking a new coach for its national team, nicknamed the War Elephants, since the resignation of interim Sirisak Yodyardthai after poor displays at the annual King’s Cup tournament in Thailand, in June.
According to Nishino, the team’s biggest hurdle is a lack of drive. The 64-year-old said they “can definitely make an outstanding improvement” if he succeeds in motivating the side, ranked 116th by FIFA.
The Football Association of Thailand’s press release said Nishino accepted the offer after talks with association chief Somyot Pumpanmuang and another executive, with Nishino requesting from the outset that he oversee both teams to build continuity and manage them in the same direction.
But with expectations rising for the AFC’s second round of World Cup qualification starting in September, Nishino cautioned results will take time and effort, as well as a focus on building up the country’s next generation of players.
“(The top team) won’t become strong overnight. We have to take a steady approach…reinforce not only the top team, but also the generation in development.”
The association said a press conference will be held later regarding the selection of Nishino, who traveled to Thailand for negotiations.
His talks with Thai soccer executives on Monday afternoon reportedly ended without a concrete outcome, but further talks in the evening led to an agreement.
Thailand now hopes Nishino can lead the National team to the 2022 World Cup.