EXCLUSIVE - "Only being champions will do," says Thailand coach Winfried Schafer

Goal.com spoke to Schafer about his team, the development of Thailand football, and how he expects to cope with the nation's high expecations of winning the AFF Suzuki Cup
It has been a year and half since Winfried Schafer was appointed as national head coach of the Thailand squad. The German hopes to revive Thailand's football status as a South-East Asia powerhouse, and dramatically raised his country's hopes after the recent 3-0 drubbing of Oman in the World Cup 2014 Qualifiers. The win led to him being dubbed with the endearing nickname "Winnie Potter" by local media.

With less than a month to go before the War Elephants will compete in the AFF Suzuki Cup 2012, Goal.com Thailand sat down with Schafer to discuss the state of Thailand football, and what will he do to bring success to the country.

Goal.com: You have managed Thai National Team for quite some time, can you begin by telling us about the development of Thai football?

Winfried Schafer: I have managed Thailand for around one and a half years. At the beginning the development was good, however, many things have since halted. Many plans being laid out are not progressing as forseen. Nevertheless, at the club level there are vast improvements, especially the fitness of players. Before, many players often had cramps during the game, but at present this problem is decreasing.

Goal.com: When you came in, many saw you as keen and dedicated to building success for the Thai national Team.

Winfried Schafer: I am always energetic, and fully dedicated. During the 2014 World Cup Qualifers, we played well and built a lot of faith up in the fans. The attendance was nearly full house, we almost beat Australia at their home and even defeated Oman 3-0. This was in addition to the draw against Saudi Arabia, when I called up many young starlets to the team, which reflects on the fact that we have plenty of good players.

With these vast resources of players, we need serious development in order to be successful

- Winfried Schafer

Goal.com: And is that the case now?

Winfried Schafer: Of course, but many might think that I am more quiet now, because at the beginning I criticised the Football Association of Thailand’s (FAT) work quite often. I wanted better development as Thailand contains a lot of talented players. With these vast resources of players, we need serious development in order to be successful.

Goal.com: So what do you recommend Thailand does next?

Winfried Schafer: As mentioned, when we see things that are good, we need to seriously work on them with full coordination from both club and the the FAT. Today I see board members of big clubs in Thai Premier League such as Muangthong, Buriram, Bangkok Glass, Chonburi, or even Army United in consultation with the FAT President on the problems and ways of developing the structure.

Goal.com: What are the current problems for the national team?

Winfried Schafer: That would be old-fashioned manner of management for sure. Me and my staff made a calendar for the national side’s preparation and are ready to propose it to the related personnel, but there are still problems which need to be rectified. For 2013, I have already sent it and hope for good feedback and action as promised from the Thai Premier League Company. The domestic schedule should correspond with the national fixtures, and played on days which do not conflict with international friendly matches. Continuous friendly games will make the team stronger.

You would think that if the players have plenty of experiences with the national team, clubs will have better performance in Asian competitions. They are all related. Currently Thailand lacks international experiences. I have noticed many times that when Thai players compete in continental football, they do not understand the difference between the standard of refereeing in domestic and international matches.

In domestic competition, when you get hit lightly, you concede a foul. But when you go abroad, this same play might seem funny to the referee’s eyes. I repeat again, we lack international experiences, and we need to solve this problem. Everybody needs to think on the cause of why Thailand clubs and the nation aren’t successful as thought. We should work on this problem in order to improve. I believe that as a first step we need a youth league to build up the foundation of professional football. I know deep down that it is hard! But it needs to be done. We need to ask ourselves: why have Japan and South Korea gone so far?

I believe that as a first step we need a youth league to build up the foundation of professional football
- Winfried Schafer

Goal.com: Have you ever gotten tired of being the Thailand’s national coach?

Winfried Schafer: I admit that I thought of waving a white flag after the last game of the 2014 World Cup Qualifiers. I was confident that Australia would beat Saudi Arabia and if we defeated Oman at their home then we could have qualified. We had a great opportunity to become one of the top 10 teams of Asia, but our preparations were horrible. Nevertheless, FAT has promised me that this will not happen again, especially from 2013 onwards.

Goal.com: Of course, you're aware that the AFF Suzuki Cup 2012 is very important to the Thailand fans.

Winfried Schafer: Of course we will face great obstacles in AFFSC at the end of November, though many people are expecting us to triumph in this competition, which is correct because by having ambition we can then have the will to fight. But the important thing is to ensure is in having adequate preparations, which does not start from November 1 or two to three weeks before the competition. We need to prepare six to seven months before.

But that does not mean we need to train in the camp the whole time, instead we need warm-up games from time to time. Other nations do this, and I am surprised that this is not the case for us. Nonetheless, at this moment we need to go ahead, and need support from the 12th player, which are the fans at the stadium to create confidence and motivation for our players to achieve success.

Goal.com: Regarding the selection of the 35 players at the national camp, many are curious if these are really the best players in Thailand?

Winfried Schafer: The charm of football is during before and or after the match there are millions of trainers who are bound to criticize others. This is the beauty of the game. But I went to watch the players with my own eyes every week without fail. These squad consists of the best players of this nation, at the moment. However, I am disappointed that Pipob On-Mo and Jakkraphan Kaewprom suffered injuries, while Adisak Kraisorn went to train with Leicester City. I hope that he [Kraisorn] gains plenty of good experience to bring back.

I wanted stronger opponents, but that’s ok. At this moment we need to benefit as much as possible from our matches with these teams
- Winfried Schafer

Goal.com: Have you studied the games of Group A teams?

Winfried Schafer: That is for sure. I have DVD analysis for all opponents such as Vietnam, Philippines, Myanmar, and even from before, I flew to watch the form of our opponents in the group like Myanmar and Vietnam. But I haven’t had the opportunity to watch the Philippines yet.

Goal.com: Are you satisfied with the warm up games that FAT arranged for you?

Winfried Schafer: Truthfully, I wanted stronger opponents, but that’s ok. At this moment we need to benefit as much as possible from our matches with these teams [Malaysia, who Thailand played on Wednesday, Butan on November 14, and Bangladesh on November 18].

Goal.com:  And the goal for this AFFSC?

Winfried Schafer: Only being champions will do! I will not say that going to the second round will be enough. As mentioned before, we need to set our goals high in order to bring the full power inside as a big motivation for all our players. I believe that we can do it, especially if the fans can have faith and support us.