By Steve Thompson
Goal.com's Thai Football Editor Steve Thompson recently had the opportunity of catching up with Jason Withe, who guided BEC Tero Sasana to Thai Premier League glory in 2000.
Withe said he first visited Thailand for a vacation in 1998 to visit his father (former Aston Villa star Peter Withe), who had taken over as coach of the national team.
“I was approached by Brian Marcar to coach his team [BEC Tero Sasana] with the brief of bringing success to the team, so I decided to depart the UK and became head coach on a two-year contract,” Withe told Goal.com.
The first few months were difficult as he had to adjust to a new culture, while trying to bring new players in to the club, although according to him the most challenging aspect was getting the players fitness levels up. This step was an important one as it would allow the team to play at a higher tempo.
“This took time, but after a poor first half to the season, we certainly hit the ground running during the second half, pushing up the table and finishing joint top. We only lost out on the title due to an inferior goal difference,” Withe said. “I made some changes in the second season, bringing in new players and changing the formation to suit the key players. We romped home to the title, only losing one game all season, and also had a good run in the AFC Cup Winners Cup.”
Indeed, the team was on such a good run that it won the AFC Team of the Month for August 2001.
“I had established a really good team and eight or nine of the players were key players for the national team. I wanted to bring in a couple of fresh faces for the following season, especially with the AFC Champions League campaign ahead. I travelled home [to the UK] in the off-season and was then informed that BEC were not going to renew my contract,” Withe said. “This was a big shock as it is unusual for a coach to bring home a league title without being rewarded with a new deal.”
The team went on to win the league the following year and reached the final of the AFC Champions League, too.
“If you look at the team that reached the final, there were only a couple of players involved that I hadn’t signed. The only problem was that the club was not bringing in better players to replace the older ones and, unfortunately, once that team had broken up, they never reached the same heights again.”
While BEC Tero Sasana was considered to be a big spending outfit during this period, the club has since struggled to achieve the same level of success.
Withe the teacher | The Englishman has vast experience in South-East Asia
Withe was offered the chance of furthering his coaching career in Singapore’s
S-League after being offered the position of head coach at Home United. The ambitious club also expected Withe to deliver and, after signing a one-year deal, the young coach was told to deliver a league and cup double.
“Again, I think the expectations were just a little too high and after getting knocked out of the cup, I was told that the club did not want to renew my contract and that they wanted to make a change sooner rather than later," he recalled. "We were second in the league at the time!”
Withe returned to the kingdom to take up the position of technical director at Bangkok Bank, eventually taking over as head coach of the team in 2004.
“I made some good signings and after being top during the first half of the season, we struggled during the second half, as we lost some key players due to long-term injuries. Even so, we managed to reach the final of the Queen’s Cup (in 2004), losing to Osotsapa,” he said.
Withe had been contemplating a change when his father (Peter Withe) offered him the opportunity to become his assistant with the Indonesian national team, which
he describes as “an enjoyable experience”.
Withe said he thoroughly enjoyed the five-year period he spent coaching in the kingdom, while his short spells in Indonesia and Singapore provided insights into the culture of South-East Asia.
“What was initially supposed to be a two-year experience turned into eight years altogether and I definitely feel there’s some ‘unfinished business’ in Thailand,” Withe said. “I was only 29 when I took over [at BEC Tero Sasana] and pretty much ‘learned on the job’. I’m now only 40, so I feel I could still come back and make a success again.”
After returning to England, Withe became one of the youngest coaches to attain the Uefa Pro License and is considered one of the best qualified coaches in Europe. As well as delivering (England) FA coaching qualifications, Withe is a Coach Education Manager and Director of Football (Girls & Women) at Leicester City.
Withe said that he manages to keep up to date with Thai football through his former players, noting that it has become increasingly professional over recent years, while generating the right level of finance required.
“I’m sure [FAT president] Khun Worawi [Mukadi] has worked hard to improve the standard of the game in the kingdom.”