Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sukha sets a Thai-rific example

EXCLUSIVE: Melbourne may be 7000km south of Thailand, but for Surat Sukha Thailand is never far from his mind.

Sukha battles with Alex Terra in the Melbourne Derby
When you talk to Sukha, even if it is only via email and through a translator, there are two things that stand out – his shy, humble nature and his pride and passion for Thailand.

As a Thai footballer playing abroad, his outlook is quite profound. He is not just a mere football player; he is an ambassador for his country. And it’s not something he takes lightly.

“I’m very proud to be Thai, and as a professional footballer who plays abroad I am an ambassador for Thailand to Australia and the rest of the world,” he said.

“I take that responsibility very seriously.”

That responsibility extends all the way down to promoting Melbourne Victory and the A-League to the Thai communities across Australia.

“I really want to help the club to build more fans from the Thai and South East Asian communities in Melbourne as much as I can,” he said.

The 28-year-old started his career in 2001 as a 19-year-old in his home town of Sakon Nakhon, a town of 76,000 people in the north-east Thai region of Isan. They were humble beginnings but would lay the foundations for his move to Melbourne eight years later.

Sukha would play 96 games for Sakon Nakhon, scoring 12 goals along the way, before securing a move to Thai Premier League side Chonburi FC.

After a disastrous first season where The Sharks won only five games, the 2007 TPL season would turn out to be a career defining one.
Sukha plays against the Victory for
Chonburi in the AFC Champions League

Chonburi would win the title, qualifying for the 2008 AFC Champions League, and Sukha would cement himself in the squad, displaying the sort of form that would see him called up for the national team the following year.

It was in the 2008 AFC Champions League that Sukha would get his first experience of the A-League, when his Chonburi side surprised everyone by beating Melbourne Victory 3-1 in Bangkok.

It was his performance that night, and in the return leg in Melbourne two months later, that sparked Melbourne’s interest in him.

It would be almost a year before the Victory had their man, with Sukha signing a two-year deal in May 2009.

Sukha is the first to admit he knew little about the A-League or Australian Football before moving to Melbourne, but he and the city he would move to shared one common love – Mark Viduka!

“I didn’t know much about the rest of the league before I came to Australia,” he admitted.

“I knew the Socceroos from the World Cup and Asian Cup, even though I didn’t play against them.

“Mark Viduka is one of my favourite players.”

Sukha made his national team debut 15 months after Australia met Thailand at the 2007 AFC Asian Cup, missing out on a dream clash with his idol, when new Thai coach Peter Reid named him in the squad for the 2008 T&T Cup in Vietnam.

It was a successful tournament for Thailand too, taking out the three-team event.

Representing Thailand is something close to Sukha’s heart.

“Playing football for Thailand is the greatest honour in my life,” he says proudly.
Sukha lines up for the Thailand national teams

It’s an honour he has had 16 times since making his debut, although injury kept him out of the recent AFF Suzuki Cup.

“I'm really sad that I couldn’t play in that tournament, because I want to represent Thailand at every opportunity I have,” he lamented.

Sukha could see the silver lining though, highlighting the fact it gave promising youngsters a chance to get valuable experience.

It was an experience they will want to forget though, with Thailand struggling and in a major surprise they were eliminated in the group stages.

It was a major disappointment for a nation that had made the final in five of their last eight attempts, winning three of them.

Sukha was circumspect when asked about their failure.

“As Thais we are disappointed with what happened, because we always set ourselves goals and we didn’t make it this time,” he said.

“However, from disappointment comes opportunity to learn from mistakes made.
Sukha in his time with Chonburi FC

“All the relevant departments are now paying attention to the real problems in Thai football and working hard at bringing Thailand back to being the strongest football nation in South East Asia.”

The shy and humble Sukha isn’t afraid to offer an opinion on how to improve Thai though, directing some not too subtle criticism towards the Football Association of Thailand.

“The improvement in Thai Football needs to come from the management and administration within the relevant departments of the FAT,” he said.

“Serious action shows better results than beautiful words, so departments need to work seriously and cooperatively to help improve all aspects of football in Thailand.”

Coming from Sukha they are stinging words, but no doubt words echoed by thousands of Thai fans across the world.

Sukha is doing his part for Thai football though, being the only member of the current Thai squad to play abroad. He is hoping that he can blaze a trail and inspire other Thai players to play abroad, especially in Australia.

When asked if other Thai players should move to Australia, he is adamant.

“Absolutely,” he said.

“More Thai players should come and hopefully by playing for Melbourne Victory I have shown some Thai footballers about what is possible.”
Sukha with fellow Thai international Sutee Suksomkit

Briefly in late 2009 another Thai player did come. Sutee Suksomkit, a regular for Thailand since 2000, joined Sukha at Melbourne Victory.

It was an important time for Sukha, who acknowledges that having a fellow Thai around helped him in the early stages of his time in Melbourne.

“Having Sutee here in Melbourne was a great time,” he recalled.

“My English isn’t the best, and I hadn’t fully integrated into Melbourne life yet, so having Sutee here to talk to and hang out with made me feel so much more at home.”

It obviously had an impact as Sukha’s form since has gone from strength to strength, to the point where he is now a valued member of the Victory, signing a contract extension in April 2010 that will keep him at the club until 2012.

“I’ll always be thankful to Melbourne Victory who saw both my ability and potential and gave me the opportunity to come to Australia and represent the great nation of Thailand in the great city of Melbourne,” he said.

Therein lies the two standout qualities of Sukha – humility and pride.

Asian Football Feast would like to thank and acknowledge Matt and Thaya Morris for their assistance in translating the interview with Sukha. This interview would not have been possible without them and we are grateful for their assistance.


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