Football Greats Kiatisuk Senamuang and Bakri Ibni – A Bond Thicker Than Blood

The night of 20th December 2014 will ring a familiar bell in the minds of football fans as Thailand clinched their fourth ASEAN Football (AFF) Championship Suzuki Cup in dramatic fashion. Having gone through the whole tournament unbeaten including a 2 – 0 first-leg win on home soil just three days earlier, their Malaysian oppositions formed a formidable comeback in the return leg leading 3 – 0 after the hour mark before two late goals by Charyl Chappuis (82’) and Chanathip Songkrasin (87’) ended Thailand’s 12-year draught in the competition with a 4 – 3 aggregate victory.

The man at the centre of the champion’s achievements was Thai national coach Kiatisuk Senamuang or ‘Zico’, who consequently became the first person to win the AFF Championship as both a player and a coach. After their triumph at Bukit Jalil National Stadium, Kiatisuk met up with his former coach Malaysian football legend Bakri Ibni at the lobby of Hilton Hotel in Kuala Lumpur.

Kiatisuk and Bakri first came across each other’s paths nearly two decades ago when Bakri, then head coach of Perlis FA signed a much younger Kiatisuk to play in the Malaysian Premier 1 Division. Learning how to play with a new team on top of adapting to a new cultural environment can often unsettle players, however Kiatisuk has credited Bakri for playing an important role in his career describing him as a father and coach at the same time. “At that time he did not have a good command of English or Bahasa Malaysia so he used to come over to stay at my house and learn from me,” Bakri recalls their close relationship.

After just one season, Kiatisuk accepted an offer to play in Football League First Division with Huddersfield Town and their manager Steve Bruce. Since then, Kiatisuk has went on to win the Vietnamese Football League (V.League 1) several times with Hoàng Anh Gia Lai. The national record holder of most international appearances (131) and goals scored (70) also managed to help the national team to land the iconic King’s Cup in 2006. Turning his head towards management, Kiatisuk had spells with clubs in Thailand and Vietnam before being appointed the coach of both the Thai national and U-23 teams. He guided the U-23 team to gold in the South-East Asia (SEA) Games in 2013 before guiding the national team to that historic December night in 2014.

Back in the crowded hotel lobby, at first look this may seem like an ordinary instance of coincidence since footballing greats, past and present, regularly congregate at major tournaments such as the AFF Championship to enjoy the beautiful game. However, this story runs deeper than meets the eye. Kiatisuk shouted across the room ‘my father, my father’ before reaching and embracing Bakri in front of a jubilant crowd of Thai supporters.

The two who have not seen each other since their time at Perlis, shared a moment to reflect their past. “When he was playing for Perlis, he was like a son and student to me. We developed a great relationship and that has not changed since,” the 64-year-old legend said of Kiatisuk. “I get emotional every time thinking about the Kiatisuk I knew almost 20 years ago to the football hero of Thailand that he has grown to become today, still calling me his father and teacher.”

The reunion shows that respect and love is unwavering in light of time as the brief moments they shared forged an unbreakable bond between them. Despite their inability to speak in a common language at the start, their willingness to embrace each other ultimately developed this ‘thicker than blood’ relationship, and significantly contributed towards their stellar careers.

This short, but powerful story perfectly illuminates the spirit that the people of ASEAN should emulate. Beyond the complex political, economic and social dimensions, sometimes it is the simple things such as just going the extra step in forging meaningful relationships that makes all the difference, as it has for Kiatisuk and Bakri.

Flash forward to December 2016, and it is almost time again to celebrate the beautiful game as we reach the semi-final stage of the AFF Championship where Vietnam will take on Indonesia and Thailand play against Myanmar for a spot in the final.

– by Shawn Kueh Zhong Wei

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