11 July 2024

In the tumultuous world of Thai football, one name has emerged as a beacon of change and hope.

Nualphan Lamsam can boast a successful career in club management and an unswerving dedication to women’s football. But she now finds herself on the verge of an even greater venture: vying for the presidency of the Football Association of Thailand (FAT).

Glittering sports, business career

Her journey, adorned with achievements and fervor, has sparked hopes that could reshape the nation’s footballing destiny.

Known affectionately as Madame Pang, Nualphan has crafted a legacy that spans from the boardroom to the football field, with her dynamic roles as president and CEO of Muang Thai Insurance, chairwoman of Port Football Club and manager of the Thailand national football teams.

Nualphan’s trajectory in Thai football began with Port FC, where her leadership breathed new life into the team. Under her guidance since 2015, the Port Lions surged from League 2 to the dizzy heights of League 1 within two years.

The team’s meteoric rise laid the foundation for future successes, culminating in their FA Cup triumph of 2019. A testament to Nualphan’s prowess, Port FC consistently secured the third spot in the top-tier league between 2018 and 2022.

However, Nualphan’s impact extended beyond club management. Her influence reverberated on the international stage as she led the Thailand women’s national team to a historic debut in the Women’s World Cup in 2015 and a second appearance in 2019.

Despite the challenges faced, Nualphan’s tenure as team manager marked a significant step forward for women’s football in the nation.

Now, with the presidency of the FAT within her sights, Nualphan’s vision resonates across Thai football. Backed by prominent figures such as Buriram United Football Club chairman Newin Chidchob and BG Pathum United Football Club chairman Pavin Bhirombhakdi, Nualphan’s candidacy embodies a united front for revitalizing the sport.

As Somyot Poompanmoung’s term approaches its conclusion next February, the potential transition to Nualphan’s leadership signals a transformative era for Thai football.

In a recent interview, Nualphan expressed her deep-rooted commitment to the sport that has fueled her journey.

She remarked, “I spent 12 years of ups and downs with the women’s national team. I feel so honored and proud to have helped Thai flag fly high twice in the World Cup.”

Her involvement at international level extended to managing the men’s national team, which she led to victory in the AFF Suzuki Cup in 2020 and 2022. Her rich experience underscores Nualphan’s dedication and passion for Thai football.

Challenges ahead

However, the challenges facing the sport in Thailand are undeniable.

The nation’s footballing glory has faded in recent years, with its regional supremacy lost amid challenges from rivals like Vietnam. Furthermore, Thailand’s inability to secure a SEA Games title since 2013 underlines the pressing need for revitalization.

Under the current administration, issues such as delayed broadcast rights, stalling development programs, and financial difficulties have further impeded progress. All these challenges necessitate urgent action to reignite faith among fans and revitalize the sport’s financial foundations.

Nualphan’s decision to step into the presidential race was not taken lightly.

“This is not an easy decision to make due to several reasons, including family concern over my health, and having my own business to run,” she explained. “But during the current difficult situation of Thai football, someone needs to step in to mitigate the problems and devote their time and personal resources as best they can.”

Nevertheless, Nualphan’s ambitions stretch beyond mere competition or personal ambition.

“I do not view my pursuit of the presidency as a race for victory or defeat. Every candidate shares the same goal, which is to elevate the level of Thai football and progress along the successful path anticipated by the fans.”

Her standpoint highlights the essential unity necessary to fix the problems and revive the sport.

Race for Thai football’s top job

But she faces competition from other contenders in pursuit of the top job in Thai football. Former FAT president Worawi Makudi and Pauline Ngarmpring, a long-time football enthusiast and transgender woman, have brought their unique perspectives and visions to the table.

The dynamics of the race shifted further when former Thailand striker Piyapong Pue-on withdrew after learning of Nualphan’s intention to run for the presidency. This twist highlighted Nualphan’s compelling presence and vision for the future of Thai football.

As the race for the presidency unfolds, Nualphan’s candidacy offers a refreshing perspective and a path towards transformation. Her wealth of experience, coupled with a genuine love for the sport, distinguishes her as a formidable candidate. With a vision that encompasses both the club and national realms, Nualphan brings a promise of revival and renewal.

In the end, Nualphan’s journey from leading clubs to leading the nation’s football is a testament to the power of her passion, dedication, and unwavering belief in the potential of Thai football. As she embarks on this monumental endeavor, her story becomes woven into the tale of a national sporting pride aiming to renew itself, to inspire a people, and to reclaim its place in the region and perhaps extend its reach even beyond.

Thailand has yet to qualify for a FIFA World Cup. Could that “curse” be broken in the next few years? Watch this space.

By Thai PBS World’s Sport Desk