Suzuki Cup: Rolex watches, iPhones, designer bags - how Thailand's team manager motivates football players

Nualphan Lamsam is hoisted in the air after the Thailand women's team beat Vietnam in 2014 to qualify for the 2015 Women's World Cup for the first time.
Nualphan Lamsam

SINGAPORE - As the saying goes, behind every successful man, there is a woman. And in the case of Thailand's national football team, that lady is their team manager Nualphan Lamsam.

Tasked to "restore the dignity" of the regional giants when she was appointed by the Football Association of Thailand in August, the billionaire heiress appears to have had an instant impact.

The War Elephants are poised to capture a record-extending sixth AFF Suzuki Cup on New Year's Day after a 4-0 win over Indonesia in the final first leg on Wednesday (Dec 29).

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Affectionately known as Madame Pang, she is a fifth-generation scion of the Lamsam family that founded Kasikornbank, which has assets of more than $100 billion.

The 55-year-old is also the president and chief executive of Muang Thai Insurance and runs another business distributing luxury goods from Hermes.

Such financial muscle has allowed Nualphan to announce a 20 million baht (S$810,000) reward for winning the Suzuki Cup, and organise a team-bonding activity after the group stage where players and staff could win prizes such as Rolex watches, iPhone 13s and designer bags from a lucky draw.

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She told The Straits Times that while she appreciates hosts Singapore's hospitality and the presence of 10,000 fans to create some atmosphere at the National Stadium, she is intent on ensuring the team's morale stays high as the squad copes with the Covid-19 bubble conditions put in place.

Emphasising a family culture, she said: "I'm new with this role, that's why I have to break the ice. I have to pay attention to not just their physical condition, but also take care of their hearts and minds.

"They need to have fun, to laugh together and not just stay in the room, two by two. Sometimes, we need to relax and bond with each other because football is a team game."

Her efforts are recognised by the grateful players. Forward Supachok Sarachat said: "The activities... and all the logistic work Madame Pang has done to make things more convenient for the team really motivate the players to perform to our potential."

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Before her current role, Nualphan was Thailand's team manager at the 2006 Far East and South Pacific Games for the Disabled. She then managed the national women's team from 2008 to 2019, and oversaw their historic World Cup qualification in 2015 and 2019.

She also took over Thai League 1 club Port FC in 2015, overseeing their FA Cup win in 2019.

She is credited with the appointments of Alexandre Polking and Nuengrutai Srathongvian as the current head and assistant men's coaches respectively.

German Polking said: "Madame Pang is a powerful woman who is really good at building relationships with local and foreign clubs, which the national team need.

This article was first published in The Straits TimesPermission required for reproduction.