German steel, Brazilian flair

By
Updated: April 22, 2016
Mano Polking Bangkok United

Mano Pölking is a coach who prides himself on being open and approachable with his players – but you don’t want to cross him.

The Brazilian was five months into his first ever management job at Army United and still a core group of five experienced players, including a club captain, continued to skip his morning training sessions.

Refusing to buckle, Pölking went up the chain of command to one below current Prime Minister Prayut himself, insisting either the club legends, some nearly as old as him, toe the line, or he would resign. Pölking says he never had a problem after that, Army that 2013 season enjoying a highly successful Premier League campaign, finishing sixth.

The season after Pölking moved to Suphanburi, and following a disappointingly short-lived spell, ended up at Bangkok United, where he has since overseen a dramatic resurgence in the team’s performances and is now the league’s second-longest serving manager.

Rescuing the Angels from the relegation places during the second leg in 2014 and eventually finishing eighth, United were fifth last season and sit third in the table this campaign, with Pölking earmarking a top-three finish.

Sitting down with ThaiGoals in an Italian restaurant off Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok whilst enjoying dinner with his wife and young daughter, a relaxed and very frank Pölking recalls his time at Army with some incredulity – but a steely pride.

“In Thailand, the culture is very, very nice for living. It’s a nice life, but it’s not always nice for working in football,” he says, chuckling.

“What I mean by that can be seen at my time at Army. What I was trying to do at Army was get the players more professional. I was not asking too much, I was just asking them to come in at 8am for training some days.

“Unfortunately, there were some players there who thought they could do whatever they wanted. There were always different kinds of excuses. One was, ‘Sorry coach, I had to take my sister to hospital’. Well for a professional coach, that is no excuse. I can even arrange a driver to take your sister to hospital, but you have to come to work.

“In the end I got great support from the top people at Army. I didn’t meet with Prayut personally but the man directly under him. I called a meeting just after I had signed some new players in the transfer window, so I had some influence. The Army even wanted to kick those players – club legends – out. The problem was one was my club captain, who was a very good player, and I needed him!

“But after the meeting I never had one problem. Not one player missed training for the next six months and we had the best season ever in the Premier League for Army!”

It is perhaps not surprising such steel runs through the veins of a man who, aged 40, is still relatively young for a top-level coach.

Pölking has lived and worked in no less than eight countries and speaks four languages (Portuguese, English, German, Spanish) fluently, his globetrotting experiences clearly helping mould an easy confidence in his ability to adapt.

Born in the southern Brazilian city of Montenegro, Pölking, who is often mistaken for a German due to genes inherited through a grandfather, moved to Germany as a young man on a student exchange programme, and ended up forging out a career in the country’s lower leagues as a winger-cum-striker.

 

Mano Polking Germany

Playing for SV Darmstadt 98 in Germany

He then moved on to Cyprus, playing for Olympiakos Nicosia, the highlight being a Uefa Cup pre-qualifying game with Turkish giants Trabzonspor.

By his own admission a player of modest ability, he always felt coaching would one day beckon – and he got his big chance rather fortuitously, mirroring Jose Mourinho’s big break under Bobby Robson at Sporting Lisbon.

Sharing an agent with Winfried Schaefer, who remains his mentor to this day, he was recruited onto the coaching staff of the German legend’s new club, Al Ain FC in Abu Dhabi, mainly due to his language abilities.

There followed five years as Schaefer’s right-hand man, which also featured spells at FK Baku in Azerbaijan and with the Thailand national team (punctuated by a one year period without Schaefer in South Africa).

It’s their time with Thailand, where they got to the final of the Suzuki Cup but were booted out after two disappointing World Cup qualifying games, that he recalls with particular fondness.

“It is always nice to coach with a national team – it is special,” he says. “I got to know all the players very well, and made lots of football contacts. That’s where it all started for me in Thailand.

“With a national team there is always that pressure – there is maybe only 10 games a year, so you know if you lose two, you could be out of a job.

“But if I’m really being honest, with the job Zico is now doing with the national team after we left, you can’t say they made the wrong decision. He is doing a great job.”

Mano Polking Thailand

In the Thai dugout with Winfried Schaefer

Towards the end with Thailand, Pölking had already secured the manager’s job at Army, and after that successful 2013 season, he moved on to Suphanburi. Pölking remains hurt that the job ended after just 12 games.

“We started badly, with two defeats, and the pressure then builds,” he recalls. “But we were on an unbeaten run for five games, and only the game before we had beaten Muangthong United 5-2. But after a 1-1 draw with Army, on the Monday I was fired.

“I still don’t agree with the decision. How can a coach be judged on those number of games? I like President Top, he is very important for that club and that city, and I had a very good relationship with him. I like him as a man, but he didn’t even fire me in person. He got one of his staff to do it instead, then he blocked me on his phone. It wasn’t a very nice style after five months of seeing each other every day.

“But this can happen to a coach anywhere in the world, not just Thailand. It happens in Brazil too.”

Happily for Pölking, it all worked out for the best, with other Thai clubs keen to recruit the young, dynamic coach. He waited for the right opportunity, and he felt Bangkok Untied was the perfect fit, despite them struggling when he took over.

From the start Pölking revitalized them, and this season the Angels are flourishing in their new home at Thammasat Stadium, after playing previously at the Thai-Japanese Stadium, where a bad pitch made it difficult to play passing football, the way Pölking wants his sides to play. Their only loss so far this season was an opening day reverse to champions Buriram United.

Pölking, who one day has ambitions to coach in Europe or his native Brazil, believes the club, owned by the mighty True Corporation, is building something special. A significant statement of the club’s ambitions came pre-season with the signing of star striker Mario Durovski from Muangthong United.

“The club has a very professional mentality,” he says. “This stems from the president (Kajorn Chearavanont). He doesn’t come to training all the time and interfere, he just comes to the games to enjoy them, and that’s it.

“It helped me that we started well when I took over, and we have just continued, though it’s still early this season.”

Mano Polking Brazilian

Celebrating in typical Pölking style

Pölking, who also has one son and one daughter by his ex-wife in Germany, sees himself living in Bangkok with his young family for some time yet.

“The standard of football here is just getting better and better,” he says. “You just can’t compare it to four years ago. And I enjoy my life here in Thailand. I like the people, I like Bangkok. It’s a great place for kids, unlike Brazil with all its criminality, which is even in the schools.

“Brazil is home and I see myself going back one day, but we are very happy here.”

You sense when that day eventually comes, it will be very much on his own terms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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