THE increasingly fleeting nature of professional football is often in contrast to the longer-term loyalty of fans. That was underlined last weekend when a fan of ex-England defender Gary Stevens travelled 9,500km to see his hero, now a coach, on the touchlines for Thai Premier League (TPL) club Army United.
Little did the traveller know that former Tottenham Hotspur star Stevens had been “rested” by the club just 24 hours before Army’s trip to BEC Tero Sasana.
“Rested” is the new buzzword in South-east Asian football where a head coach is removed and someone else is brought in. Already this season George Boateng, Bojan Hodak and B. Sathianathan have all been officially “rested” from their respective jobs in the Malaysia Super League with no prospect of returning.
Although Stevens, 53, has almost 40 years in professional football under his belt, the last thing he wanted was to be given a “rest” and for his Thai assistant to take over.
“Not in charge any more (sic) and been told to ‘take a holiday’,” Stevens wrote on Twitter. “Football is crazy the world over.”
What makes Stevens’ ousting even more puzzling is that Army had made a flying start to the season, winning four of their first five games before a three-match losing streak.
After Stevens prepared the side for Saturday’s game, they won 2-0 at BEC with Singapore goalkeeper Hassan Sunny saving a penalty. The result means that coach-less Army are currently fifth in the 18-team TPL, just five points behind leaders Buriram United.
Stevens had only taken over at Army last August from former Leicester and Scotland defender Matt Elliott, guiding a struggling team to a respectable ninth-place finish last season.
Last November, he spoke about wanting to make a big impact in Thailand and the thrill of going out of his comfort zone in South-east Asia.
Just a month ago, it was all going so well, with Army leading the league and playing attractive football at a high tempo. Popular with his players as well as the fans, Stevens seemed the perfect fit as Army’s head coach.
But the club’s dip in form after the Thai New Year last month – with two defeats in four days, including an unfortunate 1-0 loss to second-placed Bangkok Glass where they were reduced to 10 men and missed two penalties – saw Army’s owners wield the axe.
Stevens had not had a significant coaching career since retiring in the early 1990s, but he was a respectable pundit with TalkSport and Sky Sports in the UK.
In recent years he worked as an assistant to former England and Arsenal captain Tony Adams in Azerbaijan and also Irish side Sligo Rovers.
As a player, Stevens spent seven years at Tottenham where he won the 1984 Uefa Cup and played on a losing Spurs side in the 1987 FA Cup final.
A serious knee injury that came after a Vinnie Jones tackle in November 1988 would conspire to cut short his White Hart Lane tenure, but he did make 52 more appearances with Portsmouth between 1990 and 1992.
Having been part of the winning side at the 1984 European Under-21 Championship (defeating Spain in the final), he earned seven senior international caps, including two appearances at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
Stevens’ transition from Army’s hero to zero appears sudden but, alas, it all seems to be part of the unpredictable nature of South-east Asian football.
Jason Dasey is senior editor of the South-east Asia edition of football website ESPN FC (formerly ESPN Soccernet). Twitter: @ESPNFC