AFF Suzuki Cup 2018: Antoine Hey and Myanmar a match made in heaven

When Antoine Hey was announced as coach of the Myanmar national team, the decision initially filled fans with trepidation. However, one game into their AFF Suzuki Cup campaign, and it’s clear that the two are a match made in heaven.

Hey took the reins of the Myanmar side in May this year, replacing fellow countryman Gerd Zeise, who had disappointed in his stint as the coach, failing to earn qualification into the 2019 Asian Cup.

There were mixed reactions though to Hey’s appointment from the outset. He was, after all, a legend in his own right, with coaching experience of over a decade across continents. However, he had also walked out on coaching stints with Kenya and Rwanda and was only experiencing Asian football for the first time in his career.

That though did not seem to be on the mind of U Tin Myint Aung, the technical director of the MFF, who seemed to have zeroed in on Hey right from the start.

“We got some high profile coaches but they have experience only managing clubs. Antoine Hey is a veteran and he contributed as head coach in many national teams. Additionally, we like his football techniques and philosophy and that is why he has been selected to become the new coach,” U Tin Myint Aung explained the reasoning behind his decision.

Hey had a baptism of fire, with his coaching stint beginning with a defeat against China followed by heavy losses to Bolivia, Indonesia and Bahrain.

The 48-year-old though liked what he saw of his side, and the Myanmar faithful enjoyed the German’s approach to the game. It was a refreshing change from the dark days of Zeise and Milan Živadinović.

“If there was no belief to succeed, I will not be accepted to do this work,” Hey had claimed when being unveiled as the new coach, before adding, “as a new coach, I actually don’t know yet about Myanmar players, though I believe to get success with Myanmar team.”

It was a statement of intent, and exactly what the White Angels needed after their prior disappointments. With the AFF Suzuki Cup in just a few months’ time – a tournament they have historically underperformed in, failing to make it out of the group stages in all but 2 editions of the competition – Myanmar needed a semblance of goodwill and positivity in the build-up to the tournament and Hey embodied that and much more.

Despite not entering the Suzuki Cup in the best of form, all the question marks surrounding the White Angels were quickly erased when they offered up a beating of Cambodia in their opening fixture, displaying a passion and desire that was not usually associated with the side and something that Hey seems to have imbibed into the squad in his few months in charge.

Hey, as was his norm, provided an element of shock, naming arguably the best player on the team, Aung Thu, on the bench – although it was later revealed that Aung was not a 100% physically – but that did not stop his side from maximising the talent on show, laying down the gauntlet in the process.

Myanmar are looking ominous and with one win already under their belt and games against Laos – another winnable fixture – and Vietnam to come, the White Angels will definitely fancy their chances of progression.

While they are by no means the favourites to lift the trophy come December, there is no reason why they cannot pull off an upset of sorts and go all the way, especially with Hey calling the shots.

Hey’s arrival at the helm has coincided with the rise of some stellar young talent in the form of Aung Thu and Maung Maung Lwin among others, which will aid his quest in returning Myanmar to their glory days of the past.

The Myanmar national team seems to be in good hands going forward and only time will tell if Hey can truly lead them back to the top, something he had envisioned when he first took charge.

“Myanmar is just about to take off, and to my mind has huge potential. It’s a country you will hear a lot about in the future.” If we do end up hearing a lot of them in the future, Hey may be the one to thank for laying the groundwork.