Elected president of Yangon United Football Club in 2009 at the age of 24, Pye Phyo Tayza holds the record as the youngest FIFA team President in the world. Five years later, he shares his views with InDepth on the difficulties that lay ahead for football in Myanmar, and what it will take to elevate Myanmar football to a global level.

A passion for football often runs in the blood, bonding father to son, transcending generations and forming one of life’s few constants. In the UK it’s often said that you’re more likely to change your wife, career and religion than allegiance to the football team of your childhood. For Pye Phyo Tayza, whose other business interests include oil and F&B, it seems football is where the heart is. “My passion for football came from my father and runs in the blood,” he says before a photo shoot that has him chasing a ball around the grounds of Yangon United Football Club, who last year finished second in the Myanmar National League. “We tried our best, but you win some and lose some. I was ashamed I couldn’t make 6,000,000 people happy in Yangon”.

A keen footballer himself, Pye Phyo Tayza plays the recreational league every Sunday, fuelled on, perhaps, the memories of one of football’s all-time greats—the Brazilian, Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima, his childhood hero who scored twice in the 2002 World Cup final against Germany in Japan. Clearly under no illusion of emulating the great Brazilian, his dreams are instead focused on guiding a new generation of Myanmar footballers to reach their potential and reinstall a passion amongst his fellow countrymen for the beautiful game – something that has been on the wane in recent years.

However, hope for a resurgence in national football pride looms on the horizon. Recently, Myanmar’s Under 19 football team qualified for the 2015 U-19 World Cup in New Zealand, defeating the United Arab Emirates. It brings to mind, in financial terms at least, a David and Goliath showdown, one that will hopefully help reverse a decline in support for football in Myanmar.

“Back in 2009 we’d get 18,000 to 20,000 spectators per game and up to 30,000 for the big games”, Pye Phyo Tayza laments, “now, on average, we get 3,500 people”. There are several reasons for the decline in numbers, one being the impossible gridlock that puts people off traveling to the stadium and another, the declining form of the national team. “Enthusiasm for football is driven by the national team. During the South East Asia Games, which Myanmar hosted, fans were hoping to see something special but we got no-where”.

Four decades ago Myanmar was a major soccer force in the region, winning five Southeast Asian Games between 1965 and 1973. Since then, the national team has suffered a precipitous decline as poor governance laid waste to the economy. And as anyone who reads the headlines will know, soccer feeds on money like a sumo wrestler on carbs, a fact not lost on Pye Phyo Tayza.

“If you look at football teams in Thailand, their yearly budget is around 10-15 million USD for the top teams and 2-3 million USD for the lower clubs. Here, we are 13 clubs and each club’s average expenditure per year is 800,000 – 1,300,000 USD. In terms of professionalism, Japan has over 300 professional licensed coaches, licensed by FIFA. Thailand, next door, has over 100 AFC Pro Licensed professional coaches. In Myanmar, we have zero AFC Pro Licensed local coaches and 34 AFC A License holders, but that number will grow.” Despite the imbalance with neighbouring countries, Pye Phyo Tayza is confident that things are improving.

Cover Photo1
Photo by Gerhard Joren


“When it all started, there used to be days when a player couldn’t even afford transportation from their village to the training ground to acquire the dream of making it to the national team. Now, with all the support that has been given to the youth, it’s just one click away for them to train in Germany, which is what the Myanmar U-19 National Team did”.

Youth development is another important element for Phyo, with the establishment of Yangon United Football School providing training programs for U-16, U18 and U20 year olds. “When the senior players come to the end of their career, you need young ones to take over. However, it doesn’t mean their career ladder does not stop with YUFC. We grant them opportunity to attend coaching courses and once they obtain necessary licenses, we will have them join our coaching staff.

When we do our youth scouting, we invite all the kids from all the villages. Not just from Yangon, but from all over the country. Come for a trial. If you are capable, we’ll sign you. I believe in youth development. I’m investing a lot in grassroots development”.

Football’s a sport that can transcend a nation’s mood from gloom to glory in the flash of a second. Should Myanmar’s national youth team topple the Goliath’s in next year’s U19 World Cup finals in New Zealand? Who’s to say Myanmar won’t ascend once again as a footballing nation to be reckoned with? Win or lose, their return to international football competition will bring positive results.

“I’ve always told my players that its an opportunity for you to grow. Grab it. Play abroad. It will expand your comfort zone. You’ll see more things than playing here. Not only for monetary issues. You get to see and play with foreigners.”

By the same token, nothing happens as if by magic. Investment, hard work and belief also come into the equation. Knowing where and how to channel these elements is the key to success. Anyone who’s spent time in Yangon will have noticed scores of youth playing street football, many of them barefoot, night after night on Sule Pagoda Road. The passion, energy and skill is clearly there in abundance. The only thing missing is a football pitch.

“What I wish to happen here is… we need more budgeting, more financial support, more infrastructure. You cannot play football without a pitch. We need stadiums all over the country. My only wish is to see proper grass pitches all over the country—in districts, villages, and cities. Only then can we let the kids grow.”

Photos by Gerhard Joren, www.gerhardjoren.com / www.jorenfilms.com

This article was first published as a cover story for MYANMORE’s monthly lifestyle magazine, InDepth, December 2014 issue


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