It could have been his devout faith that saved them, or his reckless abandon that led them to danger.
The actions of the junior coach of the Wild Boars have been a controversial focus of the Thai cave rescue that left the world wondering, what was he thinking?
But many have now hailed Ekkapol Chantawong a hero, crediting his selfless actions for helping save the 12 boys trapped deep in a flooded cave for two weeks, as well as the religious meditation skills he taught them.
It's not just Ekkapol's last remaining family members who think so, the 25-year-old has the backing of the club and the wider community in general.
They say they miss seeing him on the field, riding his bike around the mountainous region in northern Thailand with the boys, or praying at the local temple, and they're looking forward to his return.
Pannawit Jongkham, the coach of the senior team, said everyone in the club was behind "Ek", as he is affectionately known.
"When he is out, everything will be the same, we will support him, nothing will change," he told CNN.
Boys in the club who did not go on the trip that fateful day said they trusted the coach with their lives anyway.
Many have credited Ekkapol with keeping the boys alive and calm, huddled on a 10sq m ledge, 4km from the cave entrance for 10 days until rescuers found them.
Now as the world rejoices in the miracle result, with the 12 boys and their coach in hospital recovering, questions are being asked on what will happen now.
Ekkapol's "aunt" Thamma Kantawong, who is actually his cousin, has passionately defended her relative, saying even though he organises and coaches several training sessions in a week for the juniors, he only receives a small payment.
"He's not motivated by money," she told CNN.
"He does it because he loves soccer and working with children.
"He loves the football team. Wherever he goes, he always has some of the kids with him.
"Their parents trust him that he can take care of their sons."
During the rescue operation, there were reports Ekkapol sacrificed his share of the food to give to the boys and taught them how to meditate to keep calm.
Thamma said he would have never knowingly done anything that might harm the children. "He is very good person, loves kids, takes care of kids, he is very diligent, and always volunteers himself to help others," she said.
"The language he speaks is very polite. For him, whoever will like him how the way he is."
Ekkapol was the only member of his family who survived an epidemic which overcame his Northern Thailand home town in 2003.
The disease killed his seven-year-old brother, then his mother and father.
Until he was 12, Ekkapol was looked after by extended family but was said to be a "sad and lonely" little boy.
His relatives decided to send him to a Buddhist temple to train to be a monk at a monastery in the nearby province of Lum Phun.
He only returned to his hometown to visit his grandmother occasionally and finally went back to Mae Sai in his 20s as a man looking to rebuild his life.
Even though he did not remain a monk, he kept close ties at the town's temples, spending time there praying and offering help.
People say they often see him praying at Wat Pha That Doi Wao temple on the hill.
A former monk, known as Jay, said Ek was an active part of life in Mae Sai.
"He is always out with the kids on bike rides into the hills," he said.
"He's a well-known guy. A good guy. He helps us out a lot."
Thamma said while she knew some people would always hold her relative responsible, she hoped they would forgive him.
"I think foreigners and Thai people are kind enough to welcome him back," she says. "He's a very good man."
If, or when, Ekkapol returns to the team, going by his previous efforts, he'll be making sure each boy gets home to their parents, according to what other players like 17-year-old Kae-hae Lahuna have said.
"After we all finish practice, he always takes each of the younger kids home, to make sure they're all safe."