In an attempt to improve the sagging international stature of Cambodian football, the Cambodian Football Federation and National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh have selected 38-year-old Australian Scott O’Donell as the country’s new national coach, the Federation announced Wednesday.
O’Donell, a 14-year professional player and currently a football analyst for ESPN/Star sports television, assumes leadership of the national program after stepping down as head coach of Singapore’s Geylang United Football Club on May 31.
He is the first foreigner to lead the national club since German coach Joachim Fickert left the squad in 2002.
“Scott is a good friend to Cambodia,” said Football Federation President Khek Ravy. “I’ve known him since 1997 when he sent me his CV and offered his services. Everyone knows him now from ESPN. His experience and curriculum will help Cambodian football advance to our target—which is essentially to compete and to win.”
According to Khek Ravy, Prince Ranariddh had requested the hiring of a new coach and had himself been looking for candidates in France and North Korea.
“Prince Ranariddh told me that his target is to hold the 2011 SEA Games in Cambodia,” Khek Ravy said. “He told me ‘I need performance, so reorganize the leagues so that they feed our national team and, most important, we need a coach to adhere to this target.’ I sent him Scott’s CV and two hours later he called me and said ‘that’s the man we need.’”
The father of two adopted Cambodian daughters, O’Donell was named the Singapore League coach of the Year in 2003—his first season as a professional manager.
He inherits a Cambodian national side that has been both winless and scandal-plagued in its most recent forays into international competition.
“I’m under no illusions. Everyone that I have talked to has told me that this is a big challenge—and that’s exactly what it is,” said O’Donell on Wednesday at the newly established Federation headquarters located 17 km west of Phnom Penh.
“Although the language barrier is a bit of problem at the moment, I know exactly what we’ve got to work with. People have talked about a lack of facilities, but we won’t be hiding behind that. We have the support of the Federation, and Prince Ranariddh has told me that the football program has the full support of the Olympic Committee.”
O’Donell’s first task will be selecting and training a 24-player squad to represent Cambodia in November’s Southeast Asian Games to be held in Manila.
“We only have three months before the SEA games. It’s not that long, but you can expect this team to give it everything they’ve got,” he said.
“The first thing to do is get the team organized and let them know how I want them to play. This is a team game and it’s important to have responsibilities. I want the boys working for each other and giving their best—that’s all I ask.”
In the 2004 Tiger Cup Asean Championship, Cambodia went an unfortunate 0-4 and was outscored 2-22.
At the 2003 SEA Games, in which the squad endured three consecutive losses and was outscored 2-19, nine players were investigated for allegedly phoning in bets against their own team.
Though later cleared by a Federation executive committee, the incident prompted Prum Bunyi, Cabinet chief of the National Olympic Committee, to publicly insult the team and suggest that it quit international competition.
“I think it is good that we have a foreign coach,” said Prak Sony, coach of the national Under-15 team. “The level of technical playing will be improved. Not only football players but also our national coaches can learn from him as well. Compared to other regional players, we are not bad. We won’t stay behind them for long.”
Today, Federation Internationale de Football Association, as part of its Goal 1 program, provides Cambodia with $250,000 each year. The budget, which is audited annually by the KPMG accounting firm, has been used to build the new training facility and to form three national leagues, including the 10-team Cambodian Premier League.