Cambodia Names New Nat’l Football Coach

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.

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