Every province in Cambodia will have a football academy by the end of next year with the hope of nurturing the next generation of talent in time for the 2023 SEA Games, it was announced on Monday.
Speaking after the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia’s annual conference, Sao Sokha, president of the Football Federation of Cambodia, outlined plans to set up academies in all 25 provinces.
“We set targets in order to find players to create good academies for the development of professional football in the future,” said General Sokha, who is also the National Military Police commander.
“The number of players will increase and it will be easy to select players with quality for the national team,” he said.
Creation of the first academy will start after the Khmer New Year in May in Svay Rieng province, followed by Prey Veng, he said, with the Education Ministry set to cooperate with the football federation, he said.
Gen. Sokha added that each academy would be allocated 4 million riel, or about $1,000, per month for a coach’s wage and equipment, paid for by the federation, though he said the total cost of the nationwide plan had not yet been figured out.
The academies will be for both boys and girls from primary and secondary level, he said.
“There will be hundreds of thousands of people playing football in the future—within four or five years. We will use the public schools and set up football programs to promote children playing,” the general said.
“Before we reach the year 2023, we have to start to win gradually,” he added.
Football fever has swept across Cambodia in recent years, particularly after the national team reached the qualifying group stages for the 2018 World Cup. Despite the team losing every game—conceding 27 goals and scoring one—there were near sell-out crowds at every match.
Brazilian Luis Fernando Vitorino was earlier this month unveiled as the new national team coach, taking over from South Korean Lee Tae-hoon, who was demoted to manage the under-15s after two stints at the helm of the national team.
The team’s star striker Chan Vathanaka in January became the first Cambodian to play in Japan, when he signed for J3 League club Fujieda MYFC on loan.
Gen. Sokha said on Monday that his 11-year tenure as head of the national football body had been more challenging than overseeing the military police, perhaps the best trained and equipped branch of the country’s armed forces.
“For some time, when I had not worked in football, I criticized those working in football,” Gen. Sokha said. “Really, working in football is more difficult than leading the forces all over the country. I speak honestly.”