The players who made the cut yesterday to join Cambodia’s first Football Academy have much in common with the state of the national football program: They have talent and ambition but they are still waiting for their growth spurt.
For some time, Cambodian football has been long on promise and short on results, with domestic clubs and the national team performing poorly on the international stage. The 40 11 and 12-year-old players from seventeen provinces who tried out yesterday for Phnom Penh Crown Football Club’s new academy represent Cambodian football’s rising stars, some of whom will be buoyed up by the country’s first true development program.
“We knew that Cambodia needed talent development in order to compete, so we decided to start a program that would create better players for the club and national level teams,” said the new academy’s director Bouy Dary, adding that he submitted a proposal to PPCFC President Rithy Samnang, who quickly agreed to finance the project.
According to Mr Dary, the 22 boys selected yesterday to join PPCFC’s residential program will train six days a week, live in dormitories in Phnom Penh and attend Beltei private school. In exchange the boys are expected to devote themselves to a development program that has met with success internationally.
“We follow the Everton way,” said Mr Dary, referring to the English Premier League club’s practice program.
The boys were receptive, though their excitement was tempered by nervousness. Sesok Heng, a 12-year-old from Phnom Penh who plays for the national under-13 team, said he wanted to join the academy because “the club will spend money on my study and to make me better.”
“I want to play for Phnom Penh Crown,” said Kdey Barang, a slender 11-year-old from Siem Reap.
“If the academy does its job, these kids will be the future of Cambodian soccer,” said former national team coach Scott O’Donell, who was on hand yesterday to help make selections.
Mr O’Donell admonished the boys before the final selections took place that they would have too devote as much energy to studying as to football.
When the announcements were made the boys gave stifled yelps of triumph and not a few sobs of defeat.
Kdey Barang made the team. Sesok Heng was sent home.
“You don’t want to see kids crying, but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing” said Ken Shellito, the former manager of the premier league team Chelsea, who had flown in from Malaysia to help make selection. “You want these boys to care and we hope they say, “‘We’ll bloody well show you.'”
There was some comfort for the boys missing yesterday’s cut: On hearing reports of the boys’ talent and enthusiasm during tryouts on Saturday, Mr Samnang, Crown’s president, decided to set up a non-residential academy program to bring the cut players back to Phnom Penh every few months and nurture their development.