In an light-hearted ceremony featuring avuncular encouragement and stern expectations, National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh visited the Cambodian Football Federation headquarters on Thursday to greet the national team and welcome its newly appointed head coach.
“Cambodians like football very, very much. We deserve a much better ranking,” Prince Ranariddh told reporters. “From now on we should not be talking about anything else but how we will prepare, step-by-step, to reach our goals.”
Prince Ranariddh, who also serves as the President of the Cambodian Olympic Committee, pledged his support with overflowing enthusiasm—at one point dispensing an emphatic, finger-wagging lecture to the team, and at another lamenting the absence of “French champagne.”
“You can count on my support,” he said, addressing Cambodian Football Federation president Khek Ravy. “You are not alone. The Cambodian nation, the Olympic Committee and the prime minister are all behind you.”
The prince said he was asked to relay a message from Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“I told our prime minister that we had a new coach, and he wishes you the best,” he said. “He sends his personal support.”
Cambodia, winless and heavily outscored in the 2004 Tiger Cup and 2003 Southeast Asian Games, named 37-year-old Australian Scott O’Donell as head coach on July 20. O’Donell, a 14-year professional player and currently a football analyst for ESPN/Star sports, is the first foreigner to lead the national team since Joachim Fickert in 2002. He replaces interim coach and former Cambodian star Som Saran.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this,” O’Donell said of the outpouring of governmental support. “I’m very honored to know that we have so many people behind us. This has been a great morale booster for us.”
Cambodia next faces international competition in November’s SEA Games in Manila.
“I’m very happy with the attitude of the players,” O’Donell said. “They have a lot of character.”