Thais Sign Up Local Football Team’s Nigeria Star

Two-time Thai Premier League champions Krung Thai Bank FC have signed 21-year-old Nigerian striker Ajayi Gdenga Samuel for $8,000, Phnom Penh Empire Football Club announced Tuesday.

Club and football officials said Tuesday the Bangkok side’s acquisition of Samuel was the first-ever contract offered to a player from the top flight of Cambodian football.

De Makara, manager for 2008 Hun Sen Cup champions Empire, said he hoped Samuel’s signing would raise Cambodia’s profile in international sport and attract more foreign players looking to start their careers.

Information about Samuel’s club record was unavailable Tuesday. However, De Makara said Empire had signed Samuel three years ago after he graduated from a Nigerian football academy.

“He scored every match,” said De Makara, adding that Thai scouts had spotted Samuel during March exhibition matches.

“He was also wanted in Vietnam and Singapore,” he said.

Samuel left for Bangkok on Mon­day after signing a three-year contract Sunday with the Asian Cham­pions League regulars, said De Makara.

He said many Cambodians did not believe there was any professional future in domestic football.

“I want to show that there is a market in Cambodia for the ex­change of players,” he said, adding that Krung Thai Bank has also shown interest in acquiring Empire center forward Chan Rithy and left wing Keo Sokngorn.

De Makara said Krung Thai Bank will double Samuel’s salary to $2,000 a month as well as provide free room and board.

Tep Phany, spokesman for the Football Federation of Cambodia, said Tuesday he also hoped Sam­uel’s signing would be a boon for the sport in Cambodia.

“This is the first time, and it is our pride,” he said. “He was the star of [Empire], and they won because of him.”

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