Exclusive Interview- Felix Dalmas Cambodia National Football Team Head Coach

Felix Dalmas

Before the end of the Southeast Asia (SEA) Games and after the announcement that Coach Keisuke Honda would be leaving, Argentinian Felix Dalmas was unveiled as the new national team coach of Cambodia. What does the Felix reign have in store for us?

BPVE sat down for an exclusive interview with the new coach to discuss his background and his views on the future of Cambodian football.

Who is Felix Dalmas?

He is an extremely proud Argentinian. This fact is apparent as soon as you meet Felix. Not only does he carry around his Yerba Mate cup and thermos (the national drink of Argentina), but he launches almost immediately into talking about Argentina’s 2022 World Cup win: “I still watch the final and it gives me goosebumps. As an Argentinian, it is really hard to explain just how much the win meant for us and how it brought together a whole nation.”

And it was this Argentinian upbringing that made him who he is now: “We grew up poor, like many Argentinians. Many know about the economic crash of 2001, but the impacts started sooner for the poor.” He did, like most in his nation, also grow up watching and playing soccer, something that would stand him in good stead when the financial crisis led his family to move to America. “I couldn’t speak English initially, so playing soccer allowed me to interact and communicate with others,” he explained.

He would then go on to represent his high school, before going to college in the United States to play soccer. A career in Major League Soccer (MLS) potentially beckoned, but as he explains, “At that point, the MLS was not what it is now and the starting salary was really low, so I decided to look for opportunities further abroad.”

The skilled midfielder would then enter a somewhat journeyman career which would see him go to Spain, Japan, South Korea, and finally to the second division of the Uruguayan league, before a return to Argentina after having to retire due to injuries.

Could he have done better with his playing career? “Maybe. I made some choices that hindered me, like not having an agent and playing for clubs where no one else spoke English, but these experiences also helped mould me to who I am today.”

Following Honda

The journey to becoming national manager was a slightly stranger route. After completing his studies and obtaining his coaching license from the Argentina Football Coaches Association, a mutual friend introduced Felix to Keisuke Honda, a man he still clearly admires. Felix began as Honda’s English teacher, before following him to Mexico as his assistant.

And the two hit it off: “Keisuke and I worked really well together, so after helping him in Pachuca, Mexico he offered me a position with him wherever he ended up next, and that’s how I ended up moving to Cambodia to be a coach.”

Felix initially began as Honda’s assistant coach, but with the former often away playing professionally himself, Felix was seen by many as the defacto head coach, and a popular and successful one at that, with Cambodia reaching the 2019 SEA Games semi-finals.

Sadly the Covid-19 pandemic and various personal issues would see his first stint as coach end, and in many fans view, the standard of the national team drop following Felix’s departure.

Returning to Cambodia

And was he happy to be back in Cambodia? “Quite honestly it is one of the proudest moments of my life.”

He further continued that it felt like “coming home” and that he was now relishing the chance to be a head coach in his own right. “People really care about football here and they also care about each other. Cambodia is truly a uniquely friendly place and we are already really focused in improving the team,” and as he put it, “giving something back” to the people of Cambodia.

As for the ill-fated SEA Games, although he struck a neutral tone when asked about the team’s performance, he said, “Of course we all wanted Cambodia to win and it did not go according to plan, but the passion of the fans just shows what a strong foundation for football we have here”.

His own start has also been far from perfect, with a loss to Bangladesh, although he was keen to point out some caveats: “Yes, we lost, but just look at the statistics: we had 18 shots to their 3. Things are getting better, but it will take time. You learn from losses and I have rewatched the match a lot to learn from it.”

Felix Dalmas on the domestic game

When it comes to the domestic game and the advent of the new Cambodian Premier League, Felix was also confident about the local game’s future: “Clubs are much more professional than when I was last here and I can see that the CPL has helped improve standards.”

To read about the Cambodian Premier League click here.

He is, however, also acutely aware of the issues the CPL currently faces, particularly with the CPL 2: “I favour some form of developmental league with a mixture of prospective clubs and reserve teams. Ideally, it would allow players to be able to drop down from the first team. I am also not in favour of having age limits.”

Giving clubs the ability to advance was also another key to the league’s success: “There needs to be a pyramid that clubs can climb. That is what football is all about; without the ability to reach the top, football loses something.”

And as for the clubs that have gone bankrupt, he adds, “This is a concern. EDC for example played great football last year, so it is a real loss. I don’t know the exact reasons, or solutions, but I hope it can be fixed.”

He was also keen to point out that these were merely his views and it would be the CPL that made the final decisions.

Yet while he felt the league had improved drastically, the relationship between clubs had room for improvement, given that Coach Honda’s reign was often critiqued for the lack of communication between national team and clubs. “I have already met with all the team managers and I intend to work closely with them to get the best results for Cambodian football. I want to bring everyone together and create unity,” Felix said.

The New Felix Dalmas era?

Felix laughs when I ask what to expect from the “Felix era”, simply replying, “How do you want to judge it? It depends on what you view as success. Is it results, or is it building a foundation for the development of football within the country? Of course I want good results, but the legacy is equally important.”

This of course will be easier said than done, particularly with the CPL strike force dominated by foreign players. Yet despite the issues Felix was intent on playing good football. “I believe in playing my kind of football and we want to entertain the fans. They deserve this dedication,” he asserted.

And for fans at least, we now have a manager that is living in Cambodia, watching players, and talking to coaches. This in itself can only be a positive start to the Felix Dalmas era.

This article is adapted from BPVE, (https://bpve.com/) reported and edited from the great team – Cambodia Sports Review. (https://www.cambodiasportsreview.com/)
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