Opinion – In Response to The Guardian About Cambodian Football

Cambodian Football

Last month and around the time of the SEA Games the Guardian newspaper of the UK ran a story stating “Cambodia emerge from troubled past in hopes of building football future”. Yet whilst the article was perhaps well meaning, it was also fairly ill-informed.

To read the original article click here

“Big European clubs go to Shanghai, Singapore and Seoul rather than Phnom Penh”

A great line and one my heart would love to believe, but also one devoid of any realism. Not only do the three mentioned cities have buckets more money, but all including Singapore have people who will actually show up to games.

Phnom Penh Crown are the biggest team in the capital and they struggle to get a few thousand through the gates at league games, with cup finals barely reaching 5,000. This is not a criticism, but far from patting ourselves on the back more needs to be done to attract fans, such as building floodlights so that we can have supporter friendly night matches.

The country went through hard times…

Cambodian Football

Sadly there is almost never a time when anyone can write an article about Cambodia without bringing up the Khmer Rouge. And in typical Guardian fashion they describe Pol Pot and the KR of overthrowing the “US backed” Khmer Republic, without adding the caveat of their later and longer support for the Khmer Rouge (1979-89)

This also ignores that Cambodia has largely been at peace since 1993 and almost completely since 1998 following the win-win policy of the Cambodian Peoples Party. Since then Cambodia has not only averaged a 7.7 percent annual growth, but things have improved to such a level that the Kingdom was rightly given the right to host the SEA Games.

The “troubled past” narrative is now a tiresome one that not only the government, but the common man want to see stoped.

To read a proper history of Cambodian football click here.

The SEA Games were a big deal

The Guardian get this right, the SEA Games were a big deal for football in Cambodia, but sadly they completely blew it. After winning against Timor-Leste all they needed was a win against the Philippines, instead they let in a last minute equalizer and then lost to Myanmar after being thrown a lifeline by East Timor.

The football (rather than the SEA Games) were an abject failure for Cambodia, with it only confounding just how far the country is from completing against other countries in the region.

To read about the Myanmar loss click here

Rebuilding for the future and Honda

It is at this point where you get the feeling that John Duerden had probably written the article prior to the results, no doubt confident that Cambodia would have gone through and qualified his article.

Here he talks about how the games were “building for the future”, both on and off the pitch, whilst squarely ignoring the facts both on and off the pitch. Yes there is the new Morodok Stadium, but he conveniently left out that not a single game of football was played here during the SEA Games. Sadly not only is the future of the stadium unclear, but it is unlikely to be all that relevant for football within the Kingdom.

We are then told about the Japanese involvement in the rejuvenation of Cambodian football, principally that of Coach Honda who took on the national team job “for free”. This was not only embarrassing as he continued to play, but perpetuated the Cambodia as a charity needing outside help narrative. Most Cambodians and others within the game did not feel pride, but rather that a free coach lacked any accountability.

Apparently Honda is hoping to next join a team at the 2026 World Cup in North America. One feels that if he is to do this his next bosses might expect him to not only take on the job full time, but also take it more seriously. Currently his legacy is failure at the national team level, as well as the club he founded Soltilo going bankrupt directly following his departure.

To read about Soltilo going bust click here.

He then talks about alleged corruption and too much “politics in football”, while attacking local CPP figures. This tends to be the standard easy target for western media, with the reality being less about corruption, but probably more about over ambition leading to many of the current ills within the game.

Its not all that bad though….

This though is not to say that all things are bad in Cambodian football and that everything is doom and gloom, for it is not. Cambodia not only has a wealth of talent here and coming through the ranks, but also a new coach that is genuinely popular, talented and accountable.

You can read about coach Felix here.

Domestically we have the Cambodian Premier League, which again far from perfect has at least raised the quality and profile of the league, as well as intruding new and innovative competitions (in the interests of this article we will ignore the numerous bankrupt clubs).

And lastly to the final comment of John Duerden “Given where Cambodia has come from, continuing to challenge in Southeast Asia will do for now”, sorry mate, but as of now we are not yet challenging in South-East Asia at all as failure to qualify for the semi-finals proved.

Cambodia is though at least working towards that as a realistic dream, just don’t compliment on it at least until it has partly been achieved….

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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