Keo dreams of bright future for Cambodia
He is relatively unknown in Asian football but, in Cambodia, the name of Keo Kosal raises great hopes for the future. The 24-year-old midfielder is pursuing his dream of taking the Cambodian national team to the last four stage of a major competition - preferably as a player but if that is not possible, even as a coach.
Cambodia's best international performance was fourth at the 1972 AFC Asian Cup when they were known as the Khmer Republic from 1970 to 1975. Now a lowly 171st in the FIFA World Rankings, they are among the weakest teams in the world and did not even attempt to qualify for the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Keo, with his competitive attitude, may be the one to change his country's fortunes. He hates to lose. The pain is especially bad when the national team are eliminated from a tournament, whether it is a regional ASEAN Championship or the continent’s flagship competition AFC Asian Cup. "I am just 24 and still an active player for my club and country. I wish to break this jinx before I retire as a player," he told www.the-afc.com. "If I am not able to make it, I hope I can carry on this mission when I become a coach in the future. Even if I don't become the national coach, I will still do my part to develop quality players for The Royals," said Keo, who is currently playing for the Royal Sword FC, also known as the Police Military team.
This is why Keo is among a select band of young coaches chosen for the AFC's Project Future programme, being part of the 2008 batch. Keo has represented Cambodia since 2004 when he was an 18-year-old. He is now the pillar of the team under the guidance of Australian Scott O’Donell, a former Director of the AFC Coach Education Department. An ex-Cambodian Army player, Keo led Khemara to the 2006 AFC President Cup semi-finals for the first time in Kuching, Malaysia. That grab-and-win feeling was so satisfying that it is etched firmly in Keo's mind. "No one likes to lose. I have experienced the sweet feeling of qualifying for the (AFC President Cup) semi-finals with Khemara before and I am very hungry for more success. The Cambodia national team deserves better and we have the ability to achieve something in the future," Keo said.
Keo certainly has big plans for Cambodian football. Although still primarily a player, he wants to learn as much as he can about coaching in order to serve his country beyond his playing days. "I must start young, the sooner the better. I know where I am heading and I need to get myself ready in advance," he said. "AFC's Project Future is a great long-term project and it will definitely help to kick-start my coaching career. I am honoured to be part of this project, which could be the platform for me to achieve something extraordinary in the coming years," said Keo, who is also studying for a Bachelor in General Management from the Phnom Penh Build Bright University. "In fact, I am also holding the role of youth development coach in my club. I think this job will help me understand more about what it needs to be a coach," he added.
Similar to AFC's 'The Future is Asia' motto, Keo believes that in Cambodia 'The Future is Youth'. He is dreaming to produce more players such as Hok "Jet" Sochetra - Cambodia's all-time greatest player who scored 42 goals in 64 internationals. Said Keo: "I strongly believe that the future of Cambodian football depends on the youth. I am involved in grassroots and youth development work in Royal Sword FC and there are many talented youngsters. I need to turn these youngsters into professional players. This kind of foundation work might take at least 10 years for fruition but I am willing to take up this challenge."
Keo is hoping to be O’Donell’s successor in the future. "Scott is a great coach who I admire very much. He teaches me so many things, from behaviour and discipline on and off the pitch, individual skills to tactics, fitness and detailed planning. I would like to become who he is after I hang up my boots. Even if I am not able to realise my dream of taking over the reins (of the national team), I will not give up on my country’s football. I will try my best to coach in Asia's top clubs, upgrade my knowledge and gain more experience. When I come back (to Cambodia) one day, I will surely teach and share with my colleagues what I have learned abroad. I believe this is the right way for Cambodian football to move forward," said Keo.