It's all change again at the head of Cambodia's national football team as coach Scott O'Donell announces he's leaving at the end of this month, after the end of his year-long contract. This exclusive breaking story will appear in Thursday's Phnom Penh Post. Read it here first.
Australian coach Scott O'Donell will not be renewing his contract with the Cambodian national football team and will officially leave his post at the end of this month. His 1-year contract that began on 1 June last year, and which heralded his second stint in charge of the nation's footballers, took in the BIDC Cup, which Cambodia hosted and won, and the SEA Games in Laos, where they lost three games and won the other.
Speaking exclusively to the Post, O'Donell, 43 next month, confirmed; "My contract is due to expire at the end of May and I gave a letter to the Football Federation last month stating that I didn't want to renew." When asked to expand on his decision, he confided; "It's pretty obvious that the Federation has different ideas to what I feel is in the best interests of the national team. I gave them a proposal for the national team's training programme in December last year and they don't agree with what I think is best for the team. There's no point in me staying in the job if we're not thinking along the same lines. I've got a good relationship with the President and the Vice-President and it's okay that they have different ideas, it's just that I strongly believed in what I proposed and that's not going to happen."
Looking back over the past year, O'Donell had this to say. "Obviously winning the BIDC Cup was a high, it was perfect preparation for the SEA Games, we got everyone in Phnom Penh behind the team, 35,000 people watched the final and produced a great atmosphere, but I think we lost a wonderful opportunity to build on that." He continued. "We went to the SEA Games, came back with some positives and then played one meaningless friendly against a Korean university team and then that's it. We lost a great opportunity to keep the crowd supporting the national team by not having done anything since that friendly in January."
He admitted, "it's been a rather frustrating last few months because I haven't been able to do what I wanted to do with the national team. I've said it since I first arrived here in 2005 that it's important for the team to be playing regular international games and getting international exposure for the players. That hasn't been the case. There are World Cup and Suzuki Cup qualifiers in October and I don't think what is happening is in the best interests of the national team in respect of preparation for those tournaments."
Cambodian Football Federation deputy general-secretary May Tola confirmed that O'Donell's letter had been received and that the Federation were now considering their options. "We've made some informal moves towards the Korean Football Federation about bringing in a South Korean coach, but we are still open-minded whether Scott's replacement will be a foreigner or a Cambodian. We have a long-term relationship with Korea so its natural we see if they have any candidates," he stated.
Tola revealed that the Federation were planning a programme of international matches after the end of the Metfone C-League in September, just a month before they begin vital World Cup 2014 qualifying games and AFF Suzuki Cup matches. "It's difficult to plan international friendly games as the clubs and players are playing each weekend until September."
O'Donell offered up this view of his tenure. "I would like to think in my time here that I've improved the professionalism of the team and the players, in terms of preparation and training methods and I think there's been a slight overall improvement in the performance of the team. There's some good young players coming through, but at the end of the day, the coach, the team and the country is judged by their results and the fact is that we won one game and lost three in the SEA Games."
He continued. "We are still getting similar results because we're still doing similar preparation. It all comes down to the preparation and regular access to international games, regular exposure for the players to play international football. I've said it time and time again, the standard and quality of the local C-League is way below that of international football, so if players aren't playing international football regularly, they get dragged down to the standard of the local league and it's not what's required for international football. It's not just in Cambodia that we have these problems, but that's why the better teams in the region play regular international friendly matches to give their players the exposure. We can't keep on doing what we've been doing, we keep getting the same results, so we've got to change. And that's something I've been trying to make happen."
O'Donell, whose earlier spell in charge of Cambodia's national team lasted two and half years and began in July 2005 before a stint as director of coaching education with the Asian Football Confederation, is now considering his own future, with a couple of offers already on the table, though nothing has been confirmed. "My family and I will be here for the forseeable future and I will continue my television work in India and Singapore with ESPN. I'll be going to Mumbai in India for the duration of the World Cup to work for the Times Now channel, previewing and reviewing every game of the World Cup."
In a parting look at the future shape of Cambodian football, O'Donell identified three key areas that needed attention. "There's got to be a structured youth development programme in place so we have a conveyor belt of players coming into the system; coach education is vitally important, we have to continue educating our coaches and the Federation is working on that now, running courses last year and this; and finally, we have to have decent facilities for the players to train on. If we get those three things in place its a good start, but it's a long-term plan, there are no short cuts in the development of football."
He also spoke about the promising young players in the C-League today. "There's a few good young players coming through the national team right now and the Army are a good example to all. They stuck with their young players and though they didn't win anything at first, they are now reaping the fruits of their labours. They've stayed together, grown together and there would be more players from the Army than any other team, if I picked a national team line-up today, which wasn't the case two or three years ago."