From the Bench with Bojan Hodak
I came to Phnom Penh Crown as I could see that the club’s owner and management are young and ambitious. When you have ambition at the top, it makes the job of a coach that little bit easier, though of course it’s only hard work that will bring success. I was interested in a job in Europe but when I came here, I was impressed with what I saw and heard and happy to join the club. As a bonus, they will allow me to continue my UEFA Pro Licence by returning to Croatia, and this I really appreciate. Having lived in Singapore and Malaysia as a player and coach, football and living styles are very similar across Southeast Asia and this experience helps a lot in adjusting. Coaches, and players, without that experience often fail because they don’t adjust. That’s not a problem for me.
Phnom Penh Crown are building a reputation as the best club side in Cambodia, so our target in every match and every competition must be to win. This winning mentality is what I must build into my player’s minds as with every win they become better players mentally and with every trophy they collect, they will earn more respect. I want us to win every match we play in, but I also want us to play a style of football that is nice to watch and is attractive to the supporters. When we played in Thailand recently, one of their officials told me that it was the first time he’d seen a Cambodian team play good football. That made me and the team feel good. We want more of those feelings. I will prepare the team technically, tactically, mentally and physically, I will ask them to play a style that sees us passing and keeping possession, because it’s a simple game really, if you have the ball your opponent cannot score. We need the whole team to stay compact, keep their shape for 90 minutes and remain disciplined. But I don’t want automatons, I want them to show their personal style, their own flair and skills within that team pattern.
There is plenty of room for improvement with our squad of players. To be honest, our boys are not developed technically, tactically and physically compared to other Asian countries. But they have a great attitude, they are willing to work hard at their game to improve and this will make our task easier. Two areas that we need to improve substantially, is in our creativity and finishing. I will work individually with the players as one-to-one coaching makes a big difference, and we will work extra hard on our finishing and giving the players ideas on how to express their creativeness on the pitch.
I think it’s a great move forwards that Phnom Penh Crown are beginning their own youth program because this will produce players for the senior squad in the future. Across the world, clubs recognise that the best way to develop players within your own club is to have a successful youth program. But this means that the boys need to play regular matches and tournaments. This is where the football federations take the lead, with government support where possible. To produce a player for the senior team you need 8-10 years, but even with proper coaching you will see a difference in maybe three years. That makes coaching education programs another vital component and for me, I would always encourage former players to go into coaching, as I did, as their playing experience will be invaluable. A positive to take from the current situation is that a fully integrated youth program in Cambodia doesn’t exist so we can plan properly from the beginning, though they will need to find sponsors and the right people to do it. Take Japan as a perfect example. In the 1990s they invested a lot of money and brought in experts from all over the globe to raise their standards and now they are a world power in football. I know Cambodia cannot compete financially yet but there is good practise to learn from and implement here.
As we improve, with every good result we will gain more respect and more supporters, many of whom will be young boys that will harbour a dream to play for a successful club like ours. I want as many young boys as possible to want to play for this club. I want us to be successful both inside and outside Cambodia and our team will be striving for that every time they pull on the jersey of Phnom Penh Crown. You have my word.
Croatian-born head coach Bojan Hodak turned to coaching after a successful playing career, as a no-nonsense central defender in his homeland, playing for six years in the Croatian 1st and 2nd Divisions with NK Trnje, NK Vrapce, NK Hrvatski Dragovaljac and NK Ponikve. He headed to Asia in 1997, playing for a further five years in the top divisions in Singapore and Hong Kong at Balestier Central, Jurong FC and Hong Kong Rangers. He earned his UEFA A License badge in 2004 and came to prominence when he partnered ESPN's Shebby Singh on the Malaysian reality television show, My Team, which saw them coach a squad of amateur players to take on the Malaysian national team. Their success earned them entry, as UPB-My Team, into the Malaysian Premier League, they gained promotion in their first season and then spent two more years in the Super League before financial problems saw them drop out. He’s worked for the Asian Football Confederation as an analyst for the last three years, turning to television and radio punditry for the Malaysian media before accepting the challenge at Phnom Penh Crown in November 2010.