In Conversation with.... Kouch Sokumpheak and Tieng Tiny
Kouch Sokumpheak is widely touted as Cambodia’s most talented footballer of his generation, whilst Tieng Tiny is rated as the best homegrown defender in the country, and both players play for Phnom Penh Crown. We caught up with the duo during a break from training with the national team to find out a little more about them.
For the record, Sokumpheak, now 23 years old, is one of five siblings and was born in Porbakor village in the heart of Kompong Thom town. He’s played football for as long as he can remember, coming to prominence for the Kompong Thom provincial team whilst still at Hun Sen Balaing High School. Spotted by Khemara Keila manager/coach Lah Salakhan during a match played in Kratie, he made the journey down to Phnom Penh and earned a place in the Khemara line-up immediately. His Crown and international teammate Tieng Tiny is a year older and hails from Boeung Daun Pa village in Siem Reap. One of six children, he was snapped up by his provincial team when he was just fifteen and attending 10 Makara High School. He too was a target of Lah Salakhan’s scouting network and was invited to join Khemara.
2006 was a memorable milestone year for both players. They were part of the Khemara side that captured the Championship Trophy, beating Phnom Penh United 5-4 in the play-off final. They also earned a call-up into Cambodia’s AFC Challenge Cup national team squad and made their first appearances against Bangladesh in Dhaka in April of that year. The following year, the two players parted company, with Sokumpheak remaining at Khemara, as he would until he signed on for Crown a few months ago. Meanwhile, Tiny joined up with Phnom Penh Empire for a year and then a less than successful season with Naga Corp before moving to Phnom Penh Crown in 2009. Both players remained integral members of the Cambodian national team, as they are today.
Sokumpheak, with a league title and a Hun Sen Cup Final success in his locker, was the epitome of loyalty as he remained with Khemara, despite the club’s waning fortunes. “I have great respect and gratitude towards Lah Salakhan, as well as enjoying the camaraderie we had at Khemara,” he said. It kept him there until he was finally persuaded to leave in November 2010, joining Crown ahead of the current new season. Tiny was already with Crown, as they captured the Metfone C-League Championship and just failed to land the Hun Sen Cup last term.
Both players will have important roles for Crown this season. Tiny’s main task will be to marshall the defence, whilst Sokumpheak will be expected to get amongst the goals, as he did for Khemara in the last two editions of the Hun Sen Cup, claiming the Golden Boot award twice in succession, with 21 and 18 goals respectively. The striker was full of praise for his new coach at Crown, Bojan Hodak. “Bojan is very good, he understands the game and he encourages us all of the time.” Tiny agreed. “I like his knowledge and methods of defence, and he’s teaching me new tricks as a defender. We are also physically stronger than before,” he explained. Sokumpheak added; “Crown are much more professional than other clubs. Their coaching methods, food, training equipment, facilities and higher wages, all make a real difference to the players.”
We’ve already heard that Lah Salakhan assumed the role of mentor for Sokumpheak whilst he was at Khemara, though the striker also counts Scott O’Donell as one of his best influences, during his spell in charge of the national team. “Scott gave us great advice, trained us hard and helped us adopt a much more professional attitude.” Tiny echoed his colleague’s views and found that O’Donell, a central defender himself, helped his game by sharing his own experiences. Both players have also been impressed with the current Cambodian coach, South Korean, Lee Tae-Hoon.
It was clear the two players regard each other as good friends as well as teammates. They replied in unison to tell me that playing abroad was not on their list of priorities, as being away from family and friends wasn’t something they were keen on, whilst stepping into a coaching role, once their playing days are over, is definitely something they will consider. When asked about representing Cambodia in international football, Tiny remarked; “I’m proud to play for my country, it makes me happy, I get to visit many other countries, I get exposure to new things, my experience improves and I become a better player.” Sokumpheak concurred; “I am very proud to wear my country’s jersey and to show our flag abroad. It makes me very happy. Football is a good job and a good career and playing for Cambodia is something I enjoy immensely.”
The future of Cambodian football was the final topic of discussion. Tiny remarked; “I think former players should train the next generation as they know the game and can pass on their knowledge and experiences. Foreign coaches help a lot too, with good explanations, good ideas on training and food, methods of playing and treatment of injuries.” For Sokumpheak, he believes the football federation can play a more significant role in youth development. “I’m a believer that the federation should support the accommodation, study, food and training of the younger players, so they can focus clearly on their football and not be distracted. I also feel that clubs should assist players to find jobs after their football careers are finished, so they can concentrate 100% on football whilst they are playing.” Both Sokumpheak and Tiny are a long way from the end of their careers as they embark on their first season playing alongside each other at Phnom Penh Crown. It promises to be an exciting year ahead for both.