David Booth for his take on what he found when he arrived in Phnom Penh at the end of June and how he saw events leading up to Crown collecting their second successive Metfone C-League championship. Under David's leadership, Crown went through the second half of the league campaign unbeaten, winning eight of the nine games they played.
"At first I saw a load of faces that needed some help and who were looking to me for hope. I watched them play two-touch in training but it wasn't natural for them. Straightaway I realised how much work was needed. For me, two-touch is very important, the basic concept of football, it encourages passing and movement. What I saw was way below the standard I expected. So until my first game, we concentrated on passing and moving and improving our teamwork. To be fair, they knew I was no-nonsense and instead of making sweeping changes, I kept giving them small challenges, kept them moving in the right direction, kept them learning. And I was pleased with how they responded. Everything we did was working with the ball - they seemed to enjoy it and tried to do what I asked them to do.
"Technically, I looked at the team - they were top of the table but had an indifferent end to the first half of the season - and with two or three fast players, I felt we could play a 4-3-3 system with two slightly withdrawn wide players. With Narong and Narith in the center that would release Sopanha to go forward to link with the central striker and the two wide players. We needed to tighten up our two central defenders as they weren't marking tight enough for my liking. We worked hard at keeping a clean sheet, and stopping crosses into our box, stopping the supply to the strikers, block all shots outside the box, essentially cutting out the percentages. I didn't see anyone counteract our tactics in any game we played. Naga played a similar formation to ours, but they didn't have the speed we had. However, they had a good goalscorer who we should've marked better.
"If someone has slightly above average ability, he can look a good player at this standard. Throughout the second half of the campaign, we gave the ball away too cheaply, just gave it to the opposition too many times, due to our inability to keep hold of it. We must cut out the sloppiness, and stop giving the ball away in the wrong areas of the pitch. I have a picture in my mind of how I want this team to play. The level I'd like us to get to. Manchester United represents that picture. I'm never satisfied with the work I get from what I've got. I always want more. Take the Chhlam Samuth game as an example. We worked for three days the week before with our defenders, and yet we gave away such silly goals that we could've lost. I was very disappointed we conceded three goals as we'd worked at defending the 18-yard line, closing down the opposition, to deny then chances inside the box. It was a shock to the system and defies all logic. It made me ask myself questions. So after that I decided we had to work as a whole team on defending.
"After I arrived, I quickly looked at all the other teams, and I judged that if we were well-organised and well-balanced, we could counteract all the other teams, with our speed, pace and ability to create openings, and we could win every game. After the opening two wins and then beating Chhlam Samuth, we met BBU. Actually, we battered them after everyone told me it would be a tough game. Against the National Police, it was a complete waste of time. We were two-nil up after 20 minutes. It was a good decision for them to stay off the park as we would've hammered them. They saved themselves a disaster. The Army match was a tough game, though at that time, the result mattered more than the performance, as we were within striking distance of the title. Against Preah Khan, I don't recall them having a chance. My instructions to the team were: keep everything together, don't concede, get in front and close down the game. No need to panic. And we did exactly that. In the final game against Naga, we'd already won the league. At 3-1 ahead they must've felt it was all over - but we fought back, we showed a real fighting spirit and we could've won the game at the end. I thought a draw was a fair enough result.
"As the season continued, our players attitude got better and better, they showed togetherness and good fighting qualities. They were capable of winning and closing the game out. They worked so hard to do what I'd asked them to do. By the end, they were showing their increased confidence and ability. They were stronger mentally than anyone else. I believe mental toughness is as important as physical strength. They showed their ability to fight their way out of a corner, as well as the ability to beat teams convincingly. They improved their own confidence in doing the right things at the right times in games. And in training they worked very hard.
"The Narong situation was a disappointment. It was out of character for the boy, he showed a lack of control, and at that time he was an integral part of my team. I felt sorry for him - he missed out on winning the championship, the chance to play against the national team and the rest of our history-making President's cup run. Of course there is room for improvement. The players quickly forget what they have to do - it's still too easy for them to drop their standards. I need to keep reminding them and encouraging them to play at the highest level they possibly can. Their concentration is better but can still be improved. The players are stronger and whilst their fitness could be better, they are definitely mentally stronger. I've not had time to work too much with individuals as were were usually getting over one game and then preparing for the next one. So that's another area to work on, though I'm a team man, 100%, rather than picking out individuals, it's the team that matters the most to me."