The word on the street, so to speak, is that the Cambodia football federation will announce the name of the new head coach of the Cambodian national football team within the next week. It'll be good when they finally get around to doing it as the important AFF Suzuki Cup qualifiers are coming up in three months time (5-13 October in Myanmar) and in between time we have the bulk of the second half of the Metfone C-League to get through, whilst Phnom Penh Crown will then be involved in the AFC President's Cup in late September and the National Police team are off to Vietnam for a cup tournament. Not exactly leaving the new head coach with much time to prepare. No doubt, the coach, once appointed, will want to test out various players for his senior squad and will call on the clubs to release their players for training and friendly matches. Which will be inconvenient to say the least, as the clubs go hell for leather to make the four play-off qualifying places in the domestic league championship and then the sudden death deciders. I can definitely see a club v country problem rearing its ugly head in the near future. Planning the season to allow the national team to prepare properly for these Suzuki Cup qualifiers obviously didn't enter the heads of the federation planners.
That said, the main interest will be the name of the new head coach. The federation spokesman has already stated that they want to go with a local man, claiming that the country is now suitably stocked with A-licence coaches who can do the job. If they believe their own hype then they are living in cloud cuckoo land. The country may now have ten or so coaches - no-one is quite sure as the federation haven't officially announced the results of an A-licence coaching course that was held here a few months ago - but having the certificate is a long way from being able to coach a national team in international matches. The one man with previous experience in the role is Prak Sovannara, the coach at Naga and the country's AFC coaching instructor. He must be in the frame for the top job again, as will no doubt his brother, Prak Sokmony, who recently returned from an unsuccessful AFC U-22 Asian Cup qualifying attempt in Laos as coach of the U-22s. Other names bandied about include Pen Phat, a Khmer national team player from the 1960s who's since resided in France and coached at lower league levels over there, whilst an outside bet might be Ieng Saknida, assistant coach in the ill-fated Lee Tae-Hoon era which is now drawing to an ignominious close. The main problem is that all of them, including Sovannara to an extent, lack the essential ingredient of solid international coaching acumen at a suitably high enough level. They simply don't have the benefit of coaching national teams under their belt. My preference would be for a proven foreign coach to come in, bringing his experience and brains to the team and to help guide some of the younger local coaches who could be groomed to take over at a later date. I don't believe Cambodian football is yet ready to stand on its own two feet at national team level - the country's FIFA ranking fell seventeen places to an all-time lowest position of 192 in this week's latest table - and it requires suitable experience, maturity, guile and expertise to recover from the disastrous series of results under the departing coach.
Cambodian football fans need to see some semblance of improvement in their national team. Everyone wants to see the team winning, but we have to walk before we can run and we have not seen anything to shout about for too long. In fact the senior team has not even played a competitive or friendly match for more than a year. So the Suzuki Cup in October will be a tough test, with Cambodia one of five teams seeking the two qualification places. Myanmar, Brunei, Laos and Timor Leste are the others. With a new coach, an unknown squad of players that are still to be determined, and just three months to gel it all together, the man that the federation finally get around to appointing, will certainly have his work cut out in order to succeed.