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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - O'Donell back at the helm of Cambodian football

O'Donell back at the helm of Cambodian football

donell.jpg
donell.jpg

Tracey Shelton

Recently reappointed national football coach Scott O'Donell, 39, works out with the national side at Olympic Stadium on July 3. O'Donell, an Australian citizen and former professional footballer in Asia and Australia, is an ESPN commentator for the English Premier League and the father of two adopted Cambodian daughters.

After languishing for more than eight months in professional limbo, Australian Scott

O'Donell is lacing up his football boots and going back to work.

In a meeting of the Cambodian Football Federation (CFF), held August 2 at Olympic

Stadium, O'Donell was reappointed as Cambodia's national football coach by the newly

elected president of the CFF, General Sao Sokha, the head of Military Police.

"The meeting today focused on the reform of the national football team,"

Sokha told the Post directly after the closed-door meeting. "We now have Scott

back as the coach and we will form our team with players who have discipline and

ability. The players who don't have discipline and ability, will be replaced by those

who do."

Sokha also said the CFF is working to forestall an impending Federation Internationale

de Football Association (FIFA) suspension scheduled to take effect early next month.

The ban by the world football governing body would bar Cambodia from FIFA-sponsored

events and cost the country $250,000 a year in funding.

"We are dealing with FIFA's accusations about the CFF elections. We are trying

our best to find a solution that the two sides can agree on," Sokha said. "But

so far, we have not yet contacted each other."

Despite the looming penalty, it was an uplifting day for O'Donell as he was given

full control of the selection, training and development of the national program.

"It's a huge relief to be back on the field and doing what I came here to do,"

O'Donell said. "It's been very frustrating, but everyone wants to forget what

happened in the past and start working for the good of Cambodian football."

So ends an agonizing period of football free-fall for O'Donell, who was hired on

a two-year contract on July 21, 2005. His salary, and the national players' meal

money and $65 monthly stipend, are paid for by FIFA.

"I'm just happy [Sokha] has given me the respect for picking the 28 best players

in Cambodia," O'Donell said. "He's been very supportive and given me full

control to do what I want. That's the way it should be. He's supported me as coach

and you can't ask for more out of your boss than to give you that responsibility."

O'Donell, a 39-year-old Sydney native, was removed from his post after less than

four months in the first of a series of confusing and controversial moves that once

again thrust the embattled program into a heated national debate.

After going 1-4 in international competition under O'Donell, the national side was

abruptly replaced on November 8 - just a week before the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games

- by Cambodian Premier League (CPL) powerhouse Khemara - a team personally patronized

by then-National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh.

The unexplained substitution enraged then-CFF President Khek Ravy, who called the

move "baffling."

"The opinions of people who do not have any expertise in the development of

football will hurt the entire program," Ravy told the Post on November 17, 2005.

"The prince may have listened to these people."

Khemara, coached by a North Korean coach with longstanding ties to Ranariddh, went

winless in the SEA Games. O'Donell was subsequently relegated to the position of

CFF technical director.

In April, after allegations from the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport that

Ravy had held the CFF presidency unlawfully since 2003, the CFF executive committee

called a snap election and unanimously elected Sokha.

FIFA refused to recognize the election. A letter addressed to the CFF and signed

by FIFA President Joseph "Sepp" Blatter, read that "Article 17 of

the FIFA statute has been flagrantly violated on the grounds of political interference."

The letter was followed by a mandate from FIFA's Zurich-based executive committee

on June 4 that the CFF had 90 days to "revise its statutes to fall in line with

FIFA requirements and convene an elective congress ... or face suspension."

Cambodia next faces international competition in November's regional qualifiers for

the Asean Cup-formerly known as the Tiger Cup. Cambodia is ranked 184 out of 205

FIFA-registered countries.

"I'd like more time, but we're not making any excuses," said O'Donell,

a former Singapore League Coach of the Year and ex-defender for the Parramatta Eagles.

"It's my responsibility to get the boys playing the way I want them to play.

We're going to play a high-intensity pressing game and we're going to work seven

days a week to get the players in the best shape of their lives."

The team is composed of nine Khemara players, five from Sokha's military police,

eight from Phnom Penh United and five from Naga.

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