When English football legend Sir Bobby Charlton arrives in Phnom Penh for a good-will
visit next month, he may be surprised by the contrast between the presently robust
climate of Cambodian football and its decades-long run of disappointment.
It's still a long shot from Old Trafford circa 1966-but for Cambodia recent events
are as encouraging as they've been in years. Sir Bobby comes amid local accomplishments.
Ahead of a June 18 match with regional rival Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, Cambodia's
national team has climbed to the rank of 169 out of 208 FIFA members-it's highest
mark since a 162 in 1998.
Over the same time, brokering from a high-ranking government official has netted
a $105,600 annual donation, boosting the budget of the newly re-named Football Federation
of Cambodia (FFC) by some 30 percent.
"The South Korea company Korean Technology Company donated more than $100,000
after the intervention of Sok An," said Khek Ravy, FCC senior vice president.
"At the opening of the Hun Sen Cup, leaders from the South Korean company came
with him- and they promised to help."
Ravy and FFC President Military General Sao Sokha returned June 2 from the annual
FIFA Congress in Zurich. The FFC leaders returned with a personal pledge of support
from FIFA President Joseph "Sepp" Blatter. "We're very happy to have
his support. It's good backing, but we need more . It's a big first step but we need
FIFA money and expertise to build capacity.
"Sokha sat with people and was humble about Cambodia and himself," said
Ravy. " The General had a chance to see the Under-14 tourney won by South Africa
over Bolivia. And saw first-hand the caliber of successful world football. He saw
how associations operate efficiently."
One controversy has emerged: the future status of national head coach Scott O'Donell.
"We use all the funding to support staffs salary, administrative work, competitions
and football development. This amount of money would be a lot for an individual or
one family, but for the football field that has hundreds of teams it is not enough,"
Sokha said. "After his [Scott O'Donell's] contract end in 2007, we will recheck
the contract between him and us. Due to our budget package, we may not have enough
money to pay him as we have contracted. Previously we get US$100,000 per year from
SCA to pay him, but next year SCA plans to cut 50 percent of the budget that they
usually sponsored us." This ca-me as a surprise to O'Donell.
"I met with the President, General Sao Sokha two weeks ago to discuss my role
after my current contract expires in December," O'Donell said. "He told
me he was happy with the work I was doing and would like me to continue."