Pen Sophat made his name on the field in the 1960s and ’70s but fled to France as civil war approached. Next year, he will come home
Football legend of the 1960s and ’70s Pen Sophat is set to return from France to the Kingdom next year to help coach Cambodian players.
Sophat is credited with helping the country to place fourth in the 1972 Asia Cup – an achievement widely regarded as the biggest achievement in the history of Cambodian football – but left the country soon afterwards to escape the civil war.
While in neighbouring Thailand, he won further fame as part of the Thai squad, where he was nicknamed “Keng Kong Snack”, leaving in 1977 for France where he settled and became a coach.
During a recent holiday in Phnom Penh, where he frequently visits and takes part in competitive football events, he told the Post he plans to return permanently in 2015. “I will finish my career in France next year, but I’ll never give up my career as a football coach,” he said.
“I plan to come back to my motherland and become part of Cambodian football and help it become what it was during the 1950s and early 1970s, when Cambodia was a highlight of Southeast Asia,” he added.
Born in Kampong Cham, Sophat was a gifted footballer from childhood. As a young man, he made his way to Phnom Penh to chase his sporting dreams, later qualifying in divisions A and B before fleeing the threat of war. While he met with success as part of the Thai team in the mid-1970s, he never took citizenship there.
His retirement will be spent in the country of his birth, though his salary from the French club where he coaches will help support his new life, he said.
Once here, Sophat will continue to earn $1,200 a month as part of his retirement package. “I think I can survive with a fine lifestyle in Cambodia, so there is no need for me to concern myself with profiting financially from the sport here,” he said.
He added that he hoped to help young men to develop their talents and not be distracted by the push for higher ranking.
“I understand the situation of football in Cambodia, and I know its deficiency – that some men are only concerned about promotion. I am different from them; I’d like to train the young to play football, but not to make arguments,” he added.
His son, 28-year-old Pen Stephane, is a keen footballer who debuted with Naga Corp, winners of the Hun Sen Cup in 2013.