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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodian national team coach Scott O'Donell to quit post in June

Cambodian national team coach Scott O'Donell to quit post in June

Australian-born Scott O’Donell will not extend his year-long contract as coach of the national team after having an apparent conflict of interest with the Football Federation of Cambodia

Australian coach Scott O’Donell will not be renewing his contract with the Cambodian national football team and will officially leave his post at the end of this month. His one-year contract that began on June 1 last year, and which heralded his second stint in charge of the Kingdom’s footballers, took in the BIDC Cup, which Cambodia hosted and won, and the SEA Games in Laos, where they one once but lost three to fail to reach the semifinals.

Speaking exclusively to the Post, O’Donell said: “My contract is due to expire at the end of May and I gave a letter to the Football Federation last month stating that I didn’t want to renew.”

When asked to expand on his decision, he confided that it was “pretty obvious” the Federation had different ideas to what he felt was in the best interests of the national team.

“I gave them a proposal for the national team’s training programme in December last year [but] they don’t agree with what I think is best for the team,” revealed O’Donell, who turns 43 next month. “There’s no point in me staying in the job if we’re not thinking along the same lines. I’ve got a good relationship with the President and the Vice-President and it is okay that they have different ideas, it’s just that I strongly believed in what I proposed and that’s not going to happen.”

BIDC Cup win should’ve lifted team
Looking back over the past year, the coach recalled fond memories of their standout moment in November. “Obviously winning the BIDC Cup [at home] was a high. It was perfect preparation for the SEA Games; we got everyone in Phnom Penh behind the team, 35,000 people watched the final and produced a great atmosphere, but I think we lost a wonderful opportunity to build on that.”

O’Donell expressed his disappointment with the lack of fixtures for the squad. “We went to the SEA Games, came back with some positives and then played one meaningless friendly against a Korean university team,” he remarked. “And then that’s it. We lost a great opportunity to keep the crowd supporting the national team by not having done anything since that friendly in January.”

O’Donell disclosed his frustrations on being unable to do what he wanted to do with the national team. “I’ve said it since I first arrived here in 2005 that it’s important for the team to be playing regular international games and getting international exposure for the players. That hasn’t been the case. There are World Cup and Suzuki Cup qualifiers in October and I don’t think what is happening is in the best interests of the national team in respect of preparation for those tournaments.”

Photo by: Andy Brouwer
Scott O’Donell (left) speaks with Football Federation of Cambodia President Sao Sokha (right) after the BIDC Cup final November 14, 2009.

Photo by: Nick Sells

Scott O’Donell (right) speaks with Cambodia national team captain Kuoch Sokumpheak during the friendly match against Korean side Ulsan University at Olympic Stadium January 23.

Photo by: Andy Brouwer
Scott O’Donell conducts a TV interview with local media before the start of the 2009 SEA Games tournament held in Vientiane in December last year.

Federation consider Korean coach
Football Federation of Cambodia deputy general-secretary May Tola confirmed that O’Donell’s letter had been received and that the Federation were now considering their options. “We’ve made some informal moves towards the Korean Football Federation about bringing in a South Korean coach, but we are still open-minded whether Scott’s replacement will be a foreigner or a Cambodian,” said the Federation official. “We have a long-term relationship with Korea so its natural we see if they have any candidates.”

May Tola also revealed that the Federation were planning a programme of international matches after the end of the Metfone C-League in September, just a month before they begin vital World Cup 2014 qualifying games and AFF Suzuki Cup matches. “It’s difficult to plan international friendly games as the clubs and players are playing each weekend until September.”

O’Donell, meanwhile, offered up this view of his tenure. “I would like to think in my time here that I’ve improved the professionalism of the team and the players, in terms of preparation and training methods, and I think there’s been a slight overall improvement in the performance of the team.

There’s some good young players coming through, but at the end of the day, the coach, the team and the country is judged by their results and the fact is that we won one game and lost three in the SEA Games.

“We are still getting similar results because we’re still doing similar preparation,” he continued. “It all comes down to the preparation and regular access to international games; regular exposure for the players to play international football. I’ve said it time and time again, the standard and quality of the local C-League is way below that of international football, so if players aren’t playing international football regularly, they get dragged down to the standard of the local league, and it’s not what’s required for international football.

“It’s not just in Cambodia that we have these problems, but that’s why the better teams in the region play regular international friendly matches to give their players the exposure. We can’t keep on doing what we’ve been doing, we keep getting the same [poor] results, so we’ve got to change. And that’s something I’ve been trying to make happen.”

O’Donell finds other employment
O’Donell, whose earlier spell in charge of Cambodia’s national team lasted two and half years and began in July 2005 before a stint as director of coaching education with the Asian Football Confederation, is now considering his own future, with a couple of offers already on the table, though nothing has been confirmed. “My family and I will be here for the forseeable future, and I will continue my television work in India and Singapore with ESPN,” he stated. “I’ll be going to Mumbai in India for the duration of the World Cup to work for the Times Now channel, previewing and reviewing every game of the World Cup.”

In a parting look at the future shape of Cambodian football, O’Donell identified three key areas that needed attention. “There’s got to be a structured youth development programme in place so we have a conveyor belt of players coming into the system; coach education is vitally important, we have to continue educating our coaches and the Federation is working on that now, running courses last year and this year. And finally, we have to have decent facilities for the players to train on. If we get those three things in place it’s a good start, but it’s a long-term plan, there are no short cuts in the development of football.”

O’Donell ended by noting the improvement in the quality of young players in the C-League today, especially those playing for the National Defence Ministry team. “There’s a few good young players coming through the national team right now, and the Army are a good example to all. They stuck with their young players, and though they didn’t win anything at first, they are now reaping the fruits of their labours [winning this year’s Hun Sen Cup]. They’ve stayed together, grown together and there would be more players from the Army than any other team if I picked a national team line-up today, which wasn’t the case two or three years ago.”



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