Cambodian football fans, particularly those of Phnom Penh Crown, will not have forgotten the impact that Cameroonian striker Jean Roger Lappe Lappe made on the league during his time here before departing two years ago.
The former Phouchung Neak and Crown hitman has leapt up the ranks of Southeast Asian club football, and currently plays for Okkthar United of the Myanmar National League. During a recent interview with the Post in Yangon, Lappe Lappe claimed he still has a special place in his heart for the Kingdom.
“After Cameroon, my birth nation, Cambodia is my second country where I developed my football career,” he said. “I am so grateful to Papa Choeun [Chhlam Samuth manager Chay Sichoeun], Phnom Penh Crown’s officers, friends, and all fans in Cambodia.”
Lappe Lappe made his first appearance in the Cambodian Premier League in 2008 with navy-affiliated team Phouchung Neak. Although the side were ultimately destined for relegation, the lanky African’s skill and intelligent play attracted the attention of reigning league champions Crown, who signed him during the off-season.
As well as leading Crown to the 2009 Hun Sen Cup title, back when foreign players were permitted in the competition, Lappe Lappe also helped the casino-backed club reach the quarterfinals of the Singapore Cup for the first time by scoring twice against local side Young Lions.
In the 2009 AFC President’s Cup campaign, the Cameroonian netted five times during the group stage played in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, although Crown failed to advance to the finals by finishing third in Group C.
Despite holding a strong affection for the Kingdom, Lappe Lappe noted that finances played a major role in deciding his migration. “I’d like to live in Cambodia, but I have an obligation to find more money,” he said.
After just a single domestic season in which Crown suffered a late collapse in the playoffs to finish fourth, the 30-year-old forward made the jump across the border to spend eight months with Samuth Songkram and two months with TOT SC, both of whom play in the Thai Premier League. Lappe Lappe said he earned between US$1,200 to $2,500 per month, a vast increase on his Cambodian salary which he declined to give.
Last June, Burmese club Okkthar United managed to secure the services of the player they have come to know as ‘Lipi Lipi.’
From their base in Taungoo, 220 kilometres north of Yangon, Okkthar flourished with the African attacker in their ranks, becoming the newest formed club to win the 2010 Myanmar Max Cement Cup. Lappe Lappe was also crowned top scorer of the 2010-11 Myanmar National League season with a 20 goals from as many games as Okkthar ended in sixth place.
Club owner Aung Moe Kyaw, who also owns Myanmar’s leading liquor distribution company International Beverages Trading Company Limited, has rewarded his striker’s prolificacy by doubling his wages to $7,000.
Lappe Lappe noted that Burmese businessmen were investing heavily in domestic football, with little sign of significant returns in the near future. “After three years, the citizens of Myanmar are more interested [in football], especially with the format of home and away fixtures in the league,” he said.
The top tier Cambodian league, the Metfone C-League, plays the vast majority of its games at just one venue, the Olympic Stadium in Phnom Penh. Only two of the ten teams competing this year were based in the provinces.
Okkthar are currently lead by Singaporean coach Hans Sevaji and also boast two Brazilians and another Cameroonian in their squad.
Lappe Lappe said that the standard of Cambodian football was “not far away” from its regional rivals. “I can say that Cambodian players think faster than Myanmar players. They have developed so much in recently,” he said. “I always keep watching Cambodian football and sometime some fans and friends call me “Cambodian.” I plan to play in Cambodia before calling time on my career.”
TRANSLATED BY IN SOPHENG