Phnom Penh Crown’s newly appointed Croatian coach Bojan Hodak conducts a fitness session with his players at their training ground in Tuol Kork yesterday. Photo by: Andy Brouwer
Phnom Penh Crown have announced the appointment of new head coach Bojan Hodak and his coaching team ahead of tomorrow’s friendly encounter against the visiting French Khmer Select XI at Olympic Stadium. Five exciting new signings have also been made for the league champions.
Hodak, 39, arrived in Phnom Penh this week to begin his one-year contract with Crown, determined to retain the Metfone C-League title and move the club onto a more professional footing.
“I will be pleased if everyone can see an improvement in the club,” he said at Crown’s training ground in Tuol Kork. “I like my teams to have possession of the ball and to play attacking football, and that is what we’ll be aiming for this season.”
“I’m a young coach and this will be great experience for me. The club will allow me to take my UEFA ‘Professional’ coaching license, which will help a lot. We have a game on Saturday – it’s early but we need games.
“We need to improve our fitness, in fact I’d like half a dozen friendly matches over the next two months to work on our match fitness.”
Hodak turned to coaching after completing a successful playing career as a hard-nosed central defender in Croatia, playing for six years in the Croatian first and second divisions with NK Trnje, NK Vrapce, NK Hrvatski Dragovaljac and NK Ponikve.
He headed to Asia in 1997 to play a further five years in the top divisions in Singapore and Hong Kong at Balestier Central, Jurong FC and Hong Kong Rangers. He earned his UEFA ‘A’ License badge in 2004 and came to prominence when he partnered ESPN’s Shebby Singh on the Malaysian reality television show, My Team, which saw them coach a squad of amateur players to take on the Malaysian national team.
Their success earned them entry into the Malaysian Premier League, they gained promotion in their first season and then spent two more years in the Super League before financial problems forced the side to drop out.
Hodak, who has worked for the Asian Football Confederation as an analyst for the last three years, turned to television and radio punditry for the Malaysian media before accepting his latest challenge in Phnom Penh.
The Croatian tactician will also be on hand to advise Crown’s Elite Football Academy, which is rapidly being established with final trials in Phnom Penh this weekend.
“It’s so important to involve the community, especially the kids,” said Hodak. “For football to take hold, we need the kids to love football, to follow local football, to build their passion for the game and to get involved. That’s what we will be doing here at Crown.”
Aiding the new head coach on the training ground will be assistant coach Vann Piseth, a former Cambodian international who assisted Scott O’Donell with the national team during his two spells in charge. Goalkeeping coach will be Prak Vanny, who has also performed duties with the national team for the last few years.
Not content with winning the league for the third time, Crown aim to extend their domestic dominance, as well as making an impression in two regional competitions, the AFC President’s Cup and the Singapore Cup.
They have confirmed their intent by signing five new players, three of which are current Cambodian internationals and two who have arrived fresh from the highly-rated Singapore League. They join a successful core of players retained from last season’s Championship-winning squad.
Strikers Kouch Sokumpheak and Khim Borey need little introduction to Cambodian football fans, as both have been rated as the country’s best homegrown talent for the last few seasons. Their addition to the Crown squad will strike fear into the hearts of their opponents.
Sokumpheak, 23, has been a loyal talisman at Khemara Keila for the past five years, whilst 21-year-old Borey has provided most of the ammunition for the Army team for the last four years, after spending a season with Koh Kong. It was Borey who netted a hat trick for the Cambodian national team in the recent AFF Suzuki Cup game against East Timor.
Joining them will be their international teammate San Narith, a utility player who commands a regular slot in the Cambodian line-up at either left-back or central midfield. Narith, 24, played for Preah Khan Reach last year after four years apiece with the Army and Khemara Keila.
The two new arrivals from the Singapore League are Nigerian-born duo, Odion Obadin, a 21-year-old central defender, and 24-year-old forward Kingsley Njoku. Both players spent three years each at Gombak United in the S-League.