The secret to success for Cambodia’s national football team could well be in scouting talent based further afield. While domestic players, especially the younger crop, are constantly improving in general standard, some notable individuals born on foreign soil with Cambodian heritage offer an intriguing way to boost the first team.
Many countries in the region, such as Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines, have called up players living abroad, particularly in Europe, to help their national teams in major events.
Football Federation of Cambodia President revealed to the Post that they are eager to see the national team strengthened in the pursuit of glory.
“We welcome any players of Cambodian blood to help the national team and we will always try to facilitate them,” he said.
“But what is important for the Federation as well as the head coach, is to see their abilities first before making any decision.”
May Tola, Deputy General Secretary and spokesman for the FFC, added: “We can evaluate them if we see their playing in the stand or by DVD. We cannot call them without seeing anything about them.”
Three players have caught the eye after scouring the football globe with the hope that the Federation and national team coaching staff here take note for selection consideration.
Cambodian-German striker Chhunly Pagenburg, 24, was born in the Bavarian city of Nuremberg and enrolled with SB Phönix Nürnberg’s youth team in 1998, before playing for the youth sides of SpVgg Greuther Fürth and 1. FC Nuremberg.
Chhunly progressed to feature in the senior squad of German club Rot-Weib Erfurt and on July 1 this year, he signed with SV Eintracht Trier 05 of Regionalliga West division, the fourth tier of the German league.
However, the greatest accomplishment of his club career so far was a stint with the first team of Bundesliga outfit 1. FC Nuremberg during the 2006-07 season, during which he scored once from 12 appearances. Chhunly also grabbed a goal during Nuremberg’s triumphant DFB Pokal Cup run of 2007.
Chhunly is no stranger to international football, having enjoyed call ups for the U19 and U20 German national teams during 2004 and 2005. In 2004, the U19 side reached the semifinals of the European Championships, with Chhunly played five times and finding the net once.
With the door seemingly closed now for the German team, Chhunly has turned his sights on a representing the Kingdom.
“I am so happy if I have chance to play for the Cambodian team, where my mother was born. It’s my great honour. But I don’t know if it is possible because I don’t have Cambodia passport,” Chhunly Pagenburg told the Post in an email correspondence.
Nineteen-year-old Davy Armstrong was born in Aurora, Colorado, to a Cambodian father who emigrated to the US during the Vietnam War. Davy began playing football whilst attending Rangeview High School and was honoured as best player during the 2008 Denver Post All-Colorado tournament.
He joined Major League Soccer club, the Colorado Rapids, youth system in 2007, making numerous appearances with the U17 and U18 squad. On August 16 last year, Davy bypassed college to become the first homegrown player (from Colorado) to join the senior team of the Rapids.
Three months after this historic signing, the Rapids captured their inaugural MLS title, although Davy was kept on the reserves list throughout. The young midfielder finally got some pitch team just a few weeks ago, when he came on as a substitute during their 3-1 CONCACAF Champions League over hosts Metapan of El Salvador on August 28.
Athleticism clearly runs in the family, as Davy’s father Ri represented the US as a skier at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.
Despite having never been to Cambodia, Davy expressed an interest to visit the Kingdom. “My uncle still does an orphan camp down there with all the missionaries. My sisters have gone down and helped out, so I hope to get there someday to do that, too. I really want to go, but I think it might be a while,” told told his local newspaper, the Aurora Sentinel in June.
“Maybe in the winter it would be good because it’s really humid down there and everything, but who knows. It’s extremely hot in the summer. So we’ll see.”
Chan Tolson was born in Battambang province in 1990 to an Australian father and Cambodian mother. The family have since relocated to Brisbane, Australia. Prior to taking up football in 2007, Tolson had shown promise as a track sprinter but made the conversion to the beautiful game because he liked its use of multiple skills.
The 21-year-old, who also goes by the name Jackie, is said to excel on either wing and as a forward. After playing for a few local youth teams in Brisbane, he flew round the world last year to join the U20 side of English Premier League club Bolton Wanderers.
Tolson now plays on the U21 team of the Pro Football Australia program, which is funded by Bolton. When contacted by the Post, Tolson revealed his keenness to join the cause in the Kingdom.
“I have some relatives in Cambodia. I have played in England, Wales, and Australia, so I really want chance to play for my home country,” he said by email.
“I am still young. I want to share experiences which I have learned in different countries to develop Cambodian football and create a higher ranking for Cambodia in FIFA,” he added.
Cambodian teams abroad
Work is also being done in creating Cambodian football teams in foreign countries such as France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the US.
Pen Phat, a celebrated national team striker of the 1960s and 70s, has been trying hard to develop a Cambodian youth team in Paris. Under his leadership, La sélection du Cambodge FRANCE team has held regular training sessions and arranged frequent fixtures. Their progress can be followed on French language website www.selectionffc.eu.
In 2004, Pen Phat’s son Stephane made an appearance with the Cambodian national team.
Meanwhile in Washington DC, the Cambodian American Soccer Association was founded last year under the slogan “For the Love of Cambodia”, with the aim of recruiting and training young Cambodian footballers across the US in the hope they will compete internationally in the future, according to their official website, www.cambodiansoccer.org.
TRANSLATED BY IN SOPHENG AND ROBIN EBERHARDT