The tenure of Lee Tae-hoon, the coach of Cambodia’s national football team, seemed uncertain on Tuesday after he threatened to quit in a Facebook rant against his players in the wake of their failure to qualify to the next round of the regional AFF Suzuki Cup.
In the rant, posted on Monday, Mr. Lee accused his players of not listening to his tactical advice and threatened to stand down when his contract expires next month.
Cambodia national team coach Lee Tae-hoon watches his club during a match in Phnom Penh this year. (Masayori Ishikawa)“I may resign as Coach of Cambodia National Football Team! Because all the players refuse to listen to what I taught them! They do not do what I told! They always make the same mistakes and refuse to change those mistakes!” Mr. Lee wrote in English.
“My contract with the Football Federation of Cambodia [is due] to be completed in December, but if the Football Federation of Cambodia want to continue the contract with me…maybe I will not renew [my] contract with the Football Federation of Cambodia again.”
By Tuesday, Mr. Lee had replaced the original message—shared widely and drawing mostly messages of support from fans—with a watered down version calling on players to “correct their bad habits.”
Contacted by telephone, Mr. Lee stood by his comments and said players had not done enough to maintain their fitness.
“This is just my mind because we failed to prepare for the qualification,” he said. “The players did not maintain their condition…and I explained to the players many times over the years. I always care for players’ problems, but I don’t know what more I can do.”
Despite the coach’s despondency, it comes amid a recent hike in the quality of performances from the national team.
Following a dismal World Cup qualifying campaign stretching from June last year to March, in which the team lost every game—conceding 27 goals and scoring one—Cambodia reached the AFF Suzuki Cup for the first time since 2008 after beating Laos, Brunei and Timor-Leste last month to finish top of their qualifying group.
They were then close to causing a major upset in their first group game earlier this month, throwing away two leads to go down 3-2 to Malaysia, followed by losses against Burma and Vietnam.
Keo Sokpheng, a striker for Phnom Penh Crown FC, said he hoped his coach would renew his contract and blamed the players’ poor fitness on new cuisines overseas.
“The diet is not good and it’s difficult to eat both while playing in Singapore and Myanmar,” he said, using another name for Burma. “In my opinion, I want to have our own cook. Food is important for players.”
May Tola, spokesman for the Football Federation of Cambodia, said talks had not yet begun over Mr. Lee’s contract.
“The coach spends the most time with the players, so there could be some players who he saw perform not as he expected,” he said. “We respect his right to express his opinion.”
sony@cambodiadaily.com, wright@cambodiadaily.com
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