Cambodian football’s worst kept secret was revealed yesterday as Phnom Penh Crown confirmed the appointment of former Cambodian national team supremo Leonardo Vitorino to the role of head coach.
“I’m here because all Cambodian people support me, said Vitorino at yesterday’s press conference. “[They] always send me messages. I’m here because of you and also the President [of Crown]. After I left Cambodia only two people contacted me and he was one.”
“I am not the master and I too have come to learn. I know there are some good coaches in the academy and some working throughout the country so I need good people around me. I have come here to be head coach of Crown but also to give strategies for the academy. How can we improve their technical skills and fitness.”
Vitorino led the Cambodian national team for a brief eight-month tenure before differences with the federation expedited his departure. He was installed as coach in March 2017 and suffered a 7-0 collapse to Jordan in his first competitive match. The former Lanexang United tactician led Cambodia to a single win over Afghanistan, and his final act as head coach came courtesy of a 5-0 drubbing by neighbours Vietnam. Despite a solitary win in his seven games at the helm, he was a much-loved figure by fans.
Vitorino is in demand in Asian football having spent numerous successful years in Qatar, Thailand, and Laos.
“In truth I had an offer from a Malaysian team, he said. “Yesterday a national team lost a coach and they wanted me start working with them after the [AFF] Suzuki Cup. But I’m here [in Cambodia] because I have a mission to finish here. In 2015, we were champions in Qatar, in 2016 we were champions at Lanexang United (of Laos). In 2017, I came to the Cambodian national team and people told me we don’t get good results. But they don’t remember that we get the win, the first in history, against Afghanistan. We made a strong match against Japan. We beat Philippines,” he explained.
He maintained throughout his time in charge that he had a long-term vision for Cambodia, and with the backing of the Football Federation of Cambodia was seeking to recuperate the footballing culture of the country.
“We have so many young boys from academies and they had the opportunity in the national team. Before me they didn’t get an opportunity,” he said.
Asked what he hoped to achieve at Crown, Vitorino set the bar high. “Sure I want to win the league. 100 percent! I know it will be a big challenge. You need to prove how good you are when you get a big challenge like this. Also for the players, and the youngsters it will also be a big challenge.”
He also went on the offensive, blasting the current trend of Cambodian players seeking their fortunes abroad in expense of development, saying he turned down more lucrative offers from Malaysian and Thai teams.
“Sometimes it’s not always about the money, he said. “Some players here change their clubs too much and only for money. Another thing, please stop calling us and players idols. We are not idols if we do not win the match. He can be an idol if he scores and wins the match not when we lose. This goes for the players too, who go on social media and post messages saying sorry. No, we need to change the mindset.”
Since leaving Asia, Vitorino filled the post of technical director at Ceara Sporting Club in Brazil’s Seria A.
Crown, the most decorated club side in the kingdom, had been without a coach since the departure of Englishman Sean Sainsbury last month.
Under Sainsbury, the six-time league champions fell behind to their traditional rivals. While NagaWorld and Boeung Ket tussled for honours, Crown spent much of the season scrapping against their mid-table rivals. Calls for Sainsbury’s head came early in his appointment and with increasingly poor performances made his position at the club untenable.