Malaysian clubs are continuing to raid Cambodia’s Metfone C-League for talent as they seek to bolster their squads ahead of the impending Malaysian Super League which starts in February.
Reports yesterday indicated Malaysian top tier club Pahang FA were in advanced talks with Boeung Ket striker Chan Vathanaka. The move, if it materialises, comes after Malaysia’s Football Association announced they would be emulating their Thai counterparts by implementing an Asean player quota.
The Malaysian Football Association confirmed last month the quota would be in effect on a trial basis for five seasons starting from the 2018 season before a review in 2022.
Under the new rules, Super League clubs are able to register three foreign players, one Asian player and an Asean player. Previously, clubs were only allowed to register a maximum of four foreigners with one signing coming from Asia.
Pahang, who go by the nickname “The Elephants or Tok Gajah”, play out of the 40,000 capacity Darul Makmur Stadium in Kuantan, Pahang, and are widely known for their vociferous fanbase who dub themselves The Elephant Army.
Vathanaka, among the kingdom’s most loved young footballers, posted a cryptic message to his Instagram account yesterday afternoon, stating simply: “Thank you bye Cambodia. see you next time.”
He then affirmed in comments to fans he was travelling to Malaysia, although did not confirm whether he would be signing up for a Malaysian Super League outfit.
He returned last week from a frustrating season-long loan spell at Japanese club Fujieda MYFC where he made zero full appearances. He turned out for BK in their disappointing 5-1 Toyota Mekong Club Championship defeat to Sanna Khanh Hoa of Vietnam on Wednesday.
The 23-year old talisman, a 2015 and 2016 C-League Golden Boot winner, had long been coveted by clubs throughout the region thanks to his keen eye for goal.
He was previously linked with Terengganu FC in a double swoop after the club snapped up French-Khmer former Phnom Penh Crown and Krabi FC midfielder Thierry Chantha Bin late last month.
Also making the move to Malaysia is Cambodian national team forward Keo Sokpheng, who announced he had signed with Malaysian Super League club Perbadanan Kemajuan Negeri Perak last week.
Pahang, a glamour club in the ’80s and ’90s, are among the giants of Malaysian football, but have not secured a league title since 2004. They came closest to breaking the duck after an impressive 2017 season saw them push eventual champions Kedah close in the Malaysia FA cup final loss in May.
They also finished a commendable second in the Super League behind Malaysian juggernauts Johor Darul Ta’zim (JDT). JDT, flush with cash and owned by Crown Prince of Johor Tunku Ismail Idris, have won the league title for four successive seasons since 2014.
Meanwhile, Pahang are coached by legendary Malaysian forward and former national team coach Dollah Salleh, who is in his second stint in the top job.
Vathanaka will be vying for a starting spot in an attack-heavy squad which boasts the likes of Mamadou Sumareh, Dickson Nwakamae, Dramane Traore and Brazilian hotshot and 2017 Super League golden boot runner-up Mateus Alves.
The exodus of top players from Cambodia’s C-League looks set to continue with Preah Khan Reach Svay Rieng midfielder Prak Mony Udom said to be also eyeing a Malaysian move after domestic C-League play-off commitments end later this month.
Cambodian football, after years in the doldrums of Southeast Asian football and rapidly losing fans in droves, will hope the Malaysian connection could just be enough to reignite the passion of its long suffering supporters.