In conversation with Scott O'Donell
On the game against Singapore:
I know their coach well, they wanted a game and could make the 27th. Not ideal as we've got the CPL final the day before but I'm looking forward to it. It'll be a big test and our first real game. You've got to play the better teams to become better yourself and it will be a good barometer to see where we are and what we've got to do to go further. I expect the Singapore players to be looking to impress to get into their final squad for the SEA Games.
They've been training since December last year, playing as a club side [Young Lions] in their professional league, and will have played 40-odd games already so they'll be more advanced than we are. It's a good gauge for us. We'll have a recovery session on Sunday morning to assess the players' fitness, as 15 of the 25 are involved in games on Saturday. Then I'll pick a starting eleven from there.
On future expectations:
I want to improve on the performance from the last SEA Games two years ago. We had a couple of half decent games and a very poor one against Thailand, and I'd like us to do better. It's still early days, I've only been able to work with the boys twice a week for the last six weeks, so it's too early to make predictions, but we aren't going to make up the numbers, we're going there to achieve something. I have some good young boys, some very good players and I'm looking forward to working closely with them.
On the style of play he's seeking:
I want the boys to play, I need contributions from everyone. I'm not interested in putting eleven men behind the ball, or defending on our 18-yard line, we're going to be smart, be disciplined, be well organized, but when we get the ball I want players getting forward, you can't score goals if you don't get players forward. I want contributions from our defence, I want our midfield players getting into the box and our forwards working hard. We're not a big team so we've got to keep the ball on the ground but I want to see the ball moving quickly, I want to see my players controlling the tempo of the game, we can't play at one pace all the time. I want to see football that I like to watch myself. It's very difficult to do that on the surfaces here, that's why we're going to Vietnam to take advantage of their training facilities and play against some strong opposition to get us properly prepared.
Throughout the whole team, my players have got to be strong, aggressive, be able to communicate, they've got to be smart, one of the things we'll be working hard on is playing as a team, for example the back-four has to work as a unit and if everyone works together we've got a good chance: we must reduce the space the opposition has to play in, we must be strong in the tackle, we clear the ball when we need to clear it and so on. When we haven't got the ball we are all defenders and when we have got the ball I want everyone to contribute to attack.
On changing old habits:
We've only had five full training sessions with all the squad members so far. They are good boys, they want to learn, they want to understand and I've been pleased by the positives I've seen so far and with them trying to do what we've been working on in training. The biggest problem is that it's new to them so when they're under pressure they forget and go back to their old ways, which is something I am trying to work on. How I want my players to play is different to how they play with their clubs. Next year we hope to run some workshops with the club coaches in terms of the modern trends in football, what teams are doing and how football is being played nowadays. The players get into bad habits and they are hard to get out of, that's why it's so important that we teach the young kids the right things at the right age. But every coach is different. In terms of the step up to international football, the intensity is much higher, every player has to defend, which doesn't always happen in the CPL, in international football you'll get punished so I will instill the need to maintain discipline in keeping the shape and balance of the team, it's one of the biggest things. We're looking at maintaining our shape, when we attack we all push up together and when we defend we get back together.
The fitness is better now than when I first came to Cambodia, but it's still not good enough for what I want and require for the SEA Games. After the finals on Saturday, for the next two months it's going to be a lot of hard work, with and without the ball. Their anaerobic fitness, the ability to recover from high intensity runs, is what we'll be working on to improve. When the SEA Games come around, everyone in the final 20 will be in tip-top shape, so fitness won't be used as an excuse.
On his favoured formation:
I'm very flexible with my team formations. I prefer old school 4-4-2 but at the moment we're looking at 4-2-3-1 but that can change as I want my players to be adaptable and be able to adapt to different situations in games. we'll be working hard in training to prepare ourselves for any type of formation. What I want is when I get back from Vietnam and after the tournament in November, I'll have most of my starting eleven in mind. I'll also be looking for a leader on and off the field to be my captain, who I've yet to decide on. I've got a group of five senior players and it'll be one of them.
On who has impressed so far:
I don't like to highlight individual players but if there was one player who impressed me in the last half of the CPL season then it would be Nov Soseila from the Army team. He's got everything I want in a player. I'd like a couple more inches 'cause he's a shorty, but he's got guts, determination, he's aggressive, he's got a good work-rate, he likes to take players on which is great that he's got the confidence to do that. His performance against Naga [in a recent friendly] was outstanding and I said to him in front of the whole team that if you play like that you'll play for me in every game, because you are doing everything I want you to do. He's still got to learn, he's got a short fuse sometimes, he's got to learn to simmer down a bit but he is one player who has really stood out. In fact all of the boys we've selected have done well in the CPL this season.
On squad selection:
I selected an initial 40 players and after the trials I selected 25 to form the training squad. The trials consisted of six training sessions, a couple of two-sided games, some technical stuff, some drills regarding technique, not ideal but the best we could do. I had my 25 in mind but a couple of the boys managed to force their way into the squad. If there are any serious injuries in the 25-man squad, I wouldn't hesitate to bring in one of the four players we've got on standby and who just missed out on selection after the trials. I don't have to officially give my final 20-man listing until the team manager's meeting 1 day before the SEA tournament begins but will likely do it earlier for administration purposes. I want to push the players until the last possible moment as I want competition for spots and I want everyone trying to get a seat on that plane for Laos.
On the schedule after the Singapore match:
As far as it stands, we'll have two more training sessions after the game and then we'll go to Vietnam on 3rd October, back on 31st, a couple of days off for the Water Festival, resume training again on 4th November, a tournament starts here on the 8th until the 14th, a day off then back to Vietnam from the 16th until the end of November. The tournament will be 4 teams; us, Laos and 2 Vietnam League teams, a round-robin tournament with play-offs for the winners. Good preparation for us at that time and it'll be great to be playing at home in front of our own supporters.
In Vietnam, we'll be looking at playing five friendly games against V-League clubs, training twice a day, lots of work including team building, psychological stuff, getting into good sleeping and eating habits, getting everything right so the players have the best possible preparation in the circumstances including relaxation time too as that's just as important. It's going to be an intensive month at the National Training Centre in Ho Chi Minh. Looking further ahead, we've got the Suzuki Cup in late 2010 and I'm looking for this Under-23 team to form the basis of the national team in the future.