The Football Federation of Cambodia (FFC) recently appointed Daisuke Yoshioka of Japan to head their Under-16 programme.
With a firm grip on youth development, the B-licenced coach with a designation as Youth Director will be hoping that he can help Cambodia to close the gap against their ASEAN neighbours.
For the last three months the 35-year-old Japanese tactician, whose high profile references include his role as NSCAA Premier Coach of the Development Assistance Programme for Asia, has no doubt in his mind that he is in the right place at the right time to steer this youth project in the right direction.
“I didn’t know much about Cambodian football when this offer came through,” he told the Phnom Penh Post. “I quickly checked some data and couldn’t quite figure out what to expect.
“But now I can tell you I am excited about the prospects of this team. I can assure you that it can only grow better. There is so much of promise and it can be turned into achievement.
“Talent-wise, Cambodia can easily match some its regional neighbours and I am surprised that the level of skill among young players here is even comparable to Japan.
“What is lacking is that fine blend of skill with mind and heart. Physicality is another critical component especially since some of the boys are rather small in physique. I have already changed the conditioning regiment.”
A fitness freak in his playing days, Yoshioka is now putting the 30-strong national trainees through two days of vigorous exercise a week.
“Until last year, I believe the players had only a couple of weeks of physical training per year. Obviously this cannot be improved in weeks where it has to be an on-going process. As you develop your footballing skills you need to develop your body to cope with it,” he said.
The coach noted that his first lessons to his new class were on basic defensive tactics.
“Once I got them to understand the concept of protecting your territory, it was easy for them to follow the rest. Possession and passing came next and now they realise that football is a whole package of all these and not just individual excellence.”
The man who believes every cloud has a silver lining can take pride in an astonishing result the young Cambodians produced in upsetting a strong North Korean side 2-1 a few weeks ago in a friendly in Phnom Penh.
It was a remarkable turnaround after having lost 11-0 to much the same side in a competition last year.
Multiple surgeries on a troubled right ankle cut short Yoshioka’s playing career that took him to several exciting footballing destinations around the world.
He had stints with Alemannia Aachen in Germany’s second tier, English league clubs Brighton & Hove Albion and Hastings United, and even Major League Soccer side the New England Revolution on a two-year contract in the US.
After obtaining a pro-licence to coach from the Brazilian football federation, Yoshioka met with his first significant success on the sidelines when he masterminded North Carolina University’s championship triumph.
He was also associated with several top performances by J-League outfit Urawa Reds’ U15 squads, and holds fond memories of his time with Oita Trinite which against all odds won the 2008 J-League Cup and finished fourth in the J-League.
His footballing friends nicknamed him ‘the Giant Killer’ for his fearless attitude on the pitch, and the coach wants his Cambodian players to earn reputations just the way he loved to.
“The team is beginning to blend together and players need tough exposure. In April, we are planning a visit to Vietnam and we are exploring the possibility of taking the Cambodian team to Japan in May,” he said.
“By June, I want to identify a core of 23 players who will go through intense training in preparation for July’s AFF international event in Laos.”
Yoshioka also revealed that the talented 17-year-old Kazuya Fukusaki from Japan is scheduled to train with the U16 squad from 25 March to 10 April 10.
“It will be a useful experience for the boys here,” said the coach.