FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan sits down with Thierry Chantha Bin for an exclusive interview, where the Cambodia international shares about the past, present and future for himself and Cambodian football.
He was a tall, strapping, French-born young man who arrived on Cambodian shores just four years ago looking to play football.
But unlike many of the foreigners that drop by Cambodia, and Southeast Asia as a whole, each year looking to become one of a few import players to ply their trade before leaving after a couple of seasons, this man has stuck around and has even gone on to captain the country.
Leading out the national team against the mighty Japan
The difference being that, while he was born in the northeastern suburbs of Paris, almost 10,000km away from Phnom Penh, Thierry Chantha Bin has always – in his own words – been “100 per cent Cambodian”.
In part one of FOX Sports Asia’s exclusive feature on the 26-year-old midfielder, Thierry candidly talks about the past and present; how he came to realise a dream by moving “home” and how much he cherishes each day that he gets to represent the Cambodian people.
FOX Sports Asia (FSA): Thierry, firstly, thanks for taking the time out to speak to us. Back in 2013, when you first became available to play for Cambodia, there was plenty of excitement from the fans given someone who learned how to play the game in France was joining the side.
Four years on, you’re now an experienced player in the national team and have even captained the team on a number of occasions. Looking back, how happy are you with how things have turned out?
Thierry Chantha Bin (TCB): To be honest, I’m very happy and making my career in Cambodia, being captain of the team, playing for my country and travelling around Asia – it’s like a dream. I couldn’t have expected anything more and each day I’m doing what I dreamt of as a child.
We are lucky… I’m very lucky to be a footballer and I try to turn everything into a new challenge and an exciting experience. [Moving to] Cambodia was the best decision in my life.
FSA: We’ve seen many footballers playing for Southeast Asian countries with mixed heritage but, although you were born in France, your parents are both Cambodian.
Even from a young age, how much did you identify with Cambodia – was it 50 per cent French, 50 per cent Cambodian? And could you already speak Khmer as a child?
TCB: Since I was a kid, I’ve been 100 per cent Khmer. I can never be thankful enough to my mother for teaching all of us Cambodian and that’s why I can understand and speak it.
In Cambodia, it feels a bit 50-50 because that’s how the people see me, although it’s only the French language and my education that makes me different.
But, I’ve always felt 100 per cent Cambodian and, even though I came from France, I’ve always been made to feel like family from the time I arrived.
FSA: As someone who grew up playing football in Europe, what were your first impressions of Cambodian – or Southeast Asian – football when you first arrived? Was it at a standard you expected or higher?
TCB: I wasn’t expecting too much when I first came as I knew it would of course be different. For example, things like the stadiums and the pitches – you can’t compare it with Europe.
But Cambodia is slowly growing from five years ago. A lot has been developed and that has been a pleasant surprise. Everything is getting better.
As for the level of football, yes, I was surprised by the Khmer level because they are good. Sure, it’s a different style and mentality, but there has been a lot that I can learn.
Thierry Chantha Bin played full 90 minutes for Krabi FC won Army United 2-1 in Thai League 2 pic.twitter.com/0233rMdz1M
— Cambodia Footy News (@CambodiaFooty) February 13, 2017
FSA: 2017 started off in a big way for you when you joined Thai side Krabi but, due to your commitments with the national team, you were deregistered for the second half of the season and joined Electricite du Cambodge on loan till the end of the year.
In a way, has it been nice to be back in the familiar surroundings of Cambodia? But also, how much are you looking forward to going back to Krabi in 2018 and getting back into the team?
TCB: Yes, I want to say thank you to the Cambodian League and Electricite du Cambodge for making it happen. I really needed to find a club to play for so I was very happy to be back.
2018 will be a new challenge for me to show to the team and staff of Krabi what I can do and, of course, I will fight for my place. I love Thailand so I want to learn more there and keep improving.
The second part of FOX Sports Asia presents: The Thierry Chantha Bin story will be published on Wednesday, November 8. Don’t forget to come back and find out what the future holds for Thierry and Cambodian football!
Photo credit: Instagram (@thierrychanthabin)