Vathananka and Malaysia could be the perfect marriage

John Duerden John Duerden

John Duerden opines on why Chan Vathanaka has made the right move by choosing Pahang and the Malaysia Super League.

Pahang have been making headlines in Malaysia and Asia for the wrong reasons of late. The Super League side refused an invitation to participate in the 2018 AFC Cup after Kedah had been ruled ineligible. The Elephants’ excuse being that they preferred instead to focus on domestic issues.

It was a short-sighted decision and wrong for a number of reasons. It also upset a lot of people inside Malaysian and Asian football. Pahang are a big club and big clubs do not turn down the opportunity for international competition.

The deed has been done now and at the very least, Pahang need to show that their decision to focus on domestic football next season pays dividends. And the early signs in that regard are good.

The club has made the most interesting signing of the close season so far and it will be difficult for it to be topped in the coming weeks.

The player in question is, of course, Chan Vathanaka, the wonder boy of Cambodian football. Malaysian fans will remember the attacker for the two fine goals he scored against the Harimau Malaya during the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup. If the Angkor Warriors had been a little more solid at the back then they would not have lost 3-2 and the country’s passionate fans would have been dancing in the streets of Phnom Penh.

As it was, the region was abuzz about the star and there was excitement when it was announced in January 2017 that he was heading to Japan. The only downside was that the two-time Cambodian league top scorer was joining Fujieda MYFC in the country’s third tier. The best player in Cambodia playing at such a level was a disappointment. Sure, he could learn there but he could have learned more somewhere else playing regular football.

A bigger problem than the third tier was the lack of minutes on the pitch. The only sightings came late in the season. Talking to former Cambodia coach Leonardo Vitorino in November, the Brazilian was clear that the star had to leave.

“He has to leave there and come to Southeast Asia,” the Brazilian told FOX Sports Asia. “Anyway, he is in Japan’s third division. He should be playing at a higher level than that and he is not even playing. He is too good to be in that kind of situation. He has been there long enough. Thailand or Malaysia would be good for him.”

The latter it is. CV11 is the first Cambodian to play in Malaysia and while the adjustment may not be easy, he has already demonstrated that he is capable of scoring goals against some of the top defenders that Malaysia has to offer.

“Although, I was not a regular with Fujieda, I did gain from the experience. Communication was the biggest issue, but I took it as a challenge and overall, I improved a lot in Japan,” said Vathanaka last week.

“I am excited. I believe my stint here will help my game progress. I trained for the first time on Friday with Pahang and everyone was friendly. I hope everything will fall into place for me here,” he said.

Vathanaka should get plenty of playing time and the level of the Malaysian league will be a step up from what he was used to at home. Being in Southeast Asia should help too. The crowds at Pahang are, usually, healthy and when the club is doing well, it is a great place to play football. If he can play often, play well and improve, then Malaysia does not need to be the limit of his ambitions. That is in the future however. For now, the ball is in his court.

For Pahang this is a smart move. They have picked up a very talented player who has the potential to improve and the desire to do so. CV11 should be desperate to show everyone what he can do after a frustrating time in Japan. If he can produce his best, the Elephants will be pleased with their move.

Not only that, there will be intense interest in Cambodia as to how their star player performs just ‘down the road’. Pahang may have just signed their next big thing and his every move will be followed back home. The addition of Singapore international Safuwan Baharudin also looks to be a good signing adding experience and some versatility to the team.

Pahang may have turned their backs on Asia at the end of 2017 but Asia may step in in 2018 and helped the team have a season to remember, especially Chan Vathanaka.