Vathanaka shows what he is made of

John Duerden John Duerden

John Duerden analyses Chan Vathanaka’s impressive response to a verbal blast from Pahang boss Dollah Salleh.

You don’t often hear a club coach criticise a new player to the extent that Dollah Salleh did last week. The former coach of the Malaysia national team has something of a laid-back image and is often a jovial character but that belies a hard edge. The Pahang boss didn’t mince words when asked about his new Cambodian import Chan Vathanaka.

“He is a good player, or he used to be a good player,” Dollah told FOX Sports Asia. “He hasn’t performed at that level he had before in the two games so far this season.. “I hope he improves in the next game,” added the coach. “I know he is a good player. I know he has quality as I have seen him play before. He used to be strong but I don’t know what happened.”

Such comments were obviously a gamble as you don’t know how the player will react. They were also a reflection of the pressure that coaches are under in Malaysia when results don’t go their way. It may just be two games of the season gone but one point is not what Pahang bosses would have wanted. It is hard to say what kind of credit the coach has in the Kuantuan bank as he was suspended for most of last season for comments he made regarding referees. We all know however that in Malaysia, coaches can be let go almost as soon as the season starts. Another two games or so without a win and the pressure would really have been on. This is the life of a coach in the Malaysia Super League.

The comments show that Chan Vathanaka is under pressure too. He may be Cambodia’s biggest star but that counts for nothing in Malaysia. For better or worse, he is now expected to perform right now. In the first two games, Pahang drew 0-0 at home to Perak in the opening game and then lost 1-0 at PKNS, a painful defeat. CV11 wasn’t especially bad but just looked a little lost and short of confidence. It has barely played any football in the past 12 months. His time in Japan’s third tier in 2017 was a forgettable one. He only really featured when the season was over.

The player being low on confidence is understandable. And a little time will help. This is, after all, a new country and a new league. He does not speak the language and while Malaysia is a lot closer culturally, as well as geographically, to Cambodia than Japan, it is still a foreign country.

What was encouraging however is that the player responded to Dollah’s words by putting in his best performance of the season so far in the weekend’s 3-0 win over Kelantan FA. He was more energetic, sharper and wanted more of the ball. Fans at home will look at whether he scored or recorded an assist. which he did not, but it was a step in the right direction. If he can follow it up with an improved performance against Selangor in the next league match then that he will be getting somewhere.

Yet it is important to realise what all this means for the player. In Japan, there were few demands on the attacker. He never played and was little-noticed. There were no public criticisms of his performances. Not only is that not the Japanese way but there were no performances to criticise.

Now Vathanaka realises what it means to be an import and an important one. Being publicly told that you have to improve is not easy but these are the moments when you have to respond. These are the times that you have to show what you are made of. These are the kind of challenges that have to be overcome and become a better player on the other side. Had the star stayed at home, this would probably not have happened.

This is why players should be encouraged to go overseas. It may not be fair that he was criticised in such a way after just two games of the season but this is what happens when you have something of a reputation. You have to live up to it and show what you are made of.

There were signs that Chan Vathanaka has reacted and if he is a success in Malaysia, the past few days may just have been the turning point.

Photo credit: Pahang FA