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From Parisian suburbs to Phnom Penh, with a stop in the French Alps, here is Sokthorn Va’s path, a French-Cambodian footballer, who, at 27 years old, decided to come back in his parents’ country to become a professional at the Phnom Penh Crown FC. A few months later, he’s playing for Cambodia’s national team and taking part in the World Cup qualifications.
Hi Sokthorn, can you tell us your story and explain us how you got here, at the Phnom Penh Crown?
I started playing football when I was 9, in my town’s club. Then, we moved to the Parisian suburbs, in a town called Torcy, where I kept on playing. When I was a teen, I had many opportunities to join training centers, but I didn’t catch them. I was young and haven’t always made the right choices. But I never stopped football; I played as an amateur for a time. Last summer, I was spending holidays in Cambodia, my country of origin. There, I had the opportunity to take a one-week test at the Phnom Penh Crown FC. The next days, I signed a one-year contract.
How was it in the beginning, at the club? You became a professional, from one day to the next, and in Cambodia! You weren’t too disoriented?
I’ve been in Phnom Penh for 5 months. In the beginning, it was complicated, especially because of the weather. I had to get used to the heat, dampness and trainings rhythm. Now, I’m going to play my first real season. We’ll ensure to keep our title. This year, the championship has had a six-month delay. Usually, it’s played between January and June, to avoid playing in the summer. But for organization reasons, we’re starting to in July. Since I arrived, all we do is train, and sometimes play friendly games. It’s complicated to keep the rhythm when there’s no stake.
Can we compare the football level in Cambodia to the one in France?
(Smiles) Not really. Maybe, we’re the same level as CFA, CFA2. Individually, France has way better players.
Only two months after you got here, you’re already selected for the National Team. Tell us more…
Everything went so fast, between my arrival here and this offer for the national team. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting this at all. They were surprised, even at the club. Since I’m in Cambodia, I’ve played a few official games, for the Hun Sen Cup, a local competition. I’m so proud I can wear my parents’ country colors.
They must be super proud?
My parents leave in France, and I haven’t seen them since this selection. But when they’ll come to visit, I’ll be able to see their emotion. Yes, they’re proud and happy for me. I was raised with this double-culture: I was born and grew up in France, but since I was a kid, it has been very important for my parents not to forget our roots and to teach me about the culture of their country. I also speak Cambodian, which made my integration easy.
How’s the everyday life of a professional footballer in Cambodia? Have you been able to travel in the neighbor countries?
With the everyday trainings, in the morning and in the afternoon, and the games on the week-end, we don’t really have much time to travel. Mon everyday life is football, but that’s what I like to do.
Let’s talk about the Cambodian selection. What’s your ambition? A qualification for 2018 World Cup?
Yes, it would not be bad to take part in the 2018 World Cup in Russia, especially since we just passed the first round, for the first time of history in Cambodia. I hope that at the second tour, we will meet great teams, so we can have more and more experience, like Japan and South Korea (Editor’s note: for the second round, Cambodia will meet Japan, Singapore, Syria and Afghanistan).
How do you deal with the National Team’s games when the championship hasn’t begun and when you’re currently only playing friendly games?
In all Cambodian clubs, players train every day to stay in shape and keep the level up. The lack of competition can be felt, but still, we have a Korean coach who manages the team and brings rigor to the trainings.