Alistair Heath was working in Leicester City’s academy but the young coach wanted something more. It is that desire to make the move into football management that has taken him on a journey to the Cambodian Premier League
For the past year, he has been in Siem Reap – more famous as the gateway to Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world – as the manager of Angkor Tiger. It is a role that has tested him on the pitch and off it but Heath has no regrets about his decision.
“I am a football manager,” he tells Sky Sports. “If you ask 95 per cent of people in England if they would move to Cambodia you would probably get a lot of negative answers because it is not on a lot of people’s lists. But this is what I have set out to be since I was 17.
“I did not have the fortune to play football professionally. The offer came and it was not something that I could turn down. Football management is tough. There have been a lot of sacrifices but it is probably the best decision that I have ever made.”
He took a pay cut for this opportunity and acknowledges that was a gamble. “If I get the sack, what am I going to do? It was a risk but you have to take the risk, don’t you, for the chance to get on?” There is not a long list of support staff for him to lean on either.
He has a Japanese assistant. “He is 28. A good lad.” His German fitness coach doubles up as the physiotherapist. The side’s forward, Leicester academy graduate Jozsef Keaveny, has been a useful sounding board despite being only 22. “There is not a big team.”
But this is the path that he has chosen for himself. A former Birmingham City season-ticket holder – “I learned nothing watching them!” – his journey began as a teenager coaching Buxton’s under-nines. “Even then, I was adamant I wanted to be a manager.”
Two-and-a-half years were spent on a project coaching Thailand national team players aged from 16 to 21 as part of an initiative within Leicester’s academy. When the pandemic ended that, Heath, 37, took up a role with the Premier League side’s U14 age group.
“It was a good experience but I wanted to manage. Academies are all about player development, which is fine, but I love the thrill of winning a game of football. That buzz of being in charge of that team is something that I cannot get anywhere else.
“I am like it when I play any sport. I run and I cycle. I swim but after 10 lengths I am bored. I prefer squash or racquetball. I need a sport where you are playing for points. It is all about that competitive nature. It is that 90 minutes in a different zone. I cannot explain it.
“So I got myself an agent and something in Cambodia came up and we started talking. I managed to get an interview but I did not think it would go far. I have been to Thailand so many times through work, I thought it would be the same but it is very different.
“I am working with a lot of players who have never left Cambodia. They know what they know and if you tell them to turn up at 8am, they are going to turn up at 7.45am. They work hard and will never stop. They keep going and going. But improvement is needed.”
On the pitch, it has been an education. The team is sixth in the eight-team Cambodian Premier League, at no risk of relegation but playing merely for pride with two games remaining. With crowds in excess of 3,000 people, there can be no let up.
“Early on, I thought we overachieved a little bit. We were attacking well. There was a lot of work to implement the style that I wanted and the highs outweighed the lows. Then injuries hit, confidence was hit, and all of a sudden we were conceding goals.
“It would not be an exaggeration to say that I have learned something every day. How to talk to players and manage different personalities. What to say and when to say it. Building the best squad. Dealing with losing. How to get that team-talk right.
“The big challenge is making decisions alone. I am questioning myself all the time because there is nobody else. I can speak to people back home but they can only give their opinion based on what I am saying not what they are seeing. I have had to criticise myself a lot.”
He has enjoyed the support of the people. “I have been fortunate. The fans have been great with me. I interact with them a lot, I get stopped when walking around town. We might not have the budget to match that but the interest is absolutely there.”
But the biggest challenges have been away from football.
“From a tourist point of view, you would look at it very differently. Angkor Wat is the main point of interest, of course. People go on holiday and think, ‘I could live here.’ Nine times out of 10, they couldn’t. Living here is difficult. It has been a tough way to learn.
“Being on my own. I have not got that support network around me. It is tough. Socially, it is difficult. I am a manager so I have to be careful if I go out. I don’t drink. I take care of myself anyway but I certainly want to project a good image in terms of what I do.
“You have to be very single-minded to do this and be prepared that day-to-day life is going to be changed. You are out of your comfort zone and it is called the comfort zone for a reason – it is comfortable. You are breaking that. I found it difficult but I have done it.
“I miss the activities in England, my mates, the sports that I played. You appreciate those things more when you don’t do them. You suddenly lose a large part of what you do. How do you fill that void?
“I fill it by thinking about what I can do differently on the football field. Football management is 24/7. It has to be because there is always more that you can do and it has been constant football here. I have been shut away from everything else.”
He is sure he will emerge from the experience better for it.
“I am confident,” concludes Heath. “I have the belief. If I had started management in Europe, it would have been tough but here it is extra difficult. I feel that what I have been doing this season with no support network can act as the stepping-stone.
“I have just applied for the Pro Licence in Ireland. That opens doors. I want to manage at the highest level I can and I would like to manage in another country at some point. Let’s face it, doing what I have done, I have shown that I am prepared to manage anywhere.”
Pakistan vs England | Day five morning highlights
France beats Poland and more in today’s World Cup Daily Diary
Today was about England and France eyeballing each other over their respective opponents, with the only drama being whether or not they would get caught looking too far ahead. They most certainly did not, engaging in a “Anything you can do..” dance that set them up for a glossy quarterfinal on Friday. Let’s get into the nuts and bolts.
Game of the day – France 3 – 1 Poland
Either choice would have been acceptable, if I’m allowed to give myself an out or an excuse, as both games followed kind of the same pattern. The chatter the past couple days has been around what to do against a team that’s sitting off of you and trying to nullify your space in midfield, thanks to the US’s struggle against such a side. One answer is, “have Kylian Mbappé.” Sadly, that’s only available to one team in this tournament.
It’s obviously more complicated than that, but not by much. Poland did their usual Poland thing, which was to pack five across midfield and hopefully limit Antoine Griezmann’s access to the ball while keeping both Mbappé and Dembele wide. The Poles actually looked a little more aggressive, a low bar for them admittedly, on the rare times they got the ball and might have had the best chances in the first half. Hugo Lloris had to pull off a great save to keep from shockingly going behind, along with a Raphael Varane goal-line clearance in addition.
But that was about it for Poland’s threat, because they’re Poland. And you can plan to keep Mbappé out wide or burden him with extra defenders, and he’s still going to open you up. To open the scoring for France was a matter of him drawing defenders to him just enough to find an alley to slip a through-ball to Olivier Giroud, which is the unheralded part of his game:
Again, it’s beyond easy and cliche to say goals change games, but when the team that’s the favorite and has been facing a low block all night scores first, it flips everything on its head. Poland couldn’t simply hold out and hope anymore. Which means more space for France, which means Mbappé has more space, which means…
The second goal, which is unfair and rude, got most of the plaudits but the first one is high on the stupid level too. You’re not supposed to be able to beat a keeper, especially one having the tournament that Szczesny was until this point, that effortlessly at the near post. Poland probably thought they had this covered, for just an instant, given that it did look like Mbappé waited too long and had his options narrowed. Except he always has an out, he always has an option. I guess any player always has an option if, “Release a Hadoken of a shot with minimal backlift” is in their holster.
If France has a worry, and it’s hard to tell if they do, it’s that Poland was able to get at them occasionally down their right side, where Jules Kounde looked a little out of place as a right-back. England certainly don’t lack options on the left side of their attack. But then, when you have No. 10 in your attack, are you ever all that worried?
Other results: England 3 – 0 Senegal
It’ll be washed away after the final score, but England did not look great before they took the lead, and just like Poland, Senegal had the best chance with the score at 0-0. Both teams will spend a while wondering what would have happened if they could have finished. On such margins…
Much like France, much like Argentina, much like the US even, England was facing a disciplined opponent whose first, second, and third aim was defending and cutting off space. But whereas France and Argentina called upon otherworldly individual brilliance, England went the otherworldly team brilliance route for their first goal:
This is what the US couldn’t do, but the US don’t have Harry Kane or Jude Bellingham. Bellingham shifts out a little wider and drops a little deeper, Kane does his thing where he drops in deeper but behind the opponent’s midfield line. The England defense feeds a ball through the lines to Kane who can then flick a pass to the on-rushing Bellingham, whose touch is so silky soft your knees just disappear and he can control it at full speed and get to running at the Senegal defense. Henderson follows him through the middle, both goal-side of the midfielders that had been tasked with marking them and keeping them from getting passes from the England defense. Kane completely flips the play on them. .
Much like France, the game flips when England take the lead, as Senegal couldn’t wait around. Whereas the US has Jesus Ferreira only occasionally attempting this, and also having a terminal case of “being Jesus Ferreira” and not Harry Kane. The US midfield wasn’t dedicated enough to dropping deeper or wider to try and either lose their markers or provide space for their forwards to dive into. And they simply don’t have this level of talent. That’s how you get what we got here last week (or Saturday, as it were). This is how you get to be England, prancing to the quarters and looking like a genuine favorite for the whole thing.
Senegal haven’t been great when they have to take the initiative in this tournament, as England really only had to focus on Ismaila Sarr. They were pretty easily picked apart for goals two and three:
Life’s easier when you have Jude Bellingham to dribble through an entire midfield.
England-France is almost too good for a quarterfinal, but that’s our treat. England’s strength, the Rice-Bellingham axis in midfield, is exactly where France have suffered some injuries and are a little inexperienced as a result. Griezmann makes them dangerous but he also leaves them a little lightweight in the middle. But they also have Mbappé, which is the punch-the-game-board answer to everything.
Goal of the Day
It’s a tie between England’s first, a symphony of passing and movement, and Mbappé’s third. We already posted both, so you can decide:
Did VAR fuck anything up?
Not today, Satan.
Did FIFA/Qatar fuck anything up?
No, but now feels like a good time that the broadcast of every game does not need a shot of Gianni Infantino in his fucking suite sitting in his fucking plush recliner every goddamn time. It’s a reminder of how we ended up with this hell tournament. Remember, originally FIFA thought they could hold this thing in the summer in Qatar, because all the people voting on it were not only bagging bribes for millions (allegedly) but they didn’t have to concern themselves with the heat. They would go from their air conditioned hotel suites to their air conditioned limos to their air conditioned skybox at the stadium and back again. Seeing Infantino sitting in one every game he attends is just about the starkest image of how such a thing like this ridiculous tournament could happen, because the guys making decisions are only the types to be sitting in that type of a chair at that portion of the stadium, only making considerations for guys who sit in that type of chair in that portion of the stadium.
Did Alexi Lalas say anything stupid?
After two weeks it’s getting harder and harder to actually distinguish words Lalas says more than just hearing his voice as a constant drone. It’s aggravating that Fox’s coverage of this has tried to mimic their NFL coverage’s most annoying habit, which is having their analysts not only narrate replays (not their job) but also trying to sound funny and cool while doing it. Lalas’s trick today was while doing postgame highlights of France’s win, attempting to advertise and tease his Power Rankings to follow as if we were waiting for them on the same level of the CFP standings. Power Rankings are a curse upon all sports coverage, and even more so when a dunderhead like Lalas is authoring them and justifying changing them based off one game or one half, and even more so beyond that when he treats them like some final tablet on the state of the game today. NO ONE GIVES A SHIT.
Raheem Sterling leaves England World Cup camp after armed burglary at Surrey home
Sterling did not feature in Sunday’s 3-0 win against Senegal and the FA said before the game that the Chelsea forward was “dealing with a family matter”.
Sources have confirmed armed burglars broke into Sterling’s home on Saturday night when his family were in.
Sterling was shaken up by news and, as soon as he learned about the incident, wanted to return home to check on the well-being of his three children.
Sterling has been determined to play a big role for England in Qatar and it is understood only his concern for his children pushed him to leave the squad and return home.
Asked whether he will figure for England again at the World Cup, Southgate said after the Senegal game: “We have got to wait and see.
“At the moment the priority is for him to be with him family and we are going to support that and him to have as much time as he needs.”
Pushed on the likelihood of Sterling returning to the England squad, Southgate said: “I really don’t know.
“At the moment it is a situation he needs time with his family to do deal with and I do not want to put him under any pressure. Sometimes football is not the most important thing and family should come first.”
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