One thing we’ve seen from him throughout the tournament is sheer pace. He’s not only constantly making runs across the channel, but he’s more than capable of injecting pace into every single one of his run, which forces defenders to sit deep and just constantly worry about whether he’s on the verge of turning on his rampage mode yet again. Against Malaysia, the likes of Shahrom Kalam and Shahrul Saad were consistently left helpless by the 22 year-old direct style, coupled with his speed of acceleration. The Malaysia Super League clearly lacks the sort of pace that Vathanaka provides upfront – it only exists in abudance with a select number of teams. Check out the video highlights of his performance at the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games last year.
Here’s where he differs for a large number of Southeast Asian players – Chan Vathanaka is absolutely versatile. He can play alone upfront, but he’s equally capable of playing with a strike partner. At the same time, Vathanaka also looks completely at home on either side of the flanks, as long as he’s given the license to attack. He crosses really well and is never afraid to run at defenders too, should you get him to play centrally. In the MSL, where injuries tend to completely ruin a team’s ability to remain competitive, versatile players like Vathanaka would be a real life-saver for coaches.
How often do you come across a Southeast Asian player who just never stops bagging goals for club and country? I can only name a few, including Le Cong Vinh and Teerasil Dangda but Vathanaka is visibly the next on the list, given all the statistics he has accrued over the last two years or so. Vathanaka currently holds the record for scoring the most amount of goals in a single match; he bagged eight goals during Boeung Ket Angkor’s win over Kirivong Sok Sen Chey in 2015. He went on to score a total of 60 goals for club and country that year. This year, he won the golden boot yet again after netting 22 goals for his club. Yes, it’s the Cambodian league, which isn’t as competitive as the MSL. But Vathaka’s performance in the first two games of the Suzuki Cup already proves his ability to outclass excellent players within the region.
There are glaring differences between Cambodian football and Malaysian football, but both nations have a footballing culture that originates from the same backbone. The weather is relatively similar, and Vathanaka has already done enough to show that he’s capable of playing under humid conditions as well – which is always an issue when you sign players outside Asia. Now of course, it’s always a risk – there’s never a 100% guarantee in football. For instances, Kyaw Zayar Win barely made an impact for Perak a couple of years back, despite being a huge name back in Myanmar. But in Vathanaka’s case, the risk is smaller considering he’s only 22 years-old. That also means that we’ve not seen the best of him just yet.
Malaysian football, despite all it’s plethora of unsolved problems and burgeoning issues, remains an exciting product for fans. And it’s about time clubs utilize the product to market themselves abroad. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that clubs should prioritize ‘marketing benefits’ when they push to sign a specific player. But if the player is able to give you that marketing advantage, alongside all the other qualities you’re looking for in a footballer, then he should be on top of your shopping list. Even at the tender age of 22, Vathanaka is already a cult hero Cambodia and even more so in Kampot, where he comes from. And you can bet that the entire country would pay attention to the MSL, if he were to ply his trade in Malaysia. When Nazmi Faiz signed for SC Beira Mar in 2012, the Portuguese side had a sudden spike in social media followers from Malaysia. All of a sudden, the entire country knew about a club that’s based in a city with a population of only 80,000 people. Similar effects can and will be seen if Vathanaka signs for a club in the MSL.