24. The Gang of Six
Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock. There has been a ticking timebomb all season at Prey Veng and as we approach the end of November 2021 that noise is growing louder. Six of my best players have part time contracts which run out at the end of the month, meaning they would be free to leave the club for nothing and horror of horrors join our rival clubs, such as Nagaworld and Beoung Ket.
The 'Gang of 6 are:
Phanny Y Rotha
At various times in the season I have tried to sit these guys down and thrash out a new deal, but each time I have been turned down.
'It's not that they don't want to sign.. it's just that we think we could get a better offer elsewhere.." was the general response from their agents. They were hedging their bets. I sent my Director of Football, Khim Ravy to try and talk to them, but he was met with the same response. Even our Chairman, Hem Vutha offered to help, but the agents and players would not budge,
There are just a couple of weeks left before they can walk out of Prey Veng as free agents and potentially sign for Nagaworld...
"My client is very interested in extending terms in general, but does not want to consider a renewal of terms at this time. This is because any new contract would be on inferior terms to his current deal which still has time left to run."
I was tearing my hair out at this ongoing refusal to even negotiate terms. Despite us only being a part time club, due to our cup run to the Hun Sen Cup final and our final position of 3rd in the league had resulted in £42,000 in prize money, which in Cambodia is a lot of cash. We could offer generous terms to these players, especially in the cases of Veasna, Daravon and Chanraksmey who had contributed the most towards the successes of last season. Neither their agents or the players themselves wished to even let us put an offer on the table, which was doubly frustrating. I was sat in my office wondering what to do, making contingency plans in case all six of them left the club in two weeks time when I had a knock at the door.
It was my winger Math Fasal, who stormed into the room, not a member of the gang of six.
"Boss I'm not happy."
This came as a surprise, as Math had trained and performed well for us all season. He though was on a non-contract, which meant he was paid per appearance, plus goal and assist bonuses and a reduced payment if he warmed the subs bench. Therefore his contract was not expiring like the others but just ongoing until either party wanted to terminate it.
"You have not played me as an Inverted winger like we agreed." he said directly.
"Hang on a minute what are you talking about, that's exactly the position you played in the last game against Phnom Penh Crown and you did really well, so I don't understand the problem."
"Boss, you have played me as a winger and you have also swapped me with Veasna, so I play on the right. That is not my best position, I play on the left and cut inside, that is MY game!
"Well I only swapped you with Suon because i thought you may have a better chance up against their left back and to try and confuse the opposition, that is all."
"I'm not accepting that. I want to leave the club."
"Look Math, I'm your boss, you play and do on the pitch whatever I f****** tell you to do. You are being very unprofessional." I responded firmly.
"I will never play for you again."
"You know what, f*** off I have no time for silly little babies in my team. Go on, get your things and leave now, you're on your own, As you are a non-contract player we can terminate your contract whenever we like. As if I have not enough to contend with, you are throwing your toys out the pram over a minor issue of what role I play you on the pitch, which is for the good of the team. Go on, GO! P*** off!
With that he left the room never to be seen at Prey Veng in an EDC shirt again. In fact he didn't even say goodbye to his ex-teamates and then slagged me off on his social media. The following day Math Fasal signed for Nagaworld. It seems as though someone from that odious club or his agent had been in his ear and wanted to cause upset in the ranks at EDC. Good riddance to bad rubbish I say! He could have handled that a whole lot better and any decent person would have talked to me in a respectful way. He was lying about the fact I had not played him as an inverted winger, as that is where he has been playing all season. Strange one that!
The departure of Fasal did leave a hole in my squad in that he was one of the few players who could play on the left. He had made 24 apperances, scoring 4 goals, with 5 assists and an average rating of 6.81, so he was a decent player, but Lionel Messi he ain't and replaceable he is. Tum Saray was his obvious replacement, but not only was he one of the 'gang of 6,' he never really looked comfortable on the left wing and preferred the right hand side or the 'number 10' role. It was also for this reason I signed Math Fasal in the first place. I had a couple of young left wingers, Mao Mol and Molly Unmol who I could promote to the first team, but I was not sure whether they were good enough to make the spot their own. The other option was to switch Veasna to the left and play Saray on the right if both of them stayed at the club. And that was a big 'if' right now....
End of Seeason Community Outreach & Team Bonding Day
In order to emphasise a point (naming no names) I booked in a Community Outreach session at a local orphanage in Phnom Penh, not far from Prey Veng. I did this not just to put something back into the local community, but also emphasise to the players how lucky they were to be footballers and how much they were loved by the fans. As the kids from the orphanage lapped up the attention from the players, who signed shirts and footballs for them I hoped they realised how lucky they were.
After the trip to the orphanage had finished I had organised a team end of season booze up round downtown Phnom Penh. Despite our failure to win a trophy the boys have done me proud this season, but looking around I couldn’t help wondering whether this would be the last time I saw Veasna, Chanraksmey, Saray, Daravon and Kong Rafat in the same room together, before the vultures came circling…
As I watched my players, stood in a circle, chatting, laughing and no doubt sharing electrician stories from their work at the National Grid, I caught a word with my Assistant Manager and friend, Nen Borey, whilst at one particular bar overlooking the beautiful Gulf of Thailand.
“I can’t help thinking Nen, that 7-2 win over Phnom Penh Crown could be the last time those lads play together in an EDC shirt.”
Nen looked at me, holding his diet coke, (as a strict Buddhist he was tea-total) and he stared out to the ocean beyond the fence.
“You gotta let them go, boss, if that’s what they want.”
“But Nen, we came so close this year. If I could bring in a one or two new faces to the squad, we could smash it next year, in both league and cup and become a real dominant force in Cambodian football. I can only do that if Suon Veasna, Chanraksmey and Daravon are in my team, but they just won’t even look at a new contract, let alone sign one.”
“The problem is this boss, while we stay semi-pro, the football team of the Cambodian electricity company, we can never hold onto any decent players we have, because the professional teams will always offer them more money and a better contract than we ever can.” Sok, Suon and the rest, nobody knew who they were a year ago, now they are household names and the big boys, the Nagaworlds, the Vishakas and the Boeung Ket’s will always be sniffing round them, offering them money we can only dream of giving them.”
“I know, but after all we have achieved they could at least show some loyalty. Perhaps if we won the league we could go professional ourselves, but that will never happen unless we have success on the pitch and the money comes rolling in.” I replied.
“Cambodia is not a wealthy country. The wages they get at the Electricity Company is just enough to keep them above the poverty line and the football, that is a bonus, a little bit extra in their pockets, but if they feel they can get more, or even go professional and quit the National Grid, they will do so. The hours are long, and the pay is rubbish, if they have a sniff of a chance to become professional footballers, they will grab it with both hands and boss, you cannot stand in their way,” reasoned my Assistant Manager.
“I’m going to go see the chairman Hem Vutha about this and see if there is any way we can go professional, so we are able to keep hold of our best players. Otherwise the club will be left behind by our rivals. I want to give the players the wages they deserve and to look after them and their families.”
Nen Borey patted me on the back. “You are a good man boss and you have put this club on the map in Cambodia. I am sure Hem will back you on this.”
“I hope, so otherwise we will be back to being also-rans in the C-League if Sok, Suon and Maol all leave at the end of the year.” I said dejectedly.
Making A Board Request
Wearing my best, newly dry-cleaned suit I entered the boardroom. There, in front of me was the chairman and benefactor of EDC, Hem Vutha, along with the board of six directors, all Cambodian and also dressed in neat dark suits.
“Welcome!”, smiled Hem Vutha as he stood up and shook my hand. I just wanted to say before we get down to business, what a wonderful job we think you are doing. We were thrilled with the performances of the team and perhaps it was just one year too early, but we promise to back you for next season.”
“Well that is good to hear, now I think we proved this season that we could compete with the bigger teams in this league and now it is time we competed with them off the field too.”
“Now how do you suggest we do that?” enquired the Chairman.
“By going professional.” I suggested promptly.
“Out of the question!” piped up one of the directors in the board room.
This was not looking good.
Hem Vutha smiled warmly and pulled his chair a little closer.
“You see Jonathan, everyone in this room would love us to go professional and with the season we have just had, it would make sense.”
I sensed a big ‘but’ coming.
“But, it us just not the right time. We have only been a club for 6 years and are still building up our fanbase. Prey Veng only holds 1,000 fans and we simply don’t have the money to do it.”
“I can’t tell you how important I believe this to be.” I responded in desperation. If we don’t go pro we could be left behind by our rivals. We could lose our best players to them because they can offer them more money.”
“I assure you Jonathan, Sok, Suon and the rest, they will stay, they love playing for you and EDC. Our Director of Football is doing everything in his power to ensure they stay at the club, you have my word, but going pro, just to keep them sweet, for now is not an option.”
“I can't pretend I am disappointed, but I do understand,” I replied and made for the door.
“We think you are doing a fantastic job, Jonathan, keep up the good work,” smiled Hem, as I left the room.
His kind words offered little consolation.
It was that time of the year again, for my meeting with the recruitment team. Hem Vutha was present, alongside Nen Borey, my Director of Football, Khim Ravy and my scouting team, There would be a lot to discuss this time as I potentially had to look find two wingers, a centre half and a goalkeeper, plus another defensive midfielder as Makara had retired, leaving Raymond Etim as our only DMC.
This was going to be a long meeting and we were likely to be burning the midnight oil. The scouts had done a decent job in preparing reports on players who could potentially fill the vacancies which could occur at the end of the month.
Halfway through the meeting, at around 9.30pm there was a knock at the door. To my astonishment in walked the gang of six, lead by the captain, Tum Saray, plus a couple of agents who were representing Veasna and Chanraksmey, both of whom were also present. They had obviously come after work, as they were still dressed in their Cambodian National Grid overalls
"Sorry to interrupt boss, Mr Chairman, but we would like to do business," declared Veasna.
Hem Vutha nodded in my direction.
"Boss, we love playing for you, we want to help EDC to win trophies and we want to stay." added Chanraksmey.
"That's great to hear guys, but we can only offer part time contracts you understand?"
Their agent stepped forward and for an agent talked a bit of sense.
"Let's do a deal. We think we have a solution that will benefit all parties." he stated.
The deal was in essence that all the players would stay at EDC, but their contracts would be rolling, so it would consist of appearance fees of £80-100 per match, with added goal, assist, or clean sheet bonuses where applicable, plus an unused sub fee. This would then enable the players to leave if a professional contract was offered by another club, of which EDC could not stand in their way. It would then be down to the individual players to decide whether they wished to stay at the club or not.
While the deal was not perfect and I would have liked to have tied them down to a contract so another team would have to pay for them, rather than letting them leave for free and I am sure that my Chairman was thinking the same thing, this seemed a reasonable solution to the problem.
Furthermore I knew these players well now and how much they loved playing for EDC, therefore I was confident that it would be a wrench for them to leave unless they were made an offer they could not refuse. Besides we are talking Nagaworld and Beoung Ket here, not Real Madrid and Barcelona.
In the end the deal was a compromise which suited all parties. We all shook hands and all six players signed on the night and told me they were looking forward to getting their revenge on Nagaworld next season, which was encouraging to hear.
After further discussions with the chairman, it was decided that these contracts would also be rolled out to the rest of the first team squad, which were already on non contracts, but their appearance fees would be boosted significantly in order to encourage them to stay. It did not work on all the players as we shall see, but it reduced the possibility of the whole squad staging a mass exodus, leaving us with just the youth team and a few fringe players.
EDC have managed to persuade their their best players, the 'Gang of Six' to stay at the club for the time being, but will all of them stay loyal to the club? Find out next time on The Ultimate World Football Manager Game!