Jean Botioba is a symbol for many. The Cameroonian is the face of Phnom Penh-based outfit ISI Dangkor Senchey (ISI) and has been a hero for its fans. The Cameroonian had an interesting playing career that saw him play in Southeast Asia, including the V.League. Turning only 38 this year, he hung up his boots some 5 years ago to focus on the next chapter of his footballing career. Taking his coaching inspiration from Pep Guardiola and Patrick Vieira, ISI has come a long way under Jean’s stewardship. The team started out as an amateur side years ago before slowly climbing its way up the Cambodian football pyramid.
“Reaching the top flight of Cambodian football has always been ISI’s goal,” Jean explains. Reaching this stage has certainly been a challenge and finding out how to swiftly come here has been the most difficult task we had to overcome. We certainly had our fair share of obstacles along the way but thankfully, we stuck to our plan, maintained our discipline and persevered to get to where we’re at.”
That journey culminated in ISI finishing in second place in the 2022 Cambodia League 2 season, with only goal difference denying them the championship. That title went to Électricité du Cambodge Football Club (EDC) instead. Losing out on the title after coming that close was heartbreaking for Jean and his squad. It would have been the fairytale ending to a remarkable season. Nevertheless, both ISI and EDC have secured promotion to the top flight for the upcoming 2023/24 CPL season. Jean knows his players will relish the ability to rub shoulders with Cambodia’s best on a weekly basis and reveals that ISI has big ambitions for the campaign ahead.
“Our goal is to finish in the top 4 and qualify for the championship phase. I firmly believe that everything is possible in football. Don’t get me wrong, there is no magic at play. We need to respect the principles of football, believe in our concept of play and work hard consistently. Only then, we can achieve our goals.”
The 2023 season is part of a multi-decade plan for ISI to transform into a world-class side and Asian powerhouse by 2040.
On a personal note, Jean feels he has a lot to prove not only as ISI’s head coach but as an African. We saw the rise of African coaches in recent years with Rigobert Song and Walid Regragui impressing in the World Cup with Cameroon and Morroco respectively. Although Africans and Black managers like Jean still face many issues, the Cameroonian is intending to chart new pathways for budding coaches from the continent.
“As Africans, we face discrimination – both direct and indirect – everywhere in the world. In that regard, to be an African Head Coach in the top tier of an Asian football league means a lot to me. I am ever-grateful to my boss, ISI President Seng Kang, for the opportunities that he has presented to me. He entrusted me the keys when we started the project at the grassroots level and I am thankful that he has continued to place his faith in me.”
Even though the new CPL season commences in August to align with the shifting AFC calendar window, ISI is able to get a taste of the season to come with the 2023 League Cup. In their first game this past Saturday, the Elephants overcame a resolute Angkor Tiger side and clinch a 4-2 away victory. ISI face Nagaworld in their next fixture and are looking to once again pack their newly-built AIA Stadium, which has become a beacon of aspiration for fans and players alike.
The League Cup also provides Jean with the ability to refine the footballing brand and for his players to prime themselves for a challenging season ahead by looking to the lessons they have learned over the years.
“The League Cup is important for everyone because we can then tweak and optimize the team performance to be ready for the CPLn season. We learned and gained a lot in terms of developing a winning personality, building determination, and instilling maturity in the squad. Of course, we need to remain humble and will continue to work hard. We have brought in a few players already and will look to the summer transfer market again to make any necessary reinforcements for the CPL to ensure our squad is always competitive.”
One such player that ISI has brought in is Louis Willy Ndongo from Asia Euro United. A compatriot of Jean’s, the forward won the CL2 golden boot award after slotting 30 goals in the 2022 season. ISI has also secured the services of Sary Taimou who is the joint-top local CL2 top scorer with 14 conversions to his name. Moreover, having retained 20-goal Ivorian striker Abdel Kader Coulibaly from last season, ISI certainly have the firepower to cause serious damage as seen in their 4-2 victory over Angkor Tiger in their League Cup opening fixture.
The Elephants have begun their charge to victory and are on a war path.
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