Interviews

FFT's 20 Under-20: 'The most talented player ever seen in Lao football'

A match-fixing scandal has thrown Laos football into chaos in recent times. But amidst that worrying situation, a shining light is emerging in the form of supremely talented midfielder, Phathana Phommathep...

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With one of the most important matches in Lanexang United’s history on the line earlier this year, the team turned to a 17-year-old to try to win the final of the Mekong Cup against Thai powerhouse Buriram United.

Substitute Phathana Phommathep took up a role on the right of the midfield three and, despite some nice touches, was unable to craft the goal the Laos side needed, losing 2-0 on the night and 2-1 on aggregate.

He is the most talented young player I’ve seen in Lao football and he has a big future

Yet it was another step forward in the development of a young player that good judges in the country feel has the potential to be one of the best of recent years.

Already a regular in the national under-19 team, where he plays a couple of years up in age, Phathana was expected to establish himself as a regular start for Lanexang this coming season.

That prospect though has hit a roadblock, with the disintegration of the Lao Premier League leaving the short-term future of the young star up in the air.

Prior to the shock withdrawal of Lanexang from the league it was clear that Phathana was set to be a major part of the club’s plans, with coach Leonardo Vitorino telling FourFourTwo the young midfielder is good enough to play at a far higher level.

“He is the most talented young player I’ve seen in Lao football and he has a big future,” the Brazilian coach said.

Phathana had emerged as an important player for Lanexang

“His skills and intelligence tactically are at a high level for a midfield player, not just in terms of Lao football but also within the ASEAN region."

Phathana’s story began, like so many others in his country, in the Laos provinces with a ball at his feet.

He joined his first team at the age of eight and then made his way to the club that is the benchmark for youth football in Laos, the Korean-backed Ezra FC.

“I grew up in a village called Oudomvilay and my uncle there was the coach of the local team and that’s where I first began to play football,” he told FourFourTwo.

“The players and coaches pushed me hard to improve as a player and following that I was selected to join the Ezra FC academy programme.

“It was a new life for me away from my family but I was able to live with many young players from different provinces.

"And with the Korean ‘parents’ they gave us happiness and the ability to focus on both football development and the methods of life.”

The immediate playing future of Phathana and his teammates is in doubt

The opportunity at Ezra led to the teenager being selected for the junior national team and it was there he caught the eye of Lanexang, who had identified him as a player they could build their team around.

Kaz Patafta, the former Lanexang general manager, remains a big supporter of the young star and told FourFourTwo he rates the midfielder as an elite talent, even at such a tender age.

“Phathana has the raw technical ability and physical attributes akin to any player of his age worldwide,” Patafta said.

“The key for him in the next year will be exposure to high-level coaching and a demanding football environment in order to progress to a higher level of football, but he clearly has the talent to succeed in Japan, Korea or even Australia.”

High praise indeed – especially coming as it did from Patafta, a former star of Portuguese giant Benfica's youth team and a man who recognises exceptional young talent when he sees it.

The player himself also has dreams of playing abroad and they may need to be fast-tracked given the woeful football conditions inside Laos.

“Firstly, I hope to work hard and be selected for the Lao national team in the future and keep playing in more international tournaments,” he said.

“But I have a desire to play abroad and would love the chance to go to a league such as the J.League or the K-League.”

I have a desire to play abroad and would love the chance to go to a league such as the J.League or the K-League

Although used in a variety of roles across the midfield and forward lines, the rising star of Lao football sees himself long-term in more of a central role and is hopeful that he’ll quickly find a new club to continue his development.

“After I was able to help Laos to a third-place finish in the AFF Under-19 championships (where he scored the decisive goal in the third-place playoff as a 16-year-old), I moved to Lanexang and was so excited to join the biggest club in the country, where it would have been the ideal place to continue my development.

“I see myself as a box-to-box midfielder and hopefully I can find a club to continue to develop both my attacking and defensive duties as a player and work towards becoming a regular starter at club level.”

It’s that kind of humble and mature attitude, as much as his exceptional qualities as a player, that has Phathana tipped for the very top.

Photos: Lanexang United