There’s never a dull moment in Vietnamese football. Just a few days after the national team kept on track for the 2019 Asian Cup with a hard-fought win in Cambodia the headlines were focused on something else.
Russian-born Vietnamese goalkeeper Dang Van Lam was allegedly threatened by one of the coaches at his Hai Phong club after a poor performance between the sticks. There were rumours of coach Le Sy Manh wielding a knife.
Whether that is true or not, there were pictures circulated on social media of a figure supposed to be the goalkeeper on crutches. There are more rumours that Van Lam has returned to Russia.
It overshadowed the news that the federation is likely to appoint a foreign coach to succeed Nguyen Huu Thang who resigned after the SEA Games exit in August. Mai Duc Chung has been the interim boss.
Former and future coaches?
Over the next few weeks, there are two vital Asian Cup qualifiers both at home: to Cambodia and Afghanistan. Win those two and the tricky trip to Jordan next year becomes less stressful and more useful preparation for the tournament itself.
Vietnam have a young team full of talent, promise and excitement. Guided by the right person, the Golden Stars could be shining very brightly indeed.
At the moment, the national team is second behind Thailand in the Southeast Asian pecking order. Not a great deal separates the two senior sides when they are at full strength.
Thailand have a stronger spine and, especially since the retirement of Vietnam’s legendary striker Le Cong Vinh, a greater and more consistent goal threat.
They also have the winning know-how and mentality. Even when the War Elephants are not at their fluent best, they have what it takes to taste victory. Vietnam are a little more inexperienced in this regard and do not always get what they deserve: the semi-final of the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup springs to mind.
FT: Vietnam 🇻🇳 0-0 Jordan 🇯🇴
— AFC Asian Cup (@afcasiancup) June 13, 2017
The opposition coach on that day was Alfred Riedl. The Austrian took Indonesia all the way to the final of the regional competition. It was an impressive achievement. Few gave the team a chance when it all kicked off.
Indonesia found themselves in the tougher of the two groups along with Thailand, Singapore and co-hosts the Philippines. That was going to be as far as they got.After all, the country had been banned from the international game by FIFA from May 2015 to 2016. That meant no official league and no international games of the club or country variety.
When the ban was lifted, Riedl had little time to work with his players and was only able to select a maximum of two players from each club as he put together his Suzuki squad.
Yet the team not only got out of the group, it did so playing attacking football that gave long-suffering fans something to cheer about. The night in Manila when the team defeated a staid Singapore to move into the last four was a memorable one for the vocal contingent of away fans and those tens of millions watching back home.
Somehow, Riedl negotiated a way past Vietnam in the semi-final, luck is an important quality to have in any coach’’s locker. In the hotbed that was Hanoi, Indonesia went and somehow got the right result.
Indonesia gave Thailand a tough couple of games in the final, becoming the first to taste victory over the Thais, albeit in the first leg only.
After it all finished, the Austrian returned to Austria. At the age of 67, the well-travelled tactician is enjoying a well-earned rest back home. He could, perhaps, be tempted east for another mission. His heart is close to Vietnam.
Not only his heart. During his time as head coach in the previous decade, when he took the team to the quarter-finals of the 2007 Asian Cup, Riedl needed a kidney transplant. A number of volunteers stepped up with one getting the nod and off they went to Vienna to get the job done. They still keep in touch.
Riedl is not a long-term solution but a short-term option. An experienced hand in place going into the Asian Cup with a younger man ready to take over whenever the time is deemed right.
As far as football in this region goes, Riedl is more Southeast Asian than European and he knows Vietnam as well as any foreign coach. With his experience and the right assistant, this could be a fruitful period for Vietnam.
Bringing in a new man with little knowledge or experience in the country is always going to be a gamble but until the Asian Cup, Riedl can do a job for Vietnam.