Samson should be considered for Vietnam call-up

Anyone with even the flimsiest of familiarity with the football scene in Southeast Asia will know that the future is bright for Vietnamese football.

by John Duerden

GOSFORD, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 31: Close up of Sydney FC soccer boots kicking Official Hyundai A-League Soccer Ball during the round four A-League match between the Central Coast Mariners and Sydney FC at Central Coast Stadium on October 31, 2015 in Gosford, Australia. (Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images)

But perhaps it could be a little better.

That does not mean Le Cong Vinh is coming back after announcing his retirement from international football after the end of the 2016 AFF Cup in December. The legend has powered in his last header for the national team and fired home his last opportunist shot in the famous red shirt of the golden stars.

He was the one Vietnamese player known throughout the region and beyond. I wrote at the time of his retirement that CV9 should hang around to provide experience and leadership, as well as goals, to help a young and talented team find its feet. Regrettably, he has chosen to ignore such sound advice.

Without Cong Vinh, there is a a lack of goalscoring threat. There is Nguyen Cong Phuong, Nguyen Van Toan and Ho Tuan Tai but they are not real strikers. Cong Phuong is a number ten, Van Toan more of a winger and Tuan Tai lacks experience.

Against Afghanistan in the 1-1 draw in 2019 Asian Cup qualification in March, Nguyen Van Quyet led the line and while the Hanoi hitman is a solid player, he is not in Le Cong Vinh’s class.

There is one who may just be, but he is not getting the call. Perhaps it is time for Hoang Vu Samson to sport the red shirt, after all he has scored five more goals this season that his Hanoi team-mate Van Quyet.

The Nigerian-born sharpshooter has been banging in the goals in the V-League for years. In fact, in 2016, he became the leading scorer in the league’s history.

He arrived in 2007 to play for Than Quang Ninh and has not stopped scoring goals since. All in all, he currently has 122, including seven in 10 this season already. That’s just par for the course.

In 2013, the attacker acquired a Vietnamese passport and surely he was going to get the nod to represent his new country.

The man himself has expressed his desire to do just that more than once.

Back in 2015, he said: “I would do anything to represent Vietnam one day. It is something I feel from my heart. I am Vietnamese and I do not want to be Vietnamese just on paper.”

Yet the call has not come. There have been naturalised players for unofficial friendlies against the likes of the Brazilian Olympic team and Greek side Olympiakos but it is different when it comes to competitive games.

Coaches have been tempted but there are concerns in the Vietnamese Football Federation (VFF) that calling overseas-born players can change the character of the national team and perhaps make it less ‘Vietnamese’.

But Samson has been around for a long time, first arriving in the country a decade ago. His goals have come consistently and he looks to be in Vietnam to stay.

At the very least, it is time to re-open the debate about whether Samson, who was reportedly abused racially in this week’s midweek AFC Cup game against Ceres-Negros in the Philippines, should get the nod.

Vietnam produces almost as many talented midfielders and creative types as it does beer but a striker who scores not far from a goal a game in the league is much harder to come by.

Either Samson is Vietnamese or he is not. If he is, then he should considered for the national team if the coach decides to select him.

As well as the goals, with Le Cong Vinh out of the picture, Samson brings some experience to the team and some much-needed competition in attack.

If there is one concern about the future of the Vietnamese football team, it is the lack of cutting edge in attack. There was so much possession and chances against Taiwan in March but somehow it ended 1-1. There was the same scoreline against Afghanistan days later. Vietnam have huge potential but also need to be more clinical.

Samson is not a player who is in Vietnam to take advantage and try to get a chance at the World Cup. That is not going to happen for him. But he has made a new home, lived there long enough, said the right things while doing most of his talking on the pitch.

As Vietnam look to qualify for the 2019 Asian Cup, Samson could be a very valuable addition.

He may not have the leadership skills or the legendary status of CV9 but he scores goals.

At the very least, it is time to have a real discussion about whether the time is right for the country’s best striker to play for the national team. He has earned that much.