Time for Vietnam’s Luong to swap Korea for Thailand

John Duerden John Duerden

The Vietnamese media has been reporting that officials from South Korean club Gangwon FC are in the country to request that Luong Xuan Truong be allowed to stay on loan in the eastern province for another year.

The question that springs to mind is why? The midfielder is one of the most talented players in Southeast Asia and, at the age of 22, has the potential to enjoy a continental-wide reputation.

That was why he went to South Korea in 2016 to join Incheon United on the west coast. Incheon used to have a reputation as an innovative forward-thinking club but it is safe to say that the coach at the time, Kim Do-hoon, did not instigate the transfer. It was one of Korean football’s worst-kept secrets that the former striker was not the biggest fan of his new addition.

Kim picked his new player just the once before leaving his job. In the whole of 2016, Xuan Truong made just four appearances in the league in the whole season, never managing to play 90 minutes.

Luong in action for Gangwon.

Then came a move to Gangwon FC, a team on the eastern side of the peninsula. This was seen as a better move to a more ambitious team although there was some concern back home as Gangwon signed a few well-known and experienced midfielders before the season started.

There was even less playing time in the mountains of the east than on the west coast with a measly 106 minutes of league football. Whatever the reasons, he obviously didn’t feature much in the plans of the various coaches that were in place at Gangwon during the season.

It is hard to say why the Vietnamese international did not play more. Some say behind the scenes that he struggles with the physicality of the league. Yet this technically-gifted player had no issues with the physicality of players from North Korea, Iraq and Jordan –all teams he has impressed against on the international stage. Besides, one of the reasons for the move in the first place was to help the midfielder with this side of the game.

The player has himself said that Southeast Asian players are not held in the highest esteem in Korea. He is right. There has been a long-standing prejudice among Korean coaches of a certain age when it comes to South-east Asian players. ‘Too lazy’ went the lazy thinking although it seems that some of the old attitudes still exist in some quarters.

A player who does not make the pitch for a mid-table team is not likely to make many headlines and that is the case. A look at the Korean media shows that there has been pretty much been no mention of his name for the best part of a month.

But that is not the case back home. Incredibly, throughout all this, there has been excitement and interest in Vietnam about their overseas star on a regular, almost regular, basis.

So much so that despite his inaction on the pitch, Xuan Truong was appointed an image ambassador for Korea back to his homeland.

It seems that the overriding opinion in Vietnam is that the player should move though some think he should choose another K-League team.

It is probably best to give up on the Land of the Morning Calm. Xuan Truong has the talent to succeed but if he has played the equivalent of four full games in two seasons, then it is unlikely to happen. There is no more time to waste.

For now, he should return back to Southeast Asia. Thailand would be a good option, perhaps the only option. There is no need to return to Vietnam, now he has had a taste of overseas football, he should continue to look overseas. In Southeast Asia, that leaves only Thailand.

A move to one of Thailand’s top clubs has to be the next logical progression. There is no reason why it can’t be done. Thailand will have a new ASEAN player quota slot next season and that makes the whole thing a little easier. He can easily play for one of the better sides and appearing in the Asian Champions League and shining against Korean teams would show the potential that Incheon and Gangwon could not or would not see.

And after a season or so, then a move to Japan may beckon. The J.League often has a greater appreciation for the technical side of the game compared to its counterpart from next door.

But whatever happens, it is time for Xuan Truong to end his Korean career. He tried, it did not work out but he has the talent, the time and the opportunity to succeed in Thailand and then Asia will be his oyster.