With numerous sides reportedly interested in Nguyen Quang Hai, FOX Sports Asia football editor Gabriel Tan assesses which move would be the best for the Vietnam star.
He is not only the hottest property Vietnam has to offer at the moment, but also one of the brightest young talents in all of Asia.
And, last week, the career of Nguyen Quang Hai looked set to take its next step with Japanese outfit Renofa Yamaguchi sending a formal letter to his club Ha Noi expressing their desire for his services.
Not long after the J2 League outfit expressed their interest did the rumour mill going to overdrive and, all of a sudden, a host of other clubs also reportedly had him on their radar.
Now 22, the time appears ripe for Quang Hai to leave the comfortable setting of the Hang Day Stadium and explore a move abroad, but where he decides to go next could go a long way in determining how his career eventually pans out.
Here, FOX Sports Asia weighs up his potential destinations to see where the wisest move could be.
Renofa Yamaguchi (Japan)
The first club to have made contact with Ha Noi, Renofa Yamaguchi are currently 12th in the 22-team J2 League and are nine points away from a promotion playoff berth.
With Vietnam being a partner nation of the J.League, Quang Hai will take up one of the club’s five foreign-player allocations, which would greatly help his cause.
Having seen Thailand’s Chanathip Songkrasin, Teerasil Dangda and Theerathon Bunmathan establish themselves in the J1 League over the past 12 months, all of Southeast Asia will now take confidence that their products have what it takes to succeed in one of the continent’s top domestic competitions.
Although Renofa are not a top-tier side, being allowed to find his feet at a lower level might actually work in Quang Hai’s favour.
Still, if he is to follow in the footsteps of Le Cong Vinh – who had a loan spell at Consadole Sapporo back in 2013 – Quang Hai will need to get assurances over his playing time lest he ends up like Cambodia’s Chan Vathanaka, who struggled to settle at J3 League outfit Fujieda MYFC and failed to start a single game.
Muangthong United (Thailand)
While this year’s introduction of the ASEAN player quota has widely been a success in Thai League 1, heavyweights Muangthong United have been the only ones out of 18 clubs not to introduce a regional import.
That all could change should their interest in Quang Hai prove to be concrete, and there is certainly allure playing for a team that reached the Round of 16 of the AFC Champions League last year, and are one of Southeast Asia’s most recognisable clubs.
Although they are usually stocked with Thailand internationals, Muangthong’s attack has failed to fire on all cylinders in 2018 and a lack of goal-scoring options to aid Heberty and Jaja Coelho has been a key reason for their failure to challenge for the title.
While regular right-back Tristan Do has impressed when deployed further up the field, the addition of a natural wide attacker could be a welcome addition at the SCG Stadium.
Bangkok Glass (Thailand)
Another famous Thai side that are said to be eyeing Quang Hai, Bangkok Glass could be able to guarantee the skillful midfielder a regular spot in the starting XI given their current status as a mid-table team.
But, with five teams set to be relegated this season, the Glass Rabbits are far from assured of staying in Thai League 1 given they are only three points away from the relegation zone with four matches remaining.
If Quang Hai is to choose Thailand over Japan, top-flight football is a must.
Bangkok Glass are another team who have not exactly been prolific in the attacking third, and is not difficult to imagine the Vietnam international immediately being part of the first-team plans.
Furthermore, with Malaysia’s Kiko Insa lasting just half the campaign this season, the Glass Rabbits will be determined to make their next ASEAN import a hit.
Al Sadd (Qatar)
A more left-field option that have emerged as potential suitors are Al Sadd, who will be able to offer Champions League football in 2019 by virtue of being runners-up in the Qatar Stars League.
Unlike Japan or Thailand, a move to Qatar would be significantly more challenging in terms of adapting and settling to a new country that is distinctively different to Vietnam in culture and lifestyle.
Nonetheless, Al Sadd have shown a willingness to give young players a chance to shine and – especially based on his displays in January’s AFC U-23 Championship – Quang Hai is certainly capable of performing at the level of an Akram Afif or Ali Asad.
Then, there is also the lure of not only lining up alongside one of the all-time greats in Spanish maestro Xavi, but then playing under him when the former Barcelona star eventually takes over the managerial reins from Jesualdo Ferreira.
VERDICT: All four offers – and others that could follow – each come with their own pros and cons.
Al Sadd offer the highest level of football but Quang Hai could end up spending most of his time on the bench if he pursues such a move, while the Thai League 1 could be beneficial for his development but only for a year or two.
Given how highly-regarded the J.League is, both in terms of its competitiveness and its clubs’ proclivity to develop youth, playing in Japan’s second tier might not be the worst option.
The biggest takeaway from all of this is that Quang Hai can now be assured that his ability is being recognised, not only in his homeland.
If he makes the most of this confidence boost, then he has every chance of success be it in on the other side of the Mekong river, in the Japanese second-tier, or trying to cut his teeth alongside Xavi in the Champions League.