Vietnam star Nguyen Cong Phuong has no issues having to prove himself all over again after returning to his homeland – following brief spells in South Korea and Belgium – with Ho Chi Minh City.
Cong Phuong has long been regarded as one of the golden boys of Vietnamese football after rising to prominence in 2015, with his immense talent even once earning him the nickname of the “Vietnamese Messi”.
Having previously had a stint in Japan with Mito Hollyhock, 2019 saw him move abroad once more initially to K League 1 outfit Incheon United, whom he left after eight league appearances in half a season to join Belgium’s Sint-Truiden.
Highlights – Hougang United vs Ho Chi Minh City
But after struggling to get decent taste of European football, Cong Phuong made the decision to return to the V.League 1 with a Ho Chi Minh outfit that only earned promotion three years ago but finished second last year to qualify for continental competition.
The addition of a player who has plenty of overseas experience, as well as one that featured for Vietnam in their run to the quarter-finals of AFC Asian Cup 2019, was regarded as a huge coup for the club.
Nonetheless, despite his obvious star status, the silky-skilled attacker showed humility in insisting he has plenty to prove once again in this next chapter of his career.
“Obviously, the last year has been very difficult for me,” he told FOX Sports Asia in a one-on-one interview.
“Probably the most difficult in my career so far – being in Korea, being in Belgium and not being able to play many games. I wouldn’t say it was an easy decision to make but, after I decided to come back [to Vietnam] I told myself that it wasn’t as though I was in Korea and Belgium for a holiday.
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“I did learn a lot although I didn’t get to play much. Football is also about the experience so I’ll just take that, come back, and I’m not going to look at myself as a player that has been to Europe.
“I have to start all over again – it’s from the beginning. The environment now is a lot easier with everyone helping me, so now it’s about me.
“I have to work harder, I have to prove myself again and, as time goes by, I think I’ll improve my performances.
“Right now, at this time, I don’t want to be arrogant. I want to be very humble, thankful for the experience I had in the last year and I’ll just keep moving forward because that’s what football is all about.”
Thus far, Cong Phuong has gone some way in reminding everyone just what he is capable of after just two matches in AFC Cup 2020 with his new side – a 2-2 draw with Yangon United a fortnight ago and a 3-2 triumph at Hougang United on Tuesday.
The 25-year-old netted in both outings but also showcased his full range of abilities, carving apart both opposition defences with his sublime skills and vision in the final third.
Having raced to a 3-0 lead inside the opening hour at the Jalan Besar Stadium on Tuesday, Ho Chi Minh then took their foot off the pedal and were made to endure a nervy final ten minutes after Hougang pulled two back.
“In the end, we got the three points so it might seem enough but, with the performance with the team, there’s a lot of disappointment at the same time,” the Vietnam international, who won the AFF Suzuki Cup in 2018, explained.
“It’s our first win in the AFC Cup so I’ll take that but nothing’s for granted – there’s a lot of things we have to fix.
“The boys did put in a lot of work and played well but obviously the first half and second half were completely different, so it’s something we have to look at.
“I’m still a bit disappointed with how we conceded the goals. Maybe we tired and it was also a different type of pitch [artificial] so it was something we had to get used to.”
Despite his relatively tender years, Cong Phuong spoke with real maturity and composure as he took in the positives from Tuesday’s display, while also dissecting where his team could make improvements in.
While it is their tournament debut, a place in the AFC Cup ASEAN Zone semi-finals must be the minimum target for Ho Chi Minh and their star addition is already looking to the future with a meeting with Lao Toyota coming up on March 10.
“In the first half, we were fit, ready to go, the spirit was high and everything was okay, but maybe in the second half we got a little overconfident,” he added.
“As I mentioned, the turf [played a part] as well but it’s not an excuse. Both teams played on the same pitch but it did have an effect on our game.
“It’s just little things but I’ll take the three points and our performance is only going to get better. It’s just the second game and we’ve claimed four points from two games away from home, so we’ll take that.
“Obviously, this is football – we just have to move forward, keep improving and keep trying to fix things. We’re not going to relax now just because we got three points today [Tuesday].
“We have to work harder – the boys know it, the coach knows it, I know it – so we’ll see what kind of results we can achieve in the upcoming games.”