A local football (soccer) pundit has slammed the intention by the chairman of the Vietnam Football Federation (VFF) to send the national under-19 team to compete in the Southeast Asian Games and even the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, following their recent impressive performances.
Le Hung Dung, a banking tycoon who now chairs the VFF until 2018, has publicly said that he supports the idea of using the U-19 team for the men’s football event at the 28th Southeast Asian Games in Singapore next year.
“We are not going to be the first to do that because Malaysia did so before and thus produced a generation of players who have won the Southeast Asian Games men’s football gold medal several times in recent years,” local newswire VietnamNet quoted Dung as saying.
Dung added that the young players may lose in the first place but they will grow up and bag the medal many times later on.
“After their participation in competitions like the Southeast Asian Games men’s football event, the U-19 team will be tasked with partaking in the qualification round of the 2018 FIFA World Cup [to be hosted by Russia],” Dung said. “My term will last until 2018 and I will defend this point of view.”
In response, Nguyen Van Vinh, a 72-year-old football expert who used to work as a senior consultant for top-flight V-League club Hoang Anh Gia Lai, said in a recent interview with Phap Luat TPHCM (Ho Chi Minh City Law) newspaper that VFF officials act as if they were the owner and trainer of the U-19 players.
The U-19 squad is composed mostly of players from the first batch of footballers who have completed six out of seven years of training at Hoang Anh Gia Lai – Arsenal JMG Academy, located in the Central Highlands province of Gia Lai.
Doan Nguyen Duc, one of Vietnam’s richest moguls, spent US$4 million on founding the Arsenal-supported football academy in 2007. He then sent scouts across the country to find gifted kids to train at his state-of-the-art facility.
Duc has yet to give any comment on this issue.
Vinh, who served as a senior advisor to Duc’s Hoang Anh Gia Lai club in the past, argued that if national football teams are seen as brothers in a family, the U-19 team members are the youngest brothers and thus cannot replace their elders.
The U-19 team’s participation at the AFF Nutifood U-19 Cup 2014, the Southeast Asian youth championship that concluded earlier this month in Hanoi, was mainly for training to grow up and should not be used to measure the players’ flair to send them to a more senior competition, the seasoned pundit said.
Vinh added that the young team may be ‘exploited’ now by some leaders to find good results for their reports to higher levels in order to keep their positions.
The man said he was ashamed to hear a VFF leader announce that the U-19 team will be sent to the qualifiers of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
A capable leader works out long-term plans for national sports development, not just for a single team, Vinh said.
Many developed countries have dozens of football training places like Hoang Anh Gia Lai – Arsenal JMG Academy, which is still unique in Vietnam.
And these countries usually draw up plans decades before they think of taking part in the World Cup as a genuine competitor, Vinh said.
Duc has used his own money to invest in the academy that has been churning out good players, Vinh noted.
In the meantime, FIFA – the global football governing body – has provided the VFF with much funding to develop Vietnam’s football but the local federation has still failed to present a “competitive product,” he said.
The expert pointed out that in April this year, FIFA announced an $800,000 sponsorship package for Vietnam to build football facilities.
Vinh stressed that the U-19 players have been competing in tournaments merely intended for training, not for turning them into a grown-up team overnight.
The VFF chairman’s intention came after recent strong performances by the U-19 footballers who were the runners up at the AFF Nutifood U-19 Cup 2014 after losing 0-1 to Japan in the finale at My Dinh Stadium on September 13.
The youth team, also featuring some skillful players from other local clubs, played well on several other occasions as well, including the qualifying round of the 2014 AFC U-19 Championship in October last year when they secured crushing wins over Taiwan, Hong Kong, and archrivals Australia.
They excited spectators nationwide as the footballers competed well in friendly matches against under-19 players from Japan, British club Tottenham Hotspur, and Italian side AS Roma in January last year.
Most local fans expressed satisfaction even though the team lost all three games.
Many experts and supporters then highly regarded the team, saying they would make a great full-fledged squad in the near future.