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How a starless football club rose to top of Vietnam’s V-League 1

Thursday, October 08, 2020, 15:32 GMT+7
How a starless football club rose to top of Vietnam’s V-League 1
Supporters cheer for Saigon FC in the club’s game against Ho Chi Minh City FC in the V-League 1’s fourth round in Ho Chi Minh City, June 12, 2020. Photo: Dang Hoang / Tuoi Tre News Contributor

Saigon FC, a young football club, have become a phenomenon in Vietnam’s top-flight professional football tournament V-League 1, despite no star players on their team, a new management board, and a new coach. 

Saigon FC were founded as Hanoi FC in 2011 before relocating to Ho Chi Minh City in 2016.

The club finished in fifth place in the 2019 V-League 1 season and have yet to win any title.

Shortly before the start of the 2020 season, Saigon FC’s coach resigned and their chairman was forced to hit the pitch and train while the club scrambled for a new management board.

Despite the shakeup, Saigon FC defeated both 2019 champions Hanoi FC and 2019 runners-up Ho Chi Minh City FC on their home turf and claimed the league’s top position in the first half of this year’s tournament.

The club have suffered only one loss throughout the 13 games in the season’s first half.

Players of Saigon FC (purple) and Hong Linh Ha Tinh FC vie for possession during their match in the sixth round of the 2020 V-League 1 at Thong Nhat Stadium in Ho Chi Minh City, June 24, 2020. Photo: Saigon FC

Players of Saigon FC (purple) and Hong Linh Ha Tinh FC vie for possession during their match in the sixth round of the 2020 V-League 1 at Thong Nhat Stadium in Ho Chi Minh City, June 24, 2020. Photo: Saigon FC

Potential awakened

The new management board chose to retain the existing members of the coaching board as well as the team’s roster after taking over the team, highlighting their faith in their potential.

The club also signed a comprehensive partnership agreement with Japan's FC Tokyo on April 30 to promote cooperation in a football school and overall club management.

A few weeks later, the club announced a new home base – the Thanh Long Sports Center – where the team will live and practice. 

The center will also play home to a newly established academy for youth football training and a system of community football schools.

Capella Group Joint Stock Company is responsible for the nutrition regimen of the club.

The management board has pledged to give the footballers training for future coaching careers if they wish to maintain ties with the club upon retirement.

Leaders of Vietnam's Saigon FC and Japan's FC Tokyo celebrate the signing of their comprehensive partnership agreement. Photo: Dang Hoang / Tuoi Tre

Leaders of Vietnam's Saigon FC and Japan's FC Tokyo celebrate the signing of their comprehensive partnership agreement in April 2020. Photo: Dang Hoang / Tuoi Tre

Cutting one's coat according to their cloth

Saigon FC set a modest target for 2020 of finishing in the top eight out of the league’s 14 participating teams despite having finished off last year’s season in the top five.  

As per V-League 1’s new rules, the teams will be split into two divisions after the first 13 rounds.

Eight leading teams will then compete in a single round-robin system for the championship title while the bottom six will compete to avoid being relegated to V-League 2.

Apart from the title, the winners and runners-up will secure a berth in the AFC Champions League and AFC Cup. The other six teams will walk away from the season with little to show.

Saigon FC’s low target was realistic given the team’s situation, but it wound up being far short of the team’s true capacity for success as highlighted by them securing a berth in the top eight after the ninth round of play.

Saigon FC players and their coaching staff members pose for a photo after their 2-0 win against Hai Phong FC at Lach Tray Stadium in Hai Phong City, Vietnam, July 5, 2020. Photo: Saigon FC

Saigon FC players and their coaching staff members pose for a photo after their 2-0 win against Hai Phong FC at Lach Tray Stadium in Hai Phong City, Vietnam, July 5, 2020. Photo: Saigon FC

Applying technology

Many fans had speculated that Saigon FC would find themselves in rough waters after the resignation of their former coach, but current head coach Vu Tien Thanh has proven the naysayers wrong.

Thanh, who spent 15 years off the pitch pursuing higher education in football business and updating himself on the world's new football training methodology, brought a fresh and comfortable atmosphere to the club when he took over their helm.

He has applied visual-thinking technology with the use of animation football software to bolster the team’s strategic game planning.

His players are also encouraged to offer feedback on each of the team’s strategies and are informed in advance and allowed to directly comment on the training plan created by the coaching board.

Before each match, the coaching staff carefully analyze the opponents and draft a strategy while player responsibilities are openly communicated by the management board.

This modern approach to coaching has helped the team reach their full potential despite having no star players on the line-up. 

Players of Saigon FC wave at supporters after their game against Ho Chi Minh City FC in the V-League 1’s fourth round in Ho Chi Minh City, June 12, 2020. Photo: Dang Hoang / Tuoi Tre Contributor

Players of Saigon FC wave at supporters after their game against Ho Chi Minh City FC in the V-League 1’s fourth round in Ho Chi Minh City, June 12, 2020. Photo: Dang Hoang / Tuoi Tre News Contributor

'We are one' philosophy

The action motto of Saigon FC is 'we are one' – one team and one family.

As a family, all members have a responsibility to build the team together. They show their best and act as one on and off the pitch. 

With this motto, all members of Saigon FC, from the management board to the football team and front office, share the same concerns, sorrows, and joys of everyday life, as well as listening to one another.

The investors also put their trust in both the management and coaching abilities of chairman Vu Tien Thanh. 

In addition, Saigon FC’s philosophy is that 'football is humanity.'

All members of the club engage in several charitable activities and community events to “give away without expecting something in return.”

This motto, philosophy, and the improvement they have made have brought them where they are now.

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