South Korean coach Park Hang-seo has led three different Vietnamese teams to success throughout 2018, but few may know that behind this ‘wizard’ of Vietnam’s football is a hero who always keeps quiet about what he does for the development of the country’s most popular sport.
As Vietnamese football lovers flocked to the streets to celebrate their country’s victory over Malaysia in the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Championship final on Saturday night, they did not forget to say thank you to Doan Nguyen Duc, a business tycoon who has a strong desire and will to put Vietnam’s football on the regional and continental map.
Vietnam had waited ten years since their first AFF Cup to win the second title, which is personally the third achievement of Park Han-seo since he took the Vietnam job last year.
The 59-year-old South Korean led the young Golden Stars to the final of the under-23 Asian Cup in January and the semi-finals of the Asian Games tournament in August.
The Asian Games men’s football was a playground for under-23 footballers, with each team allowed to have three overage players.
And it was Doan Nguyen Duc, who runs multifaceted colongmerate Hoang Anh Gia Lai and a football academy, who invited Park to work for Vietnam in 2017 and has since covered his salary using his own money rather than the budget allocated by the Vietnam Football Federation (VFF).
The man behind Park’s taking Vietnam job
In August 2017, Vietnam were eliminated after the group stage of the men’s football competition at that year’s Southeast Asian (SEA) Games.
The failure led to the resignation of head coach Nguyen Huu Thang, prompting the VFF to find a new manager for the Golden Stars.
Park was not a prominent candidate, as the federation had been weighing over a Japanese coach and a European manager.
It was Duc who came across Park Hang-seo’s profile and was immediately impressed knowing that the 59-year-old was assistant to Guus Hiddink when the Dutch manager led South Korea to the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup.
Doan Nguyen Duc managed to have Park accept the Vietnam job, and uses his own money to pay the South Korean coach VND800 million (US$34,400) a month.
While few initially believed that Park Hang-seo would be a great choice to lead Vietnam, what he did so far is more than enough to silence any critics.
And needless to say, Duc can be proud that he made the right decision to reach out to Park and persuade him to work in Vietnam.
Shortly after Vietnam lifted their second AFF Cup on Saturday night, local fans took to social media to pay tribute to Doan Nguyen Duc, without whom Park might have not been behind the steering wheel to lead the Vietnamese squads through so many triumps this year.
Vietnam did not lose any of their eight games at the AFF Championship. The Golden Stars are in fact holding a 16-game unbeaten run since December 2016, beating the previous 15-game streak by the 2018 World Cup champions France.
“I want to say thank you to [Doan Nguyen] Duc for a reason I’m sure we all know,” one Facebook user wrote.
“Vietnam – the new Southeast Asian champions: this is a quiet feat of Mr. Duc, who brought coach Park Han-seo to Vietnam,” another post reads.
Doan Nguyen Duc seldom talks about what he does for Vietnam’s football, and never would he take credit for bringing the South Korean ‘wizard’ to the country.
Duc did not even watch last night’s game at the 40,000-seat My Dinh National Stadium in Hanoi, but joined two other football-loving tycoons and friends in a more quiet football-watching gathering in the central city of Da Nang.
The real hero of Vietnam’s football was willing to speak to Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper after Vietnam’s captain Van Quyet lifted the 2018 AFF Cup in Hanoi.
‘I’m only a quiet ferryman’
Duc told Tuoi Tre he was “more than happy” seeing Van Quyet and his teammates celebrating with the trophy after the historic game. “My happiness last night was just like that of any Vietnamese football lovers,” he said.
Asked what he thinks about such statements as ‘had it not been for Duc, Park Hang-seo would have never worked in Vietnam and made the team so popular,’ the 56-year-old mogul, chairman of Hoang Anh Gia Lai Group, simply said, “I don’t think so.”
“People can say what they want,” he said.
Duc underlined that he always considers himself a “quiet ferryman.”
In Vietnam, a ferryman is a metaphor for someone who does good deeds without asking for credit or anything in return.
“I will never say no if I can do something for the development of football for our country,” he added.
In 2007 Duc founded the Hoang Anh Gia Lai – JMG Academy, a football training center that has since trained generations of young Vietnamese talents with support from English Premiership side Arsenal until July last year.
Several footballers trained by this academy have won their way to play for the national team, such as midfielders Nguyen Tuan Anh and Luong Xuan Truong, and strikers Nguyen Cong Phuong and Nguyen Van Toan.
Cong Phuong and Xuan Truong were recruited for Vietnam’s campaign to win their second AFF Cup this year.
However, Phuong did not play in Saturday’s final game, whereas Truong was sent to the pitch when it was only minutes from stoppage time.
Doan Nguyen Duc said he was not upset that few Hoang Anh Gia Lai – JMG Academy members were playing last night.
“There’s nothing to be sad about,” he said.
“Frankly, if many of my players had been there in the final match, would they be able to help Vietnam to win the Cup? We can’t be sure about it.”
Duc said he is proud that his football academy was an impulse for more focused young footballer training efforts across the country.
“That’s my biggest pride,” he said. “And I will always want to be a quiet ferryman who is totally devoted to Vietnam’s football.”
Doan Nguyen Duc said his one and only goal when he founded the football academy is to ‘incubate’ talents for the national teams, rather for his club Hoang Anh Gia Lai FC, which plays in the top-flight V.League 1.
“My club has won all trophies of the V.League 1 so I will exert all my efforts to the national squad,” he explained.
The top Arsenal-trained players – Truong, Phuong, Toan and Anh – had been anticipated to help Vietnam win the first-ever SEA Games gold medal, but their campaign in the 2017 competition in Malaysia only came to a forgettable end.
“It’s a big regret but [these players] and their teammates, who are trained by other football academies in Vietnam, have brought home the even more precious trophy, the AFF Cup,” Duc said.
Duc called those players who won the 2018 AFF Championship the new ‘golden generation’ of Vietnamese football, adding that “the next generation will continue to introduce even more talents that are totally capable of snatching the SEA Games gold medal in the Philippines next year.”
“I strongly believe this as the team will continue to play under the magic of Park Hang-seo,” he said.
Coach Park and his men will start their next big tournament on the Asian football calendar – the 2019 AFC Asian Cup – in the United Arab Emirates next month.
Vietnam share Group D with strong rivals Iran, Iraq and Yemen.
The Golden Stars played at the finals of the continental championships just once since 1975, reaching the quarter-finals as co-hosts in 2007.
According to a report on Tuoi Tre