by Tien Thanh
HCM CITY (VNS)— The comprehensive failure of the national football team at the Southeast Asian football championship – the AFF Suzuki Cup 2012 – has provoked calls for a thorough overhauling of the system to arrest Viet Nam's decline over the last five years.
The team put on its worst performance since the inauguration of the biennial football tournament in 1996, losing two matches and managing a draw to be sent home at the group stage itself.
The defeat went against all expectations, because the team had come into the tournament on the back of careful preparation, a run of positive results in friendlies against top teams in the region, and being drawn in a reasonably favourable group.
Phan Thanh Hung, the team's head coach, of course, is the first person who gets blamed for the debacle.
And it is true that Hung did make some tactical mistakes.
But, according to many football experts, it is not fair for Hung to shoulder all the blame for the defeat because other factors were already at play, contributing to the deterioration of football in Viet Nam.
One of the most important factors damaging Vietnamese football is the creation of an unhealthy football environment, especially at the top-flight championships, following victory in the region's most important football tournament in 2008.
After the success at AFF Suzuki Cup 2008, a lot of money was poured into football by businessmen as a way of promoting their brands, or even "allegedly laundering their money", causing transfer fees to skyrocket.
This changed players' attitude towards football as well to their perception of national duty. Some of them would not perform to their strength if they felt that the club paid less than what they deserved.
When players lack passion and commitment to the game, their form is bound to go downhill. Eventually, the national team found itself in trouble, unable to scout for quality players with passion and commitment to the cause, rather than the purse.
On the other hand, Vietnamese clubs rested key players at home for AFC Cup – the federation's second tier club competition.
Youth football is another area that has been exhibiting signs of decline. The nation's U23 teams have been going downhill at Southeast Asia Games, reaching the final in 2009 but finishing outside the medal group in 2011.
Despite this sad state of affairs, no one has taken the responsibility for it, leaving fans and some veteran coaches very unhappy.
"Football leaders must take responsibility for the decline of the game in recent years," fumed Le Thuy Hai, an outspoken veteran coach who has won two V-League titles.
"The Viet Nam Football Federation (VFF) is only completing its job as an organizer of the national football championships, but not fulfilling its role in directing the development of football," he said.
The national team's defeat as well as the financial woes troubling the nation's top-tier championship, the V-League, present the challenge and opportunity for all those concerned to bring about a fresh revolution in Vietnamese football. — VNS