|Moving up: Nguyen Thai Sung(right) competes in a match in Qatar. He has become the first Vietnamese youngster to complete a three-year scholarship at Qatar's Aspire Academy for Sports Excellence. — Photo courtesy of Nguyen Thai Sung
Football Dreams, a project that nurtures and develops young footballing talents, is in its fifth year in Viet Nam, organised by Qatar's Aspire Academy and the Viet Nam Football Federation.
The unique scouting project is aimed at identifying future talents in world football. Since its 2007 launch, Football Dreams has held trials for over 700,000 young footballers from Asia, South America and Africa.
The first Vietnamese youngster to complete a three-year scholarship at Qatar's Aspire Academy for Sports Excellence has already played for the U17 team and stepped up to V-League reserve. And he is only 18. Hoai Nam
reports Nguyen Thai Sung, 18, has become the first Vietnamese youngster to complete a three-year scholarship at Qatar's Aspire Academy for Sports Excellence.
Sung, who was a member of SHB Da Nang's U17 team, is the newest member of the reserve squad for the same club who will be competing in the V-League next year.
The Da Nang-born player passed a tough training course at the Doha-based Academy with other aspiring footballers, and has his eye on a future bright in Viet Nam.
In 2009, Sung passed the preliminary selection of around 60,000 boys aged between 13-14 from across the country, and a global qualification round to win the three-year scholarship in Qatar.
He was also the only trainee from Southeast Asia to survive the tough three-year training regime.
"There was fierce competition at the centre with a combination of skill and power on show. I trained for three hours every day," Sung said.
"The course offered me the chance to work with international coaches, players and teams. We played friendly tournaments in Europe against the likes of the Bayern Munich, Juventus, Manchester United and Porto youth teams. We even tested our fitness and power by playing three matches in a single day," he recalled.
The 1.69m midfielder also had the opportunity to experience different styles of the game through his peers from Europe, Asia, South America and Africa.
He explained how tough it was to be named on the starting team sheet.
"I had to compete against taller and stronger youngsters from Europe, Africa and South America during qualifying. My skills were comparable, but power was my Achilles' heel," he said, adding that language was also a difficulty during his first year in Qatar.
Living in the coastal city, sandy beaches were his playground, and Sung was a star of beach football when he was only nine years old. This inspired him to dream that one day, he would become a professional footballer.
Sung was recruited by Da Nang's U11 team before progressing to the U13s as part of a professional training programme at Tuyen Son Sports Complex.
He qualified for the Football Dreams programme organised by Qatar's Aspire Academy two years later when he was playing for the U17s, and broke into the senior team as soon as he finished the three-year course. "He is an extraordinary. Other players have to work their way through the youth system before they can make the step up to the V-League. However, Sung's skills and talent are already good enough for him to be playing in the top flight," said U17 team coach Vo Phuoc.
"I hope the experience and skills he gained during his time in Qatar benefit the team," he said.
The coach, who has trained Sung since his U11 days, added that his protege was fast with a good footballing brain.
"He will make a top playmaker some day, and is already something of a midfield maestro."
The left-footed youngster played out on the wing and behind the strikers while training in Doha.
"All the trainees at the academy had to play in at least two positions. I often passed skills tests, but I had trouble with my power. However, I have a long way to go and I hope to improve my power and fitness," Sung said.
"We are honoured that our son has had the chance to develop his game. We support him all the way not only for Da Nang, but hopefully for the national team someday," said Sung's father, Nguyen Thai Son.
Sung has recently undergone surgery to remove a tumour from his right foot, but he should be ready to begin training next week with SHB Da Nang in preparation for the new V-League season that kicks off in February.
"I will try my best to break into the first team and make my V-League debut next year," Sung said.
He said his favourite team is Manchester United, but his idol is Lionel Messi.
"I hope to see him on the pitch one day. He also plays with his left foot, but I've got a very long way to go if I want to be a star like him. I will have to play my socks off for SHB Da Nang first," he added. — VNS