The Local Game: Nguyễn Quang Hải, Việt Nam's most overrated player?

Update: January, 25/2021 - 17:40
Nguyễn Quang Hải in happier times representing Việt Nam. Photo

Peter Cowan

It’s a time for new beginnings in Việt Nam at the moment, with the 13th National Party Congress kicking off, the new V.League 1 season is in its infancy and here at Việt Nam News, we launch our ‘The Local Game’ column.

Alright, some new beginnings are admittedly more important than others, but nonetheless, I’m excited to launch this weekly column about all things local football, from the V.League to the national team and beyond.

The goal (see what I did there?) for this column is to introduce the wonders of the weird, wacky and sometimes mystifying, but always entertaining, world of Vietnamese football to casual fans, and hopefully provide the occasional nugget of insight to the diehards.

Above all though, I’m hoping to have some fun, because at the end of the day that’s what football is about, it’s a game and it’s meant to be fun, which is something I feel it’s easy to lose sight of at the highest levels.

So, with that out of that way onto the meat of this week’s column, a lad who isn’t having an awful lot of fun with his football these days and could perhaps do with a new beginning: Nguyễn Quang Hải.

Cast your mind back to the halcyon days of October 2019, when COVID-19 was but a twinkle in a bat’s eye and the phrase “Zoom meeting” wasn’t in anyone’s vocabulary.

Hải scored the only goal in a World Cup qualifier against Malaysia to put Việt Nam on the way to topping their group with a sumptuous finish in a packed Mỹ Đình Stadium.

It was a moment of magic typical of the diminutive playmaker and after a year when he was named the top player in the V.League 1 on top of success with the national team, one felt he was destined for a move to a higher level of football.

Sadly, it’s mostly been downhill from there and Hai remains on the books of Hà Nội FC.

He flattered to deceive in 2020 and even though he popped up with the occasional moment of magic for his club, it’s fair to say we’ve all been expecting a lot more from a man many dubbed one of the most exciting players in Asia not too long ago.

I watched Hà Nội’s 2-1 defeat to Bình Dương on Saturday and Hải put in a performance that summed up his last year on the pitch.

There was the odd touch of class, a burst of acceleration when you thought something special might be about to happen, and then…nothing. Like an amateur indie band building, building and building towards a climax in a song that is begging for a rip-roaring chorus, before meekly moving on to the next verse.

You see that’s been the thing with Hải lately, he’s not been a bad player by any stretch of the imagination, but the promise for so much more has always been there.

If he truly wants to kick on and play his football at a higher level, he has to dominate week in, week out in the V.League 1, something he simply isn’t doing.

Now, why could that be? The cynical among you may point to the front page headlines he’s made concerning his love life as evidence the 23-year-old may be more interested in scoring off the pitch than on it, but I couldn’t possibly comment.

Others may point to a degree of burnout and ask why in December 2019 was Hải playing in a regional underage tournament when he was the senior team’s star player, but who wouldn’t rather win the SEA Games than qualify for a poxy World Cup?

Perhaps the harsh truth could be that expectations were set far too high for a player who produced some moments of magic for the national and U23 team, but ultimately, when we look back in the cold light of day, they were just moments and not signifiers of the dawning of the age of Quang Hải.

Luckily for Hải, he’s the author of his own story and if he truly wants it, 2021 could be the new beginning he needs. VNS