The Local Game: Messi’s kindred spirits in Quảng Ninh

September 22, 2021 - 07:45

Players of Than Quảng Ninh find themselves in a horrible situation.


Nguyễn Hải Huy in action for his former team Than Quảng Ninh. Photo

Peter Cowan

One-club men are a dying breed in football and if even Lionel Messi couldn’t finish his career at his beloved Barcelona, what chance did Nguyễn Hải Huy have?

It may not appear like the former Than Quảng Ninh captain has a lot in common with one of the greatest players to ever grace a football pitch, but appearances can be deceiving.

Both stand about five feet and eight inches (1.70m) tall, both had a two-decade love affair with one team, and both had that relationship prematurely severed due to the financial precarity of their clubs.

The similarities end there though, as while I have a modicum of sympathy for what has happened to Messi, I reckon the millions of dollars he’ll earn at Paris Saint Germain will soften the blow of having to leave Barca as they could no longer pay his exorbitant salary.

Huy, on the other hand, has reportedly been selling seafood to make ends meet as Than Quảng Ninh allegedly owe him billions of đồng (VNĐ1 billion is about US$43,000) in unpaid salary and bonuses.

To have your hard work go unpaid is bad enough, having it happen at a club you’ve dedicated the majority of your working life to is even worse, but perhaps the cruellest blow was the tough choice Huy and his teammates were faced with on their way out the door.

According to, when the company set up to run the football club announced the suspension of its operations in late August and began the process of transferring the team back to the provincial authorities, Huy and several other players sought to receive paperwork to liquidate their contracts so they could move on to new clubs.

“However, to get this liquidation paper, the players had to sign a commitment that they would not sue Than Quảng Ninh if the club does not pay the amount owed to them, including wages and salaries,” wrote

It seems many agreed to do so, seemingly willing to give up the chance to recoup what they are owed to put this long-running saga to bed and move on with their careers. Huy was one of them and will play for HCM City FC from next season. 

Lawyer Phạm Văn Huỳnh, who is representing one of the players, told that: “Signing that commitment has no effect. In principle, the players can still sue the team in accordance with the law.”

However the legal wrangling shakes out in the end, and it’s important to note that the dispute will be dealt with under the Civil Code, it’s still a horrible position the Quảng Ninh players found themselves in.

The company that was set up to run the team is said to be on the verge of bankruptcy, so Huy and his teammates had to decide between holding on to diminishing hope of being paid what they are owed, or forgoing the debt for the chance to move on with their short careers.   

Leo Messi would never have to start selling shrimp to make ends meet, nor would he have to work unpaid. A more just global game would ensure someone like Nguyễn Hải Huy doesn’t have to either. VNS