GOOD COMPANY: Vietnamese Bùi Tấn Trường is picked as one of the four best goalkeepers of Asia at the 2022 World Cup’s second qualifier. Photo of VFF
HÀ NỘI — The life of goalkeeper Bùi Tấn Trường has had more ups and downs than a rollercoaster.
Fame and fortune were quickly followed by a massive dip in form, loss of confidence, and even allegations of match-fixing. He went from national number one to a man out of work. But now his luck has changed once more, and he's back where he belongs, in goal for Việt Nam.
And after going from hero to zero, then back to hero again, he has now earned plaudits for his performances, chosen among the best keepers in the second qualifying round of the 2022 World Cup.
At 35, some might say he is in last chance saloon, but the shot-stopper is fully aware of his responsibilities to repay the faith others have shown in him.
Two years ago he was out of a job. After winning a number of medals during a six-year spell with Becamex Bình Dương FC, the allegations of match-fixing began to circulate. At the end of the 2019 campaign, Trường found himself on the scrapheap, unwanted and unable to find a new club.
Born in 1986, he was a member of the Việt Nam U22 squad which won the Merdeka Cup in 2008 in which he saved a penalty against Malaysia in the final.
Trường made his debut for the national senior team in the 0-0 draw with Syria during the 2011 Asian Cup’s qualifier in 2009.
HIGH HOPES: Goalkeeper Bùi Tấn Trường competes at the Hà Nội vs Hải Phòng match during the V.League 2021 in March. Photo bongda24h.vn
His Bronze Ball statue for the third-best player of 2009 brought him a record deal of VNĐ5 billion (US$270,000 at that time) with Đồng Tháp FC and made him the most expensive goalkeeper of the V.League in 2010.
Two years later, he broke the record he set with a VNĐ9 billion ($432,000 at that time) move to Xuân Thành Sài Gòn.
Trường signed with Bình Dương in 2013 and in six years he won two national championship titles, two National Cup and two Super Cup trophies.
Together with titles, he also made some terrible mistakes that strongly affected the results of the national team at the 25th SEA Games’ final in 2009, AFF Cup’s semi-finals in 2010 and 2015 Asian Cup qualifier in 2013, and for his club at the 2019 AFC Cup when Bình Dương lost to Ceres Negros of the Philippines.
Although he was never found guilty of match-fixing, rumours surrounded the goalie like a bad smell and he lost his place with the national team.
After spending time in the wilderness, Trường was left wondering if his chance would ever come again. He would even play football on the streets of his hometown of Lai Vung District in Đồng Tháp Province. Then a phone call changed everything.
“I watched goalkeeper Nguyễn Minh Nhựt flying to save his goal in a match between Hải Phòng and Đồng Tháp in May 2020. I told myself if he, the same age as me, could still do a good job, why couldn’t I?" Trường recalled.
“I missed the feel and smell of my gloves, of the grass, and the atmosphere of matches.”
It was just two days before the deadline for the local transfer market when Trường received a call from Hà Nội’s goalkeeper coach Trần Tiến Anh who invited him to the capital.
He said: “Hà Nội needed a substitute for their No 1 keeper after one of their goalies was injured. After a day of thinking, I agreed and flew to the capital to sign with a firm belief that I would be No 2 only because the current one Nguyễn Văn Công is at his peak.”
His performance impressed coaches who did not hesitate to push him into the first team.
Trường helped the team win the Super Cup, the National Cup and finish second in the 2020 league season.
Trường was the oldest keeper of the V.League 1 but he proved that age was only a number. He won the coaching board’s belief and received an offer to extend his contract to 2022.
"Things changed in just five months," he added. "It is unbelievable and I could never think about it. How can anyone imagine that a rich and ambitious team like Hà Nội would choose me, a retired keeper?
“When agreeing to deal with Hà Nội, I wanted to try a new environment and work hard to integrate with a new team. Everything is better than I could have imagined. I am free in mind and received strong support. I feel like the football team is like my family.
“I hope to have a chance to lift the V.League 1 trophy with Hà Nội in 2022. If it happens, it would be great for me and the team.”
ONE AND ONLY: Goalie Bùi Tấn Trường will remain in goal for the rest of the matches at the 2022 World Cup qualification stage. Photo zing.vn
His performances with Hà Nội were watched by the national head coach Park Hang-seo who decided to give the 1.90m player, who has a strong physique and good ability with the ball at his feet, a chance in his team to compete at the 2022 World Cup qualifiers.
The door was wide open for him to take the place in the team after the pandemic restricted other keepers chosen for the squad.
Trường did not waste his chance in the three last matches of the second qualification round.
“I was really nervous because people insulted me a lot because of my mistakes in the past," he admitted.
"But coach Park told me to leave the past behind because it would not help me at all. At present and in the future, I will contribute all my best efforts to the national team,” he recalled.
“The more I played the better I became. And I gradually won over the hearts of the staff. It is great to (again) step onto the field with the national flag on my chest and see supporters cheering on in the stands,” said Trường.
Trường will continue to take charge of the No 1 keeper position at the next matches of the World Cup’s third qualification after Đặng Văn Lâm suffered a shoulder injury.
“Back to the national team at 35, I have to work really hard to complete all the heavy exercises. In football, talent will be recognised but if you don’t try hard, chances will never come,” said Trường.
“My youth was stuck with so many mistakes including stupid ones that I sometimes don’t understand why I did them. But everyone makes mistakes because that's the way life is. Fortunately, I am lucky to receive a second chance, to play football and to win people’s hearts all over again.” VNS