|Defender Phan Tuấn Tài (right) is seen during the SEA Games 31 match between Việt Nam and Timore Leste in May. Việt Nam won 2-0. Photo of VFF|
Young star Phan Tuấn Tài will have the opportunity to shine in the national premier league after his outstanding performance at the recent 31st Southeast Asian Games and AFC U23 Asian Cup.
Tài played a key role in Việt Nam's second SEA Games title, while he was one of the top assisting players at the continental event.
The defender not only defended and assisted well but also scored the tournament's fastest goal.
His coaches at the 2020 champions Viettel have decided to call him back to compete in V.League 1, although Tài's on-loan contract with the V.League 2 side Đắk Lắk FC is still valid.
Despite being just 21, Tài is believed to have earned his slot in the Viettel's starting lineup from July 2.
"The victories from the SEA Games and the achievement at the Asian Cup are strong pushes for me, and I'm confident that I'll be given a berth in the first team," Tài said.
Born in 2001 in the Central Highlands province of Đắk Lắk, Tài first showed his football talent as a small boy.
The 11-year-old was captain of the provincial team to compete in the national children's football championship, and caught the eyes of the Viettel's scouts, who persuaded his parents to let him practise to be a professional player.
"My teacher tried to convince me to continue academic study because I was a good student. She said I might not catch up with friends and waste my learning if I did not have a good future with football and had to return home," Tài said.
"But I fell in love with the ball so much, and my parents supported me too, so I made my choice and have never regretted it."
|Phan Tuấn Tài (No 5) is seen in the practice in preparation for the AFC U23 Asian Cup. Tài has been highlighted as one of the best players. — Photo of VFF|
Tài made his name in the national U17 and U19 squad. At the age of 21, he is now a member of the U23 side, which recently won the AFF U23 Championship and the SEA Games 31 titles before playing successfully at the AFC U23 Cup, which ended last week.
Tài was not the first choice of either coach Đinh Thế Nam for the regional championship and Park Hang-seo for the SEA Games, but whenever he was on the field, he made things happen.
Tài was added to the AFF event after many Vietnamese players suffered from the COVID-19 and could not compete.
He travelled throughout the night from his home town in Đắk Lắk to HCM City and crossed the border to reach Phnom Penh, Cambodia in time. He assisted striker Trần Bảo Toàn to score the only goal of the final match against Thailand in February.
In the SEA Games three months later, he assisted Nhâm Mạnh Dũng in scoring a winner in the final against Thailand to help Việt Nam win the trophy.
Later, at the Asian Cup, under coach Gong Oh-kyun, he scored a goal 18 seconds after the whistle in the group round match against Thailand, making it the third-fastest goal in the tournament's history.
"I was pleased because it was my first time scoring for the national U23 team. The goal was precious to me," the left winger said.
He also made two assists for his teammates Vũ Tiến Long and Dũng, making him one of the top assisting players along with Takashi Uchino (Japan) and Firas Al Brikan (Saudi Arabia), Diyor Kholmatov (Uzbekistan), and Abdulridha Ogaili (Iraq).
Combining his scoring and assisting ability, the AFC also honoured him as one of six outstanding players of the tournament.
"I have no secret for my passes. I just think that if I can send the ball high over the heads of all the defenders, it will reach my strikers, and they will complete the task," said Tài, who was a valedictorian of the Hà Nội University of Physical Education and Sports in 2020.
"I spend much time practising these skills after each training day. I believe that the more I work, the better I can play."
|Phan Tuấn Tài (right) vies for a ball against a UAE player during their friendly match on May 28, ahead of the AFC U23 Asian Cup. — Photo of VFF|
Tài said he grew stronger after each tournament and hoped the experience from these events would be helpful for the V.League 1 competition.
"I feel more confident match by match after these regional and continental events. But I personally don't allow myself to rest on the laurels but must work harder," he said. "I hope I can prove my ability to win a regular berth in Viettel's starting team first, and then I can contribute more to the national teams." VNS