The Local Game: Still fight in the old dog at Sài Gòn FC
|Đỗ Merlo may be getting on in age, but he still has something to offer Sài Gòn FC. Photo bongdaplus.vn
Not an awful lot has gone right for Sài Gòn FC this season.
Bottom of the table, a truly putrid defensive record and by all accounts swathes of empty seats every time they play at home at Thống Nhất Stadium.
As if that weren’t bad enough, I’ve seen the quality of their coaching questioned by others in the Vietnamese game.
And yet, in professional sport, winning cures everything, at least temporarily.
Sài Gòn scrapped their way to a 3-2 victory against Hà Tĩnh over the weekend and the celebrations afterwards told you just what it meant to the players.
You would have thought they had just won the World Cup instead of a narrow mid-season victory over another V.League 1 minnow, not that I’m begrudging their joy.
It was particularly satisfying to see Đỗ Merlo revel in the victory.
Born Gastón Merlo, the Argentine-Vietnamese striker is far from the peak of his powers at the ripe old age (in footballing terms) of 37.
Back when he led the line for Đà Nẵng from 2009 to 2014 and 2016 to 2019, Merlo was regularly among the league’s top scorers and has the trophy haul to prove it.
Now though, he’s battling to avoid relegation at what could be his last stop in the professional game.
That fall from grace might leave some players putting forward a less than stellar effort, as after all, Merlo has got nothing left to prove in Vietnamese football. But it’s clear as day how much keeping Sài Gòn up means to Merlo.
Hà Tĩnh scored the opening goal on Saturday night via a pretty calamitous own goal from Merlo, who was nearly moved to tears by his error.
Not long later though, he netted to put his side 2-1 ahead and the contrast in emotions couldn’t have been more stark.
This is a man who has won everything there is to win at domestic level in Việt Nam, yet a scrappy goal in a relegation six-pointer looked like it meant everything to the man and his teammates.
So while it’s fair to question the commitment of some of those off the pitch at Sài Gòn FC, there’s no doubting that the playing squad will give it everything they have to stay up.
I still doubt they have enough in the tank to avoid the V.League 2, especially if they keep shiping two goals a game, but for this week at least, Merlo proved there’s still fight in the old dog. VNS