|Phạm Tuấn Hải of Việt Nam (centre) running a ball away from Afghanistan players during their friendly match in HCM City in June. Hải is at a high peak in Hà Nội FC and the national team. VNA/VNS Photos
With eight goals under his belt this season and more to come, young Phạm Tuấn Hải has proved himself one of the best strikers in V.League 1.
He has won the trust of coach Park Hang-seo to be called to the Việt Nam squad preparing for the year-end AFF Cup.
Although it will be his regional tournament debut, and he has not yet earned a place in the first team, Hải will be a significant threat to any shot-stopper this December.
Hải, 24, was born in Hà Nam Province, and trained at the Hà Nội FC Training Centre since he was nine.
Back then he was naughty and disobedient compared to his other teammates, causing many troubles for his coaches.
Once when he was 14, Hải played truant from the centre and was kicked out. Luckily, coach Nguyễn Trọng Hồng saved him. He guaranteed to help Hải change and improve, so Hải was allowed to continue practising.
The coach's patience for the boy finally brought a sweet result. He became a different person who strongly grew in terms of his state of mind, behaviour, and profession.
|Phạm Tuấn Hải (right) celebrates his goal during a V.League 1 match. Hải is one of the five best scorers in the domestic tournament.
In 2016, Hải, under the jersey of Hà Nội T&T, shone brilliantly at the National U19 Football Championship.
Playing as a striker, Hải scored six goals to be the tournament's top scorer. He also supported the defence while making decisive passes to assist his teammates in attacks.
"I have never been satisfied with myself. I always want to get higher in my career and never give up," said Hải.
"I am a giving-my-best style player, whether in training or competing. Until the last whistle is blown, I keep running and fighting. I believe I will make my teammates more determined if I am enthusiastic about the game."
By 2018, Hải played for Hồng Lĩnh Hà Tĩnh in the V.League 2. In four seasons with the team, the more he played, the better he became, helping Hà Tĩnh's promotion to the V.League 1 in 2020.
His height of 1.72m was not ideal for a striker, but his muscular fitness, high speed and accurate shooting helped him bag a three-year contract with former champion Hà Nội FC in early 2022.
He has not found a regular place in the starting XI of Hà Nội, but his eight winners for the team to date have made him the best goal-scorer at the club and top five in the league.
"I am not surprised by my performance. In the first days with the team, I could not catch up with the pace and did not make it well," said Hải, who can score with both feet.
|Phạm Tuấn Hải (centre) competing in a V.League match between Hà Nội and Hoàng Anh Gia Lai in August. The young player hopes to go abroad to develop his career.
"Pressure is high because Hà Nội is home to many national team members. If I always had my slot in the first team of Hà Tĩnh, I would have to vie hard against stars.
"I must work hard, converting pressure into a strong push to find my position here. But when I became familiar with everything, I played better," he said.
Before shining in Hà Nội, Hải's performance with Hà Tĩnh persuaded coach Park to give him a place in the national team for the first time in August 2021.
Park wanted to improve his team, giving chances to new and young players, and Hải was picked to practise and compete in the 2022 World Cup third-round qualification last January.
Hải did not score, but his performance strengthened Park's belief in him. The South Korean coach affirmed that Hải was fresh air in the team, and he expected more from him.
In his seven international caps, Hải has netted twice, a double in Việt Nam's 2-0 win over Afghanistan in a friendly, where he was man-of-the-match.
"I was thrilled with my first goals for the national team and hope that I can grab more shortly," said Hải, who has earned his place in the first team and gradually overshadowed Park's favourite strikers, Nguyễn Văn Toàn and Nguyễn Công Phượng.
"Việt Nam is currently a good team with quality players. I have no idea if I can make the shortlist for the AFF Cup," said Hải.
"My job now is to play my best to help Hà Nội win the championship -- my first national award -- which will also help me take a berth in the next national tournament. If I am called, it will be my first AFF Cup, and I want it to be a memorable tournament with a title.
|Phạm Tuấn Hải of Việt Nam (second, right) heads to score his first national team goal in a match between Việt Nam and Afghanistan in June. He wants to make AFF Cup shortlist and win the title in his regional championship debut.
Hải likes to progress. Every day, he tries to practise to be better than yesterday. For his further plans, he hopes to have a chance to go play abroad, signing with a foreign club.
"I want to challenge myself and develop my career. Of course, it will depend on different elements, including my qualities and skills. But I hope my goal will come true soon," he said.
And few would doubt this rising star. VNS