Viet Nam News
Even as striker Nguyễn Công Phượng and latest sensation Lương Xuân Trường hog the limelight, many eyes are on mid-fielder Nguyễn Quang Hải, expecting big things of him in the new season, reports Thanh Hà
The year has witnessed the emergence of many young football players, such as the beloved Nguyễn Công Phượng and latest sensation Lương Xuân Trường, who have been making headlines.
However, it is the talented Nguyễn Quang Hải who has become talk-of-the-town in the 2017 season.
Facing Hải, who plays for defending champions Hà Nội FC, in the fifth round match, former national defender Bùi Văn Long of SHB Đà Nẵng believed he was the player "to watch" after witnessing the 20-year-old’s performance on the field.
Hải, a midfielder, scored a goal in that match and created a number of chances for his teammates, who, however, could not convert any into a goal. The match ended 1-1.
In seven rounds, Hải netted four times. His goals were called "superb" and one of them was voted the best goal of January.
The ‘King of Youth Football’ is now on his way to conquer the league of senior players.
Born to win
Hải began playing football in 2006 at the age of nine at the training centre of Hà Nội FC (formally Hà Nội T&T). Hải trained to be a striker, but he later discovered that a position in the midfield was more suitable for him.
It took him eight years of training and competing in the national U11, U13 and U15 tournaments before he bagged his first title at the U19 tournament in 2014, after finishing second in the U17 event some months earlier. Two years later he was captain of the team which won the U19 event again, and later he joined his older teammates to win the national U21 title in the same year.
At the age of 16, Hải was called up to the senior team of Hà Nội FC in 2013. Three years later, he secured an official berth in the team and triumphed in his debut V.League season in 2016.
He then went on to pocket a silver medal at the National Cup and the Super National Cup 2016.
Hải was voted best player of all the youth tournaments that he participated in and was called up to the national U19 squad, which won a silver at the Hassanal Bolkiah Cup and a silver at the ASEAN championship.
Former U19 national coach Guillaume Graechen said Hải would be the future star of Việt Nam football. The Frenchman said he appreciated his technique, speed and intelligent mind.
The team entered the semi-finals of last year’s Asian championship and subsequently won a berth to compete at the World Cup U20 this May in South Korea.
The footballer has already achieved so much success, which someone so young can only dream about, and has an outstanding background to kickstart his journey at the national premier league. People are even calling him the ’King of Youth Football’.
“Just with his first move, he would make people stare at him. His skill and intelligent game made me believe Hải would be a star for Hà Nội FC and Việt Nam,” Nguyễn Quốc Bình, Hải’s first coach since he was a little boy from Hà Nội’s Đông Anh District, said.
“People also love to see his magical left foot, but as the man behind him, I love his hard work and curious mind,” Bình said.
“Hải has always secured an official berth in every team, but he has never stopped training to become even better. Even while celebrating a win, he will still review his performance to find ways to become more effective. It is the reason why he is so strong.”
Road to V.League
Seeing his performance, coach Hoàng Anh Tuấn had no option but to include Hải on his list of players participating at the 2016 Asian U19 Football Championship last October in Bahrain.
Hải had already played outstandingly with Hà Nội’s youth team in the First Division league in 2015. His team won the tournament title and he scored four goals and ranked third on the best scorer list.
These were two key criteria on which he was chosen to play at the V.League.
“Hải is a quality player and I believe he would be a great footballer for Việt Nam later on,” coach Phan Thanh Hùng, who picked Hải for the first team when he was in charge in 2013, said.
Hải played his first V.League match last March.
“Eight years of training and competing at Hà Nội FC, I kept thinking of the moment when I am sent on to the field. Things happened faster than I expected and I am really happy to be playing with my seniors,” Hải, who is only 1.64m, said.
Although he is young, Hải is aware of how hard it is to secure a berth in such a big team like Hà Nội. But he also knows that the doors are wide open to all good players, including young ones like him.
In the last two years of the V.League, many players aged 18-19 have started playing for the main squad of their clubs.
“I can call myself lucky because I got a chance to replace somebody who was injured and could not play. But believe me, just try your best and you will get the opportunity. Remember to take full advantage of your opportunities."
“Each coach has his own way of determining a team’s composition and choosing players. I understand that I must sharpen my skills everyday to become even better. If I can continuously challenge myself, it means I am successful,” he said.
However, V.League is never easy for anyone, including the young man.
“Kick Hải out immediately!”
These were words Hải heard from the stands during a match between Hà Nội and Hải Phòng last year.
His team won 2-1, but it was the worst game of his career, marking his fourth month of being goalless.
Hải Phòng were at their peak at that time and their defence was so perfect that despite his best efforts, the 19-year-old could not score.
However, coach Chu Đình Nghiêm kept his faith in the young player. Heavy pressure from detractors did not change his mind. He maintained his belief in Hải and gave him space to develop.
Two month after that poor performance, Hải presented Nghiêm and his teammates a double against defending champions Becamex Bình Dương. Both were "world class" goals according to coach Hùng.
During his first V.League season, Hải played in 25 of 26 games and scored three goals. He also participated in the National Cup tournament.
It was not much but enough for a newcomer, who is considered a younger version of four-time Golden Ball winner Phạm Thành Lương -- his teammate and idol.
Both may be small in size but are masters in skill and creativity.
The 2017 season kicked off in January and Hải scored two goals in the opening match against Quảng Ninh Coal, which was watched by national team head coach Nguyễn Đức Thắng in the stand.
In seven rounds, he netted four times.
“When I was given a chance in 2016, I knew it was a reward for what I have done,” Hải said.
“People say I am still young although talented, but it is not really that. I always make it a point to do my best, while continuously learning from my teammates. They are more experienced than me and will teach me how to overcome pressure,” Hải, also a member of the national U23 team, said.
“Look at my humble career, I have achieved some victories but am not satisfied yet. I tell myself to do my best at all times so that I am able to face more difficult moments in the future,” he said.
This year, apart from the national league, Hải and his U20 team will make their debut at the World Cup.
The team captain said it was a great opportunity for them to gain experience by competing against rivals. — VNS