|Phan Văn Đức vies for a ball against Muhammad Akram Mahinan of Malaysia in the first leg of the semi-final on December 11. — VNS Photo Hoàng Linh|
HÀ NỘI — Though Phan Văn Đức only received a last-minute call-up to the national U23 side and wasn’t a first choice of his head coach at the start of this year, the striker has proven a key player for a national team on the cusp of silverware in the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Cup this weekend.
Đức has been a star man for the unbeaten team, with two goals and assists in the tournament.
The Nghệ An Province-born striker notched both the assists in the 2-2 draw in the first leg of the final away to Malaysia.
The 22-year-old has had a long journey to where he stands today.
Like many kids, Đức fell in love with football and dreamed of one day playing for the national team.
He was picked for the Yên Thành District team competing in a provincial championship as a skinny youth and was spotted by Sông Lam Nghệ An FC scouts.
Đức then left his small village for Sông Lam Nghệ An’s training centre at the age of 11.
In 2012, he was a member of the club’s U17 team that won the national championship. Four years later he made his first team debut at the age of 20.
Coach Ngô Quang Trường said Đức didn’t have the ideal body for football, but was a special and strong-willed player.
“He won the national U17 title but after that he did not show he could develop. It was partly due to his character, living far from home and puberty, which gives many young players mentality challenges,” said Trường.
“He struggled to integrate with his seniors. He needed more time to show his ability. He grew about six months lower than his peers. Fortunately, everything turned out well in the end.”
Trường said Đức was thin and not very tall but a patient and focused player.
“Some players could be discouraged when they failed in a drill, but not Đức. He would do it again and again until he succeeded. You can see his results through his goals and the way he passed rivals in the ongoing AFF Cup. It was all what he learnt and trained for since he was a teenager,” he said.
“His skinny body was a disadvantage when having to play against bigger rivals but he was really dynamic and active. We always see him in all key situations of a game.”
|From humble beginnings, Phan Văn Đức has become a key player of the Việt Nam national team. — Photo zing.vn|
No pain no gain
In fact, Đức was never a big name for Việt Nam’s youth teams. He failed to make the squad for the Asian U19 championship in 2016 or the U20 World Cup the following year.
However, these set-backs only pushed him onwards.
At club level, Đức cemented his spot in the first team in 2017, scoring four goals in the V.League and another four in the National Cup.
He was then called to the national U21 side to take part in the Thanh Niên (Young People) newspaper international football tournament where he impressed the national team’s technical director Hans-Jurgen Gede.
The German urged national team coach Park Hang-seo to take Đức in his U23 squad to Thailand for the M-150 Cup last November. The Korean agreed, despite not knowing much about the player, having been in the job for only two months.
The striker performed well in Thailand and secured his place in the squad for the Asian U23 Football Championship in China in January.
He made his first start in the quarter-finals against Iraq, scoring one goal and notching one assist, helping Việt Nam secure a semi-final berth.
Đức won over the South Korean coach due to his versatile ability to defend and attack, and his strength with both feet.
"He had a successful tournament in China, building up his image and proving his ability at the Asian Championship. He was a substitute but showed his talent. He is a key player of the team,” said Park.
Việt Nam made history as they lost to Uzbekistan in the final seconds of the extra time of the final, securing the country’s first continental silver medal and becoming heroes in the process.
Sông Lam Nghệ An President Nguyễn Hồng Thanh said Đức was a player with determination and aspiration.
Former coach Nguyễn Thành Vinh agreed and used to say he was a kind of player who could make change and would be key element of the Vietnamese national team.
His prediction has turned out to be true.
Đức is shining at the AFF Cup. He has been always in the first team, replacing beloved Nguyễn Công Phượng and even captain Nguyễn Văn Quyết in the front line. He made local and international headlines for what he has done.
His goal against Cambodia was voted the best of the fifth round in the group phrase and he was presented the man of the match award for his performance in the first leg of the semi-final against the Philippines.
Fox Sport Asia chose him as one of the top five performers of the 2-1 win match and listed him in their best XI after the semis.
Despite all his success and the reported interest of Thai club Nokhon Ratchasima, Đức has stayed humble.
“My performance is pretty good and I will try my best to maintain it. I don’t care about anything else but playing hard for Việt Nam, for my supporters, my friends and family. I play for teammates and for myself,” said Đức.
Đức and his teammates will play Malaysia in the second leg of the final on Saturday in Hà Nội, with a chance to secure the team’s second trophy in the event, and immortality for themselves. — VNS