Striker Nguyễn Xuân Nam is considered a lucky talisman by HCM City and coach Chung Hae-soung. — Photo giaothong.vn
HÀ NỘI — After years of struggling to make his mark in the V.League 1, Nguyễn Xuân Nam has burst onto the scene spectacularly this season for HCM City FC.
But it wasn't long ago that the 26-year-old striker thought about quitting football altogether.
With five goals in his last three matches coming on from the bench, Nam has fired coach Chung Hae-soung's City to the top of the table, right as the league is set to be postponed until April to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.
In the first match of the league season, Nam entered the fray in the 72nd minute and swiftly scored two goals to help HCM City beat Quảng Nam 3-1. In the AFC Cup four days later after coming on in the 61st minute, he scored another brace to help his team defeat Laos Toyota 2-0.
On Sunday, Nam was once again the hero as he scored the only goal of the game deep into added time to ensure City defeated Thanh Hóa, putting his side on top of the table on six points.
The usually reticent South Korean coach Chung felt compelled to praise his player.
“I think that Nam is an excellent player. Three times on the pitch from the bench, he repeatedly scored. He trained very hard, every time he played, he was always focused and very determined,” Chung said at the post-match press conference on Sunday.
Chung also said he had intended to use Nam as a super-sub.
"I told Nam it was not important whether he came on early or late. The most important thing was getting the win for the team,” said Chung.
While on the books of Hà Nội FC at the age of 17, Nam won the top scorer award of the AFF U19 Championship in 2011 in Myanmar with eight goals.
In 2013, he made the capital side's senior squad but played only three matches in the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
In 2015, Nam was sent to Laos to play for SHB Vientiane Club on a loan deal.
Nam didn’t want to go to Laos and would have retired at the age of 21, but couldn't as he would have had to compensate the club, so he had to comply. When he arrived in Laos, he was so depressed he dropped out training and missed the first two matches of the season.
His family and coach encouraged him and before long Nam was training hard and scored in his first match in the Lao Premier League.
When the first half of the season finished, Nam had scored 10 goals, catching the eye of the Laos national team head coach at the time, Englishman Steve Darby, who reportedly wanted him to naturalise to play for Laos, but Nam refused.
After the 2015 season finished, Nam had scored 22 goals, only two behind the top scorer of the Lao league.
Returning to Hà Nội FC in 2016, coach Phan Thanh Hùng named Nam in his squad for the AFC Champions League play-off.
However, following a 3-0 loss against Pohang Steelers of South Korea in the play-off, coach Hùng left Hà Nội before the V.League 1 started.
Nam had to get used to the bench as competition for places up front was fierce. After that, he was sent to Sài Gòn Club on loan for the second half of the 2016 season.
In 2017, Nam sustained ligament injuries to his left and right knee, forcing him to miss all of 2018.
In 2019, Nam joined Phố Hiến to compete in the V.League 2, accepting a low salary to play regularly and take advantage of the superb facilities at the club to treat his injuries.
Nam had a spectacular revival and was the top scorer of the V.League 2 last year with 14 goals.
Impressed by Nam’s performance, HCM City signed him as soon as the 2019 season ended.
“HCM City targeted to take the national premier league title so it was a driving force for me to sharpen my skills. Moreover, HCM City will play in many tournaments so I will have chances to compete. And finally, the two-year contract that HCM City offered had a high financial value,” Nam explained.
“I must say thank you for the trip to Laos in 2015. It helped me continue to follow a football career with more life experience and better skills. The difficulties helped me become more brave and mature," said Nam.
According to Nam, he sometimes felt sorry for himself when his teammates in the AFF U19 Championship 2011 like Quế Ngọc Hải and Đỗ Hùng Dũng had become stars of Vietnamese football.
“It was partly due to my mistakes as I didn’t focus when I was young. But without injuries, maybe my career would have seemed better. However, I tried my best whenever I met problems. After two years of surgery, although my leg is still big on one side, I still try to train and play well," said Nam. — VNS