UP FOR IT: Đỗ Merlo (second left) seen in the match between Nam Định and Hồng Lĩnh Hà Tĩnh earlier in March. Nam Định beat Hồng Lĩnh Hà Tĩnh 2-1. Photo bongda24h.vn
HÀ NỘI - Like a fine Merlot, it seems Đỗ Merlo is getting better with age.
Despite being 35 years of age, the striker has enjoyed a solid start to life at his new V.League 1 club Nam Đinh.
While only two matches were played before the season was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Merlo showed he hasn't lost his touch from his glory days with SHB Đà Nẵng by notching two goals and one assist.
“This season, SHB Đà Nẵng made changes and I no longer played an important role with the team, so I had to find a new place. This is normal for all players. During the past 10 years, Đà Nẵng have given me good things, I have to thank the team for that. And now I have come to Nam Định and I will try my best for them, ” Merlo told On Sports.
Part of Đà Nẵng history
For Nam Định, the Argentine-Vietnamese striker is a newcomer, but Merlo is already part of the history of Đà Nẵng and the V.League 1.
Merlo was one of the most successful players of Đà Nẵng under the guidance of coach Lê Huỳnh Đức. He played 10 seasons with the central city club over two spells, with the first running from 2008 to 2014.
In 2015, he suffered an injury and returned to his native Argentina to recover and play for a local second-tier club.
In 2016, Merlo returned to Việt Nam and Đà Nẵng. In 2018, coach Đức resigned while Merlo had to take another year off due to a heart condition.
When Đức returned to Đà Nẵng, Merlo also came back and played until the end of the 2019 season before Đà Nẵng released him.
Last season last year, Merlo still played 22 matches and scored 11 goals, only four behind the league's top scorers Bruno Cunha Cantanhede and Pape Omar.
Merlo is one of the best strikers in Việt Nam’s professional football history. He has been the V.League 1’s top scorer four times in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2016. He has also won the trifecta of the V.League 1, National Cup and National Super Cup.
The Argentine has scored 131 goals in the league, making him one of the top five goal-getters in V.League 1 history.
Despite having made an indelible mark on the club's history, coming into to 2020 season, Đà Nẵng decided he was no longer part of their future.
LEGEND: Striker Đỗ Merlo when he played for Đà Nẵng. Photo bongdanet.vn
Turning point at age of 35
After learning that Merlo had left Đà Nẵng, Nam Định’s coaching staff quickly got in touch to woo the striker. The signing was a significant coup for the northern side.
“Merlo is a very experienced player in the national premier league. He understands the league very well. We were surprised we could sign him. He is a domestic player. With Merlo we will have many options in terms of foreign players to support him,” said coach Nguyễn Văn Sỹ of Nam Định.
According to Sỹ, Merlo is a true pro in terms of training and taking care of his body, allowing him to quickly adapt to his new environment and new teammates.
Early this year, Merlo helped Nam Định win the Viettel friendly tournament which featured eight V.League 1 team.
“We were lucky to be able to sign Merlo. In the Viettel event, he won the top scorer award with five goals. At that time, we knew he had the ability and the whole team needed to be built around him,” said coach assistant Nguyễn Hồng Phú.
Despite his pedigree, signing Merlo was still a gamble for Nam Định due to his age, but the forward is just as confident as he was in his younger years.
“I am a professional player. So whenever I play, I always want to devote myself. I have played in Việt Nam for many years. Therefore, I understand the good points and weaknesses of the defences. Besides, I have support from my new teammates so I can choose a good position to exploit my opportunities," said Merlo.
In the last two seasons, Nam Định have struggled to find quality foreign strikers. This season, they have Brazilian Rafaelson Bezerra Fernandes and Merlo and the duo has proved formidable already.
Last year, Nam Định finished 11th out of 14 teams. Now, they are 10th place after two matches with three points.
After two difficult seasons flirting with relegation, Nam Định's sights are set higher this season, largely thanks to the wily old pro Merlo. VNS