Coach Mai Đức Chung with the women’s national team at a training session before the 2019 SEA Games. Photo tintucvietnam.vn
HÀ NỘI Coach Mai Đức Chung has his eyes on that prize, and that prize is an eventual World Cup berth for today's national U19 women's team.
The head coach of the national women’s football team is looking for the stars of tomorrow that could help him fulfil his World Cup dream, a dream that has twice eluded him.
Chung is unique not just in Việt Nam but is most of the world as he has coached both the national men’s and women’s teams.
He has also coached several clubs in his career, and the 70-year-old has had success at them all.
Chung was unusual in that he only began playing football after graduating university in 1971.
He was a versatile player who played both as a forward and at the back for two teams, Hà Nội Bus and Việt Nam Railway. He made it to the national team in 1980 but hung up his boots in 1983 to become a coach.
He first took charge of the national women’s team in 1997.
Over the next 23 years, he has been in the hot seat in various places but remains the country’s most successful women’s coach with four Southeast Asian (SEA) Games titles -- in 2003, 2005, 2017, and 2019 -- and last year’s AFF Cup.
The 2019 SEA Games triumph was Việt Nam’s sixth, making them the queens of the region after leaving behind powerhouse Thailand on five titles.
The AFF Cup win was Việt Nam’s third, and they won it by beating Thailand 1-0 in the final, ending their three-year title reign.
Under Chung, Việt Nam nearly achieved their World Cup qualification dream twice in 2015 and 2019.
But he is now more hopeful than ever since FIFA opened the door a bit wider for the world's No 35 team by increasing the number of teams at the 2023 event to 32.
He says: “The next World Cup is not too far away. If we can make progress, so can other teams. But I believe that if we can bring into play our strong points, nothing is impossible.”
Coach Mai Đức Chung poses with his fourth SEA Games gold medal in the Philippines last December. Photo vietnam9.net
Chung is not just an outstanding coach; he is a second father to the players who call him “Dad” for what he has done for them.
“He takes care of everything for us from tiny things, our meals, our sleep,” midfielder Trần Thị Hồng Nhung says.
“He understands us and loves us like his daughters. He makes us a united team that fight to win.”
Captain Cù Thị Huỳnh Như says: “He is a caring coach and a good father [to us] too. He knows what we want and often organises parties on important days or on holidays when we are playing far from home. We are a family.”
During his coaching stints with both the women’s and men’s teams, Chung has often taken on tough rebuilding jobs that few would want.
In 2007 he was asked to take charge of the Olympic team after Austrian Alfred Riedl was fired.
With him at the helm, Việt Nam beat stronger Lebanon and Oman in the 2008 Beijing Olympics qualifiers.
A year later he took the U22 men’s team to the Merdeka Cup title in Malaysia for the first-ever time.
In 2015, Japanese coach Norimatsu Takashi was sacked after the senior women’s squad finished fourth in the AFF Cup.
The call went out to Chung as usual. He took charge and took the team all the way to a berth in the final qualification round for the 2016 Rio Olympics.
A year later his team won the SEA Games title.
In 2017, Nguyễn Hữu Thắng resigned after an unexpectedly poor run for the men’s team at the 2017 SEA Games.
Chung understood the size of the challenge but nevertheless agreed to take over the team and led them to two wins in the 2019 Asian Cup qualifiers.
This enabled his successor, South Korean Park Hang-seo, to hit the ground running and take Việt Nam into the Asian Cup quarter-finals.
Chung has also worked with several V.League 1 clubs in the past. Under him, Becamex Bình Dương became the first Vietnamese club to enter the semi-finals of the AFC Cup in 2009, and they won the V.League title in 2016.
Chung received the Labour Order, second class, last year and a Lifetime Achievement award at the Golden Ball ceremony last week. VNS