|Midfielder Phan Văn Long is appreciated in Đà Nẵng team and he is expected to be called to the national team. – Photo courtesy of VPF|
HÀ NỘI — In a V.League 1 season full of surprises, Phan Văn Long has been a pleasant one for SHB Đà Nẵng as the midfielder seems to be finally fulfilling his potential.
The former national U19 star has scored four goals in nine matches for the Hòa Xuân Stadium side.
Six years ago, Long was part of the U19 national team in the AFF U19 Football Championship 2014. Earlier, he was named the best player in the National U17 Football Championship.
Long made a big splash with an impressive goal in the semi-final against Myanmar in the 2014 tournament in which Việt Nam were the runners-up. The Quảng Nam province-native was part of the same team as Nguyễn Công Phượng, Lương Xuân Trường and Nguyễn Tuấn Anh.
The U19 coach at the time Guillaume Graechen said of him: "He is the player with the fastest progress in the U19 squad in Việt Nam".
Long was the same age as Phượng, Anh and Trường, who have all gone on to become stars for the national team, while Long is still awaiting his first call-up.
Injuries and growing pains
In 2014, Long was the hero of the U19 team. However, when he returned to Đà Nẵng, he was only a young talent at the club. At that time, coach Lê Huỳnh Đức had leading midfielders like Huỳnh Quốc Anh and Nguyễn Vũ Phong to call upon, leaving little opportunity for the youngster.
Coach Đức commented that Long was a taciturn, quiet and professional player, who was seen as a raw talent who needed time to prove his prowess.
At that time, Long struggled with the burden of fame yet being unable to break into the starting XI at his club.
Injuries also hindered Long’s development. In 2015, he was unable to play at the 28th SEA Games under Japanese coach Toshiya Miura because of a groin injury and three years later, the same injury meant he couldn't play for South Korean coach Park Hang-seo in the AFC U23 Championship.
“Seeing Long shine in the AFF U19 Football Championship 2014, we all thought that he would be an outstanding player. With the way he played, not many Vietnamese players have enough confidence and sophistication to do similar things. He was likely to have a bright future, but a series of problems made him miss out", pundit Vũ Quang Huy recalled.
“No one seemed to mention Long. He had difficulty in integrating with Đà Nẵng. Long is a technical and inspirational player, while the way of playing of Đà Nẵng is quite the opposite. When he played, he did not leave a mark, and this made him unattractive to the national team. Injuries were also a factor that made him slow down", Huy added.
Last season, Long played 25 matches for Đà Nẵng, scoring two goals.
His goal against Thanh Hóa on September 21 helped Đà Nẵng stave off relegation. To celebrate, he took off his shirt and ran to coach Đức.
Last season was an important milestone for Long. He played more games, some as a striker, and coach Đức spent plenty of time honing his talent.
The good form continued this season, and the 24-year-old midfielder is the joint-top Vietnamese scorer in the league alongside Nguyễn Công Phượng of HCM City FC.
Commentator Huy was impressed with Long's performance and has tipped him for the national team thanks to his attacking prowess.
“I am happy with Long's return because he is a big talent. In the past few days, many fans said Long should be called up to the national team. I think this can happen because coach Park will choose new players", said Huy.
“I think Long's performances are being watched by the Vietnamese coaching staff. If he is summoned, it is a worthy reward. He has his own qualities, but he has to work harder to survive in a Vietnamese team of many stars," Huy added.
After the match between Đà Nẵng and Hà Nội FC last weekend, coach Đức praised Long.
“Long's form is very good. He scored goals continuously. He must maintain his fitness,” said Đức.
Đức isn't in the habit of praising his footballers at press conferences, yet this is the second time he's talked up Long, which is perhaps the best sing of how far he's come. — VNS