The 20-year-old midfielder Nguyễn Hai Long is expected to shine in the near future for the national team. Photo laodong.vn
HÀ NỘI — Thanks to some impressive performances for V.League 1 club Quảng Ninh Coal, 20-year-old midfielder Nguyễn Hai Long has been called up for the national U22 team by coach Park Hang-seo.
Long was once released from the youth training centre of Viettel when he was 16 years old but four years on, he's a star for his club and has his sights set on representing his country.
Like a dream
Long was born in 2000 and is one of the youngest players in the top-flight, but he's already made his mark.
The northern province of Quảng Ninh native has been part of his club's senior squad since the beginning of this season.
Coach Phan Thanh Hùng wanted him to learn from his seniors to become more mature, originally as a backup. But then an opportunity opened up when Nguyễn Hải Huy was injured, thrusting Long into the first team.
At just 20 years old and playing at the highest level in the country it would have been easy for Long to wilt in the spotlight, but the midfielder stepped up and played well in the middle of the park.
Intelligent play and sharp passes helped Long catch the eye of the South Korean coach Park.
“Actually, I didn't dare to think that I would start the first season in the senior team, never mind think that I would have a chance to be called up. It's like a dream,” said Long.
“I admit that I have had a little bit of luck, but basically this is still the result of my efforts. If I did not try and show my abilities, I couldn't have been promoted to the senior team. Then among many seniors, he (Hùng) still believes in me. I promise I will have to try more to not to betray Hùng’s trust,” he added.
When asked about his strengths, Long laughed and said: “I think the strengths should be assessed by coaches and seniors. And I only see my weaknesses, which are bodybuilding and fitness. Also because of this weakness, four years ago I was eliminated from Viettel,” said Long who is only 1.68m tall and weighs 62kg.
Talking more about leaving Viettel in 2016, Long remembered: “That day was like any other day, after the training session, my coach called me back, telling me I was a good technician but was too small to pursue football and advised me to return home to get my education. The whole world seemed to collapse before my eyes.”
Returning home, Long did not give up football and decided to join the youth training centre of Quảng Ninh.
Knowing his limitations, Long knew he had to outwork his peers.
“If my teammates trained once, I do it twice, if they do two, I do four. After finishing training, I often stay to practice more. I want to prove that people with a small body can still play football,” he said.
Thanks to hard training, Long made rapid progress, becoming one of the most promising players at the club.
Recognising the talent of the young footballer, coach Hùng gave him an opportunity in the senior team.
“Long has special qualities, it is not because of hard training. He plays very smartly. If he is on the right track he will develop well,” said Hùng.
Midfielder Nguyễn Hai Long (right) is a young star of Quảng Ninh Coal. Photo baobinhduong.vn
First times surprised
Recalling the first time he played in the national premier league against Viettel on June 11, Long said that the night before, he could barely sleep because he was nervous, partly because Viettel were his old team.
“I looked forward to playing against Trần Danh Trung, Nhâm Mạnh Dũng, who used to train at the same age as me at Viettel. However, only Dũng played. That match I played quite well,” he said.
Long improved after each match and started making a name for himself, starting with a cool finish for the opening goal in Quảng Ninh's 3-1 win over Quảng Nam on June 24.
Shortly after against Nam Định on July 6, Long gave Quảng Ninh a 2-1 lead with a screamer from well outside the box, the ball careening off the underside of the bar and in for one of the goals of the season so far.
Very quickly, he became a media darling, but the young man understood things could turn around quickly if he didn't keep performing.
"I do not want to receive much praise because after all, I have not done anything outstanding", said Long.
“For me, I still want him to try harder because the way ahead is still long. Of course, I put my faith in him, playing as he did in the last matches was satisfactory. With this player, if he plays more, he will be better", said Hùng.
Long was also summoned by coach Park to the U22 Việt Nam team for a short-term gathering in early July.
“This focus is a gathering for Park to check the player's abilities, I believe everyone wants to score. Regardless of what Park judges, I am still happy because I have had a great experience. That is what motivates me to continue moving ahead, where the road is still long,” Long said.
When he was named in the U22 Việt Nam squad in early July, the first person he shared his happiness with was his father, but his reaction surprised him.
“I called my dad to show my joy with an excited voice. After listening, he only said exactly one sentence. 'Good, but don't think you're good, everything is just beginning'. I understand my dad wants me to keep my feet on the ground, some good matches and even going up to the U22 team hasn't proven anything,” said Long.
“My father is like that, although he did not study much, he always looked at things very carefully. He is also my supporter when I want to pursue a football career. When I was 11 years old, my father took me for a trial at Viettel. Before I left for Hà Nội to begin my career, my father told me to always play with all my passion, the result does not matter. Those words have followed me until now, urging me to train and play hard.” — VNS