Conquering V.League 1 proves to be tough task for foreign coaches

April 02, 2021 - 18:25

Sacked after just three matches in charge, Japanese coach Masahiro Shimoda is the latest foreign coach to struggle in the V.League 1.

Brazilian/German coach Alexandre Polking (left) of HCM City FC shakes hand with Hoàng Anh Gia Lai's Thai coach Kiatisuk Senamuang. Photo


HÀ NỘI — Sacked after just three matches in charge, Japanese coach Masahiro Shimoda is the latest foreign coach to struggle in the V.League 1.

Shimoda took over the reins at Sài Gòn FC in late February with an impressive CV. He was technical director of the Japan Football Association for years after holding key positions at strong Japanese clubs.

The 54-year-old, who can speak English, Portuguese and Spanish, played an important role in Japan's success at the 2011 Asian Cup, the Asian U23 Championship 2016, the Asian U19 Championship 2016 and the Olympic semi-finals in 2012.

However, his good CV didn't do him much good in Việt Nam. In his three matches, Sài Gòn did not score a single goal and conceded five to slump to 11th in the table a year after finishing third.

Neighbouring HCM City FC have been a little more patient with coach Alexandre 'Mano' Polking.

The Brazilian/German's side are worse off than Sài Gòn, having lost four out of six matches, despite pre-season expectations of a title challenge.

Polking has put former MLS midfielder Lee Nguyễn at the core of the team and has three Brazilian forwards, but City have only scored three goals while conceding nine.

In a recent press conference, Polking said losing two matches by three goals to nil was unacceptable for strong HCM City and that his future was up to the club's management who hired him three months ago.

He said if they are really patient, he would create a long-term programme to help HCM City get better.

Polking said he has never been in such a bad situation and is suffering high pressure to complete City's dream of an AFC Cup berth next season.

At Thanh Hóa, European Cup-winning coach Ljupko Petrovic is struggling to lift his team from the relegation zone.

"We played pretty well in the first three matches conceding only one goal. But it is not the same in recent weeks. Three defeats in a row made the players down. We are sad and will have to lift players' spirit up and prepare for coming games," said the Serbian.

Thanh Hóa are rooted to the bottom of the table and avoiding the drop is now Petrovic's main goal.

Culture and language barriers

Ljupko Petrovi of Thanh Hóa suffers three losses in a row in the V.League 1. Photo

In more than 20 years of history, nearly 50 froeign coaches have worked in Việt Nam, but only two have won the league. 

Thai coach Arjhan Somgamsak lifted the trophy with Hoang Anh Gia Lai in 2003 and 2004 and Portuguese Henrique Calisto with Đồng Tâm Long An (now Long An FC) in 2005 and 2006.

After them, no foreigner has won a title at club level and none have extended their contract to a second year. Since 2010, there have been 23 foreign coaches but 16 of them didn't even finish their first season.

Among them, former Việt Nam national team coach Alfred Riedl of Austria took charge of Khánh Hòa for four months in 2001. He also coached Hải Phòng but only lasted three matches in 2008.

Brazilian Edson Tavares had to leave Ninh Bình just four weeks in charge in 2009, while in 2011, Đồng Tâm Long An fired Argentinean Marcelo Javier Zuleta before the season had even started despite his good results in friendly matches.

That year also saw a record for the V.League 1 as Đồng Tâm Long An signed contracts with four different foreign coaches. 

Brazilian Marco Barbosa came in and stayed with the team for seven weeks before he was replaced by Scotsman Simon McMenemy who was in charge in three months. Ranko Buketa of Croatia came in and left six months later.

Petrovic and Chung Hae-soung of HCM City nearly ended the title drought for foreigners in 2017 and 2019, respectively, but they fell just short and finished second.

All foreign coaches come to Việt Nam with certificates and experiences but differences in culture and language often hamstring them.

Last season, Italian coach Fabio Lopez was sacked by Thanh Hóa after just five matches.

The club refused to pay out the rest of his contract, and Lopez later won a FIFA arbitration ruling, forcing the club to pay him up to US$200,000.

Football pundit Đoàn Minh Xương felt sorry for Shimoda saying that the Japanese did not have enough time to make his mark with Sài Gòn.

"When coming to Sài Gòn he wanted to build a beautiful and effective style to match with the Sài Gòn managers’ philosophy. It would take time under any agenda," said Xương. 

"It is regrettable that Shimoda was given not enough time to understand Vietnamese football and know the team," said Xương.

He added that all foreign coaches bring different characteristics to Việt Nam and have their own visions to bring clubs to success. But as outsiders, they need strong support from the whole club.

According to pundit Nguyễn Quang Huy, coaches' slow adaption and unsuitable tactics cause their poor performance.

"It is difficult for foreign coaches to be successful in Việt Nam. Because the V.League 1 has quality local trainers who clearly know the realities of national football, speak Vietnamese and have international certificates too. They are also close with players, and most importantly, they are respected by players," said Huy.

"Foreigners can not have such advantages. If they want to get good results, they must be very different in coaching level and need 100 per cent of managers’ support."

Masahiro Shimoda is the first foreign coach fired this V.League 1 season. He loses his job after more than one month since first day. Photo

Former Việt Nam women's football team Steve Darby suggested using local assistants was a smart choice.

The Englishman, who also worked for clubs in Malaysia and Singapore, said assistants would help the coach become more familiar with the local culture and style of players. 

He said foreign coaches did not accept others interfering in their profession which is one reason they could not keep their job long in ASEAN or the V.League 2.

Kiatisak Senamuang of Hoàng Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) is the only exceptional foreign coach this season.

The former Thai international has led the former national champions to top of the table for the first time in five years.

It is believed that the Thai 'Zico' is flying high because he has good players and more importantly he understands his players and Vietnamese football thanks to his years playing and coaching HAGL in the past.

Pundit Huy said the V.League 1 needs foreign coaches who bring freshness with new ideas to supplement the weaknesses of local players and coaches. VNS