The Local Game: Chu Đình Nghiêm's overdue departure

April 05, 2021 - 17:52

The Hà Nội FC coach resigned two days ago after a 2-0 defeat to SHB Đà Nẵng on Friday, the latest in a string of poor results this season.


Former Hà Nội FC coach Chu Đình Nghiêm says farewell to his players. Photo Hà Nội FC

Peter Cowan

Knowing when it’s time to walk away is probably the hardest thing anyone in sport has to do.

Sir Alex Ferguson probably left Manchester United at the exact right moment and since the club haven’t mounted a serious title challenge since he left in 2013, history bears that out.

Arsene Wenger, though, undoubtedly hung on too long and his final few years at Arsenal left his otherwise stellar legacy tarnished in the eyes of many fans.

So is Chu Đình Nghiêm more Wenger or Ferguson?

The Hà Nội FC coach resigned two days ago after a 2-0 defeat to SHB Đà Nẵng on Friday, the latest in a string of poor results this season.

While some have speculated he may have actually been sacked, either way, the departure was amicable enough for the club to release a bizarre YouTube video of him saying goodbye to the players, coaching staff and board members. Geovane Magno in particular looked pretty nonplussed at the whole scene.

Nghiêm won all there is to win in domestic football, scooping up three V.League 1 trophies, two National Cups and three National Super Cups, along with a Vietnamese team’s best-ever run in continental competition to the AFC Cup's ASEAN Zonal finals in 2019.

Some of the club’s and indeed national team’s top stars like Nguyễn Quang Hải, Đỗ Hùng Dũng and Đoàn Văn Hậu also got their start at the top level of Vietnamese football under Nghiêm.

All that being said though, his departure feels overdue to me and far more in the Wenger mould than Ferguson.

As harsh as that may be, simply put, the expectations at Hà Nội are different from any other V.League 1 club.

While it may not have been the case when he took over in 2016, now, no other Vietnamese team can boast the star power and resources Hà Nội do.

They finished second last season, something Dũng said would be a “failure” for a club as ambitious as Hà Nội and this season they look even less likely to reclaim the title they last won in 2019.

They remind me an awful lot of Rangers or Celtic in Scotland, clubs where even a single defeat is unacceptable, such is their dominance over the rest of the league financially and in terms of talent.

Aside from poor results in the last two years, their performances have also been far from the top tier.

For me, in the last two years, Nghiêm has struggled to properly mould a collection of outstandingly talented individuals into a functioning team, opting instead to crowbar too many attacking players into the same side at the expense of defensive or midfield structure.

With the talent Hà Nội have, having an unbalanced team doesn’t always matter but as we’ve seen this season, even some of the V.League 1’s lesser lights have figured out how to hurt Nghiêm's side.

There’s a fine line between the confidence a team like Hà Nội should have and arrogance or entitlement. I think we’ve seen some of the latter from Hà Nội in recent weeks, with some unsavoury scenes in Friday’s match in particular testament to that.

To be fair to Nghiêm, he has been quite unlucky with injuries the last two years but even his response to that was poor for me, with the baffling decision to stick defender Nguyễn Thành Chung up front when Hà Nội have been short of forwards.

So what next for the boys in purple?

Former national team head coach Hoàng Văn Phúc is in charge for now, though there have been rumours that Hà Nội are looking outside of the country for the next man in the hot seat.

Whoever it ends up being will need a strong personality and the fortitude to make difficult choices if they are to avoid the pitfalls that have ensnared the men that followed Ferguson and Wenger, because for all his struggles in recent years, Nghiêm’s achievements do leave him one of the greatest coaches in modern Vietnamese history. VNS