The Local Game: Out with the old, in with the new

May 11, 2021 - 08:30

There definitely comes a time when age gets the better of every footballer, no matter how much yoga they may do.

Coach Park Hang-seo watches Nguyễn Anh Đức stretch during a recent national team training session. Photo

Peter Cowan

Sir Matt Busby was of the belief that if a footballer is good enough, then they’re old enough to play, and few would dispute that today, not even Alan "you can't win anything with kids" Hansen.

On the other side of the coin though, there definitely comes a time when age gets the better of every footballer, no matter how much yoga they may do.

Try telling that to Nguyễn Anh Đức though.

The 36-year-old came out of retirement in February to sign for V.League 2 side Long An and at that time, many doubted if he could still be a force on the pitch after a disappointing spell with Hoàng Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) in the top tier in 2020.

The ageless wonder shut up all those doubters quickly and has scored all five of his side’s league goals this season, firing them to third in the table.

The striker has even been called up to the national team squad to prepare for the World Cup qualifiers in June, despite having retired from international duty at least twice by my count.

While you have to tip your cap to Anh Đức for managing to revive his career in its twilight, I’m not so sure he should be on the plane to the UAE come late May, which he almost certainly will be, why else have a 36-year-old in the preliminary squad?

Don’t get me wrong, Anh Đức was a great servant to the national team in his day and who could forget that iconic goal to secure the AFF Cup in 2018?

That being said, I’d like to see a little more faith from coach Park Hang-seo in some younger players who can contribute to the team for years to come and not just for one more campaign.

Just a couple of months ago, Park was bemoaning his lack of options up top and it made sense at the time.

Back then, I wrote that all he needed was Becamex Bình Dương forward Nguyễn Tiến Linh, and indeed Linh has had a decent season with six goals and will likely lead the line for his country in June.

However, I was wrong to say Linh was the only real option.

HAGL forwards Nguyễn Văn Toàn and Nguyễn Công Phượng have been sensational this season, with seven and six goals, respectively, to lead their team to the top of the V.League 1 table.

When the 2021 season was in its infancy, I thought Toàn wasn’t clinical enough in front of goal and Phượng too mercurial to be relied on in international football, where chances are like gold dust.

They’ve certainly shut me up with some scintillating attack play and have staked their claim for a place in the starting XI, and if Park is to be truly bold, he could even play Toàn, Phượng and Linh together, though that would be something of a departure for the pragmatic Korean.

It’s not just the HAGL pair though, Phan Văn Đức has returned from injury in sensational form by scoring five times for an otherwise dire Sông Lam Nghệ An team and is another solid option for Park.

The four of them are each at least a decade younger than Anh Đức and are playing at a higher level than him, which again begs the question, why is Anh Đức preparing his passport for the UAE?

I suspect Park has his favourites (as any coach does) and thinks he can rely on Anh Đức when it really matters, and maybe he will chip in with a vital goal in June to put Việt Nam into the third qualifying round.

But the third round isn’t the ultimate goal, winning a place at the 2022 World Cup is.

Việt Nam might not have a better opportunity to reach a World Cup for years, and their best chance is to bet on some young thoroughbreds, not by taking a punt on an old warhorse. VNS