|Nguyễn Văn Toản (middle) trains with his teammates in Dubai, the UAE, to prepare for the coming 2022 World Cup qualifying matches. VNA/VNS Photo Hoàng Linh
HÀ NỘI — Hundreds of thousands of people rushed to the streets with flowers, flags and pictures to celebrate Việt Nam's Asian U23 Championship second-place finish in 2018.
Nguyễn Văn Toản took big pieces of aluminium from his workshop to bang in celebration and joined the throng of supporters driving around Hải Phòng City.
Toản was happy and proud of the team's achievement but also a little sad when he thought that he could have been on the pitch in China if he hadn't made a mistake.
|Nguyễn Văn Toản secures No 1 goalkeeper position at Hải Phòng in the 2019 season. Photo zing.vn
Toản's dream of being a football player came true when he was 16 in 2015 when his parents agreed to let him train at the Hải Phòng FC Training Centre.
His good physique and height along with his talent as a goalkeeper meant he was pushed into the senior team to compete in the V.League 1 before he made a huge mistake in 2016 by not taking training seriously and spending too much time playing video games.
"I broke the centre's rules and was suspended and sent back to the junior team. I thought it was over and there was no more chance for me, then I left the club to return home," said Toản.
The young man went home to Thủy Nguyên District in Hải Phòng City and asked to work at a nearby aluminium glass workshop.
"I had to work to support my family. I was doing a new job but I still dreamed of playing football and wished for the day I would return to action," said Toản who had to play in amateur tournaments to get his football fix.
Months after the day he celebrated the U22s' success, Toản received a phone call that turned his life around.
"It was coach Nguyễn Đức Cảnh. He called and talked with me and encouraged me to return to the club and train for the V.League 1," he recalled.
"Back in football, it was nothing short of my dream. My parents and friends also pushed me, and then I decided to start over."
Trần Mạnh Hùng, president of Hải Phòng at that time, was persuaded to sign Toản for the second time.
"He was one of Hải Phòng's Training Centre’s 'products' but after his suspension, I no longer thought about him. Cảnh came to see me and asked for a second chance for Toản.
"I said 'No' at first because I didn't think that he could change his manners and play well after a long time of rest. But Cảnh promised to make Toản among the top goalkeepers of Việt Nam, otherwise, he would receive a heavy fine," said Hùng.
Three months later, Hùng proudly talked with reporters about his talented goalie.
"Look at our amazing young custodian. He is really good, a promising one: 1.86m tall, good agility and fast reflexes. He is brave and has an iron mind. I have recommended him to Park Hang-seo and believe that he will be picked in the near future," the president said.
|Nguyễn Văn Toản catches a ball during a V.League 1 match. His outstanding performance brings him a berth in the national team. Photo phapluatplus.vn
Coach Cảnh, who was with Toản since his first day at Hải Phòng, really understood his player and believed in him.
In January 2019, when Hải Phòng's No 1 keeper Đặng Văn Lâm left for the Thai League 1's Muangthong United, a crisis hit the club as they only had two goalkeepers.
"He (Toản) was suspended not because of breaking the law or being a bad man. He was a game addicted boy and neglected training. I told Hùng that if we had to find one more goalkeeper, it'd be better to call him back because he was a good one and in my opinion, he even had better abilities than Lâm," said Cảnh.
"I also had to promise to the team's managers that I would take care of him in terms of his profession, lifestyle and ethics."
Training under Cảnh, who is also a member of the national team's coaching staff, Toản quickly grew up and became the No 1 shot-stopper for the club in the 2019 season.
Head coach Trương Việt Hoàng at that time also put trust in him and encouraged: “No worries. The goalmouth is your home. Protect home! Time to shine in your way!"
Toản is the king in the box area with outstanding distribution skills that help Hải Phòng start attacks and was a more than adequate replacement for Lâm.
He has learnt a big lesson from the suspension early in his career.
"It was my youthful mistake when I spent much time playing while training ineffectively. I really regret it," said Toản.
"It is impossible, but if I could change the past I would not make such a stupid mistake. I am now trying to perfect myself. I am big enough and know how to behave and lead my life well."
|Nguyễn Văn Toản expects to be named in the starting line-up of Việt Nam in World Cup matches. VNS Photo Hoàng Limh
Toản was first selected for the U23 team in March 2019 to take part in the 2020 Asian U23 Football Championship qualifiers and then the finals. Three months later, he joined the senior squad to compete and win a silver at the King’s Cup in Thailand.
After splitting the group stage matches with rival Bùi Tiến Dũng, Toản took the starting position for the semi-final and final of the 30th SEA Games later that year.
He conceded early goals in matches against Laos and Thailand in the group stages but came back strongly to notch clean sheets in the semi and the final, helping Việt Nam win the trophy for the first time.
"Goalkeepers are also a human, I can make mistakes sometimes. I played well in these matches and was below expectations in some others. I luckily received help from senior teammates and enthusiastic coaches. They shared experiences and tips for me so that I can go far," said Toản.
The national team will vie for a berth in the final 2022 World Cup qualifying stage next week and Toản is one of 29 members trying to make history in the UAE.
With Đặng Văn Lâm unavailable due to being a COVID-19 close contact, the 21-year-old gave his chances of starting a boost when he saved a penalty in a friendly match between Việt Nam and Jordan which finished 1-1 on Monday.
"I think that I have made a big step in my career but still need more effort. I have to maintain my performance and push it to a higher level," he said.
Meanwhile, his coach Cảnh said: "Toản has his passion and determination. He also has ideal shape and talents. I strongly think he can make it." VNS