|Vietnamese fans in the stands with their flag in Saint Petersburg. VNS/VNA Photo|
Perhaps the only thing many Vietnamese people love more than football is their country, so it was no surprise to see the yellow-starred red flag flying at several Euro 2020 matches.
Vietnamese flags featured prominently in the stands of the quarter-final between Spain and Switzerland last week in Saint Petersburg, prompting lots of head-scratching from European viewers as to why a Southeast Asian country was being so strongly represented.
However, for those of us lucky enough to be at least somewhat familiar with Việt Nam, it came as no shock to see members of the diaspora or perhaps Vietnamese tourists putting their country firmly in the limelight.
No doubt those same folks were cheering with pride and passion from their apartments in Moscow, Prague, Budapest and countless other locales as the national team made history a few weeks ago in the UAE.
As great as it was to see their passion for the game and their country, it always strikes me as such a shame we don’t see that same passion at the club level.
Yes, clubs up and down the country do have their own fervent supporters who wouldn’t miss a match for love nor money, but nothing really compares to the national team in terms of the depth and breadth of passion Park Hang-seo’s team inspires.
If you weren’t familiar with football you might think that’s the norm the world over and of course, people care more about their country than club. But it’s just not the case.
England may be marching towards the Euro 2020 final, but I guarantee there are millions of English folks who would rather see their club side lift the abomination that is the Europa Conference League than have football come home.
Putting the fervour the national team inspires down to patriotism alone is a bit of a cop-out for clubs and the Việt Nam Professional Football (VPF) Company.
Indeed it wasn’t even that long ago that the national team was as poorly supported as some club teams, days when a ticket for a home match essentially gave you the freedom of My Dinh Stadium.
So what’s changed? The simple answer is success; the more accurate answer is better organisation, leading to a better on-pitch product.
I’d wager to say coach Park would admit he hasn’t introduced anything revolutionary to Vietnamese football but instead has brought time-tested structures to the team’s play on the pitch and their support off of it.
This is in stark contrast to how the domestic game is run and there are endless examples of poor organisation, from the constant chopping and changing of foreign recruits to how it’s far easier to buy a Manchester United shirt than a Hà Nội FC shirt.
Perversely, Park’s beloved national team training camps could be one of the biggest problems for Vietnamese football this year.
With more World Cup qualifiers coming up in September, the Việt Nam Football Federation (VFF) has arranged for another training camp at the end of August to prepare the team.
To ensure the players are free to join, the VPF is aiming to cram the final fixtures of league play into just 23 days, with clubs playing every three to four days.
Gareth Southgate and the FA could only dream of getting the Premier League to agree to something that will so obviously decimate the quality of play and therefore the quality of the product.
While I understand COVID-19 complicates finishing the season (as it does everything) and the VPF is trying to make the best of a bad situation, as long as the club game is looked at as an afterthought to everything the national team does, it’s going to be hard for clubs to inspire much passion. VNS