By Vũ Thu Hà and Paul Kennedy
The race for the V.League 1 championship is wide open – with a number of teams capable of lifting the trophy at the end of the season.
That’s the verdict of Vietnamese footballing legend Nguyễn Hồng Sơn who predicts while current champions Hà Nội FC will be there or thereabouts, they won’t have things all their own way this time around.
“I think this year's V.League will be very tough,” insisted Sơn who won the title twice with Thể Công (Army team) in 1990 and 98.
“Hà Nội FC will need to work really hard to protect their title.”
Sơn believes his old team, which is now called Viettel, even has an outside chance of winning the league, despite being relative newcomers.
BACK IN THE DAY: Nguyễn Hồng Sơn believes if he was 20 or 30 years younger, he could still compete in today's V.League. File photo
Speaking exclusively to Việt Nam News, Sơn said: “Teams will be relatively well prepared for this year’s V.League.
“Thanks to the time off due to COVID-19 epidemic, clubs have longer breaks so that they are more prepared in terms of key issues like personnel, domestic players or foreign players. We have seen fierce competitions between clubs.
“In fact, it is still the clubs that are rich in traditions and experience, especially those possessing inner strength, plus foreign players, will be highly capable of being the champions.
“Hà Nội FC is also a candidate, or Hồ Chí Minh City FC, Bình Dương FC or even newbies like Viettel are also question marks making the race more intense.”
Sơn thinks the last decade has been pivotal for the progression of Vietnamese football as teams catch up to the west in terms of technology, fitness and diet.
He says this is evident in the performance of the national team.
“We can say that in the past 10 years our national championship has flourished and progressed the most, approaching modern football,” he said.
“In terms of organisation, the Việt Nam Football Federation, sports departments and clubs all have become very professional. They have held intensive training for coaches.
“Big football centres, big clubs have centres to train young players. I think it is this sequence of activities that help clubs become more professional.
“That's why for the past 10 years our national championship has levelled up. So have the players, from salaries, manners and expertise. The clearest examples are great achievements that our national and U23 teams have gained in 2018 and 2019 in Asia.”
ICON: Nguyễn Hồng Sơn speaks to Việt Nam News reporter Thu Hà. VNS Photo Paul Kennedy
Once again this year, there will be a number of overseas players plying their trade on Vietnamese soil. Sơn says these footballers help not only improve standards but also lift performances of local players.
“I think foreign players are still the key factors of the V.League as well as teams,” he added.
“According to estimates for the last season, the goal-scoring ability of foreign players is almost 80-90 per cent in clubs such as Viettel, Thanh Hóa, Bình Dương or Quảng Ninh.
“Especially, foreign centre-backs are the type of players who can really do all the hard work winning possession.
“Hà Nội FC is an exception because they have equally strong domestic players so the sharing of goals is evener.”
In October, Sơn who lives in Hà Nội, will celebrate his 50th birthday.
Still fit and active and working as a freelance coach, he will watch the season develop and the race for title unfold with interest.
Time may have caught up with this living legend who was crowned the best player in Asia in August, 1998, but he feels if he could turn back the clock, the players on the pitch today would have a real run for their money.
“I am confident that if I was 20 or 30 years younger, I would be successful like the young players of today.” VNS