|Illustration by Trịnh Lập|
by Nguyễn Mỹ Hà
After the Việt Nam women's football team played Germany last week, the responses of the two coaches were very different: the German coach showed clear anger at the goal scored by Thanh Nhã of Việt Nam. As is his way, Vietnamese coach Mai Đức Chung was calm and gentle when he said, "We're here to learn."
The 72-year-old has led his team on a wild journey that has seen his team gifted VNĐ1 billion in cash and a chi [3.75 grams] of gold for each player from an anonymous company. The women's team have become the golden girls we all love.
Chung has not only been a football coach, but a father and a role model for them, not only teaching them to play ball, but to show dignity.
"Being a coach is like being a teacher, you pass knowledge on to your students," Chung told the Thanh Niên newspaper. "Before they can achieve any accomplishments, they need to become true humans first. I want my students to be kind, loving, caring for each other and be amicable towards one another."
Chung started to work as a coach for the National Women's Football Team in 1997, before the star of the most recent friendly with Germany last week, Thanh Nhã, was even born. The experienced manager has a quiet resolve about him.
"I live quietly, and do not want to be loud or showy," he said.
"But when I take my squad to play a tournament, or assert our team strategy, I'm like a general going into battle, playing hard or soft depending on the situation: being flexible but decisive when needed. I believe I have come this far thanks to my patience and diligence. I will never quit and give up."
The demanding yet gentle coach, Daddy Chung as every member calls him so, has been the strongest driving force to push and lead the women's team forward. He does not hide the secret to his success,
"Back on the ground, you need to forget all your achievements before the game," he said.
This time around, he told his players to forget about SEA Games from this past May, ignore all the flattering compliments, and only focus on the road ahead.
Chung has diligently trained his students to grow in tournament after tournament, building better physical resilience while maintaining a mentally strong self-confidence.
He has turned a shy and fearful team into a strong and fearsome opponent. He has taught them that while there is sometimes a gap between them and their opponents, it is never impossible to cross.
The team celebrate their goals in Chung's style, not overtly loud and with fanfare, but with a calm inner strength.
Resilience has always been key to success in sport, and that's what Chung has been gradually building for his team. His final career reward shall be the World Cup, which the Việt Nam team has been trained for like steel forged in a furnace. The public has been allowed to dream.
Chung will lead his team to play on the world stage, and the team shall carry the spirit of Vietnamese women.
"I always tell them, you are the descendants of the great Dragon and Fairy, as legend has it. They are the great-grandchildren of Sisters Trưng and Lady Triệu, who rode elephants to fight foreign invading enemies in history," he said.
"As you all are Vietnamese women, you need to shine under the red golden-starred flag. Saluting your country's flag is the happiest and most dignified moment of your life. When millions of fellow countrymen and women follow your every move, you can only try your best to return such love. We all must play to deserve their trust and love."
In his long career as a football coach, he led a Becamex Bình Dương to win the V. League in 2015 and the National Cup, and in 2017 temporarily coached the national men's team when it was going through a crisis, until South Korean coach Park Hang Seo started his phenomenal five-year tenure.
Chung is truly a living legend of Vietnamese football. A great man of dignity and values. Now the great old general is ready for his life's biggest battle: showcasing the strength and beauty of Vietnamese women. After all, he is the son of one of them, the woman who inspired him to fall in love with the beautiful game.
We wish him all the best, riding out to the battle hymn of the Trưng Sisters and Lady Triệu. VNS