Few coaches in the world have fitted into their adopted land as well as Alfred Riedl has done. Winning the fan's hearts and gaining the players' respect aside, the Austrian is now living with a kidney donated by one of his fans who were willing to help when he was advised by his doctor that he needed a transplant. The 57-year-old did not hide his gratitude when speaking to the local media after the successful operation in April, "Vietnam now is even more a part of me," he smiled.
Across Asia where the development of the game has been gathering apace in recent years, Riedl is by no means the only European coach who has been devoting his footballing expertise to the continent's players. However, he is certainly one of the most charismatic - and one of the most popular..
A little more than six weeks from their opening AFC Asian Cup match against the United Arab Emirates in a tournament which sees Vietnam co-host the event, FIFA.com caught up with the former Austrian striker to talk about his motivation for the job, his love for the country and the team's prospects.
A globe-trotting coach, Riedl has had three stints with Vietnam during which he has developed a strong bond with the country. His first appointment as Vietnam boss came in 1998, which almost yielded instant success as he guided his team to a runners-up spot in that year's Tiger Cup, arguably the most popular tournament in the region. The team continued to progress under Riedl and the 1999 south east Asia (SEA) Games saw them take the silver medal.
Despite losing in the final on both occasions, the second place finishes, the best-ever results in history of the nation, ignited a passion for football and just one year later the semi-professional Vietnamese League came into being.
No place like home
Riedl moved to the Al Salmiya club in Kuwait in 2001 and returned to the Vietnam job in 2003 for a one-year term. He coached Palestine in 2004, but resumed his ties with Vietnam in 2005 and has been there ever since.
"During my three times in charge of the team we have reached four finals in regional competitions, but there are still areas to improve upon as we have not won any of these tournaments." Riedl told FIFA.com. "The major challenge facing us is the attitude of the team. The players need to play with more professionalism."
Possibly Riedl's finest hour in charge of the team came in 2003 when Vietnam defeated 2002 FIFA World Cup™ semi-finalists Korea Republic by a single goal during an Asian Cup qualifier in 2003, a game seen by Riedl as a strong proof for the nation's potential.
"The Vietnamese government has been working hard on football development and the country has made giant strides in recent years. We will continue to move in the right direction as long as we carry on the good work," he continued.
A footballing miracle
When Riedl announced that he needed a kidney transplant earlier this year, over 80 Vietnamese fans offered to go under the knife to save the coach's life. Fortunately, one of the prospective donors was able to provide a compatible kidney and now the 57-year-old is enjoying a new lease of live.
"Everything is fine and I'm happy because I feel completely normal, just like I did 10 years ago," he said. "Although my relationship with the fans has always been perfect, I was really touched when I saw that so many people wanted to help me."
After missing out on glory four different finals, Riedl hopes that Vietnam will soon be challenging for honours at the SEA games or the VFF Cup. "I think our best chance of success will come at this level and I hope that we manage to achieve it, because our supporters deserve it so much.
"Of course, we are co-hosting the Asian Cup and we have Japan and Qatar in our group. On paper these opponents are unquestionable favorites to defeat us, but we will be playing on home soil we will do utmost to win. In short, we will do anything to surprise our rivals and even our own fans!"