- Vietnam has enjoyed increasing success in recent years
- The nation won the recent regional title and qualified for the 2019 Asian Cup
- VFF President reflects on a two-decade-long foreign coach policy
"Choose the wise man and follow.” That old Vietnamese proverb has proved to be a fairly accurate representation of the country's decision to count on foreign expertise to develop their football.
It is a frequently used policy stretching back several decades that has frequently bore fruit for Vietnamese football. That has never been more the case, however, than in the present day with Korea Republic coach Park Hangseo guiding Vietnam through qualifying and into the AFC Asian Cup. Aside from UAE 2019, their only previous participation (other than as South Vietnam) was as co-hosts 12 years ago.
Vietnam certainly didn’t suffer from stage fright and played with confidence in last week’s opener against Iraq, twice taking the lead only to be edged 3-2 in the last minute by the winners of that 2007 edition. Despite subsequently losing 2-0 to continental big guns IR Iran, they rallied to defeat Yemen by the same scoreline on Wednesday to win through to the knockout stage as one of the third-best teams.
"Mr Park is among the most successful foreigners coaching our national team over these years," Le Khanh Hai, VFF (Vietnam Football Federation) President, told FIFA.com after the closing group game. "Under him the team have played with great determination and gained good achievements."
Foreign coach policy
A unified Vietnam first attempted to qualify for the 1994 FIFA World Cup™, where they managed to come up with just a single win out of eight matches. Despite the failure, this campaign ignited the nation's passion for the game with VFF embarking on long-term development. Then came their foreign coach policy, which began with German Karl Heinz Weigang given the reins of the national team in 1995.
"We realised it was necessary to turn to the developed footballing countries for their coaching knowledge if we were to take our game to a higher level," Le recalled. "So we sent out an invitation to Mr Weigang and he came to Vietnam."
Under the former Ghana coach Vietnam achieved breakthrough success, finishing third at the 1996 AFF Championship (the southeast Asian championship known at the time as the Tiger Cup).
Then came Austrian Alfred Riedl, who guided Vietnam to the final in the 1998 edition, before Portuguese Henrique Calisto took over in 2002. These two would go on to enjoy more successful stints in charge of Vietnam, with Riedl taking the team to the last eight in the 2007 Asian Cup as co-hosts, and Calisto leading them to their maiden regional title in the 2008 AFF Championship.
But it is Park was has, by far, been the most successful foreign mentor. Under him, Vietnam made history by reaching the final at the 2018 AFC U-23 Championship, while the national senior side won their second regional title just last month. The nation also featured in their maiden FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2017.
"Winning two AFF Championship titles provided a massive boost to our development," said Le. "It provides motivation and encouragement for the football circle as well as the supporters.
“It brings national pride for all. The achievements should be attributed to all those helping us, especially our Prime Minister, Mr Nguyen Xuan Phuc who has supported us in achieving better development.
“From cooperation with these foreign coaches, we have learnt professionalism, carefulness and strictness in training. The knowledge we have gained is even beyond the tactical and technical sides, and we are now aware of the importance of mentality and nutrition for example.
“Besides, they also share their expertise with our local coaches through technical seminars. As I said, we should maintain this approach to take our game to another new level."
Notable foreign coaches of Vietnam’s national team
Karl Heinz Weigang 1995-97
Alfred Riedl 1998-2000, 2003, 2005-2007
Henrique Calisto 2002, 2008-2011
Edson Tavares 1995, 2004
Toshiya Miura 2014-2016
Park Hangseo 2017-