<
>

Vietnam must turn to youth to close gap on Thailand in 2017

play
Embarrassing howler from Vietnam 'keeper in Suzuki Cup (0:40)

Nguyen Manh Tan made a shameful mistake which allowed Indonesia to draw level in their 2-2 AFF Suzuki Cup draw. (0:40)

There are many positive aspects to Vietnamese football, with the national team going close to making the final of the recent 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup.

Indeed, the last decade or so has seen some memorable highlights for a sport introduced by the French in 1896.

That includes the Vietnamese women's team winning the Southeast Asian Games football gold medal in 2001, the men lifting the 2008 Suzuki Cup, and the U20 side qualifying for their first-ever world championship in 2016.

So, with recent successes in mind, here are five ways that Vietnam can kick on in 2017:

1. Access to English language

Language is a major barrier to learning in Vietnam. Very few people speak English, and the reality is that they are missing out on the vast wealth of football knowledge on the internet, and on television. Even AFC coaching courses have to be translated, which means the quality of the course is only as good as the skill of the translator.

Watching football with English commentary would be an excellent way to develop the language as a learning tool, and allow Vietnamese fans to hear directly from international experts such as Pep Guardiola, Arsene Wenger and Thierry Henry, who all converse in English.

Having a Vietnamese voice over a Premier League game kills much of its excitement. The Vietnamese love English football. Let it be broadcast directly, so many younger people can develop their English. This would not only good for football, but good for the nation.

2. More pitches

The Vietnamese Football Federation (VFF) have developed a world-class training complex at My Dinh, spending the FIFA and AFC money very wisely.

However, at 5 p.m. every day outside this complex, you will find hundreds of people playing football on the streets, with bricks as goals. This picture is replicated all over the country in fields, and on beaches. You have to travel far, and wide, to find proper pitches that have public access.

Despite a plethora of user-pays artificial surfaces popping up, the game needs more public pitches, and more organised leagues in the cities and rural areas. The elite are being catered for, but the elite could be greater if the grassroots were given some more help.

3. End to corruption

Ending corruption in Vietnamese football is easier said than done because of the challenge of stamping out the problem in other aspects of everyday life. Often, young players have limited education, and hence, differing values and ethical training.

With some high-profile scandals in recent years, the V.League, sadly, still gives the perception that some games are still being fixed. Also, there are reports of management taking money off players simply to allow them to play.

The VFF has clamped down on offenders, and given harsh punishments to clubs and players. Also, Vietnamese police have arrested and jailed match fixers, and punished players involved. It's a tough fight, but for the survival of the game, it must continue until it has been won.

4. Better quality of import player

The V.League used to be a strong and vibrant competition, with large crowds. Sadly, the league is on the decline, with sponsorship hard to find. This has led to a drop in the quality of foreign player being attracted.

Rather than a broad spectrum of imports from South America, Eastern Europe and Japan, most of the foreigners today are from Africa, who are willing to play for low wages. So, the style of play tends to adapt to their athletic talents, with long passes, and pacy players chasing the ball.

Also, a reality of Southeast Asian football is that the foreigners often take the strikers' role. So where is the next Le Cong Vinh going to come from? How do local forwards get valuable playing time?

The import must be a better player than the local, must attract crowds, and also be a good professional, on-and-off the pitch. If the foreigners are not doing this, then why have them in the first place?

And, all players, foreign and local, are often not treated in a professional manner when it comes to payment and contracts. There is a massive need for PFA representation in Vietnam to protect players' rights and ensure their well-being. We have seen how the PFA have already made a positive difference in the Malaysian and Indian leagues.

5. Take the next step

As a national team, Vietnam have made progress, and are close to being on par with the top nations in the region. Now, they must set the target of closing the gap on Thailand, and attempt to join the bigger Asian football stage.

Their youth success is making this look a possibility, and not just a dream. A nation of 80 million, with a huge youth base, can do this.

There's no doubting the passion for football, and the leadership by the VFF is there. Let's hope the media join the positivity, and support some of the great work being done. With the right attitude, the gap can be closed.