|Nguyen Quang Hai (L) turned in more stunning performances at the Asian Cup
Now, the team’s stars need to play club football abroad to reach their full potential.
Fox Sports Asia recently named five young players likely to move abroad after the Asian Cup, including midfielder Nguyen Quang Hai.
"While he plays for Hanoi FC in Vietnam currently, his fleet-footed dribbling abilities and eye for goal would definitely have attracted the attention of other teams in Asia, perhaps even in the J-League," the website wrote of the diminutive playmaker.
It is not the first time Fox’s reporters have urged Hai to leave Hanoi.
Last September, Scott McIntyre published an article on foxsportsasia.com entitled ‘Quang Hai needs to move abroad now’.
McIntyre heaped praise on the player but slammed his current employers for holding him back, writing.
“It is remarkable then that his V.League club, Hanoi FC, is refusing to listen to transfer requests from three different continents, insisting that he’s better served by continuing his development at the club.”
At the time, it was reported that the 21-year-old and Hanoi FC officials believed it was better for him to sharpen his skills locally for the next two or three years, though Hai has yet to comment publicly on the issue.
While Hai has stayed quiet, his teammate Nguyen Cong Phuong has spoken up.
Speaking to media after Vietnam were knocked out of the UAE tournament by Japan, the striker said: "I want to have the chance to play abroad, Japan or Europe, however, it is not easy because of rules and contracts with my clubs. Some European clubs have contacted me but my (Hoang Anh Gia Lai) club managers refused. I hope these issues will change soon and I can make my dream come true. It is also a way I could help the national team which is aiming for a berth in the World Cup."
The player from Nghe An province, who notched two goals and one assist in the Asian Cup, was tipped by Fox Sports Asia as likely to be the subject of big transfer offers after the tournament, possibly from Thailand or Japan for a second spell.
Steve Darby, former coach of the Việt Nam national women’s team, told e-newspaper doisongvietnam.vn that Hai, Phuong and other players like forward Phan Van Duc and defender Do Duy Manh are at their peak and should go abroad if possible.
Darby added that local clubs should work with other sides from more developed football countries to create opportunities for their players to move on to gain experience.
He said foreign clubs had contacted Hai but Hanoi did not let him go, possibly holding out for a bigger transfer fee, which is within their rights, but something that could stunt the player’s growth.
The best plan could be a loan contract, Darby suggested.
The first Vietnamese footballer to play in Europe, retired striker Le Cong Vinh, also thinks Hai needs to make the jump now.
"Hai can play abroad. He can even be successful as he has proved his talents. He is small but owns good technique and incisive mind which will help him to integrate with different clubs," said Vietnam’s best striker Le Cong Vinh.
"Playing abroad has never been easy but to push oneself up players should not stay locally. Such good players in our current generation will help change our football image in other countries’ eyes," said Vinh, who played in both Japan and Portugal.
Earlier this month, during a visit to Vietnam, Manchester United legend Dwight Yorke also said Vietnamese players should leave the country to improve.
Speaking to fans in HCM City he said there were many players with potential in Asia and Vietnam in particular but they needed better conditions to develop.
He also said tournaments in Asia were not as competitive as those in Europe, so to push themselves footballers should go abroad and play at higher levels.
One of the national team’s stars has already taken the plunge, with goalkeeper Dang Van Lam sealing a dream move after the Asian Cup to Muangthong United of Thailand.
Hai and Phuong have the ability to follow in his footsteps, the question is will they be allowed to?