The wind named Vu Phong still blows
It's not out of the ordinary for old players to thrive in Vietnamese football and the likes of Dinh Xuan Viet (37 years old) of Nam Dinh and midfielder Le Tan Tai (36 years old) of Hong Linh Ha Tinh are still solid performers.
|Nguyen Vu Phong (right) is both assistant coach and footballer of Binh Phuoc first-class club. Photo zing.vn|
But player-coaches like 35-year-old midfielder Nguyen Vu Phong are certainly rare.
Last season, Phong helped Binh Phuoc reach third place in the V.League 2 for the first time and this year, he's played every match for the club in the National Cup and the second-tier league.
In their second V.League 2 match of the season on June 11, Phong had a goal-line clearance, though he couldn't stop his side falling to a 1-0 defeat to Binh Dinh.
At the age of 20, Phong was summoned to the national U23 team for the 2005 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games despite playing for V.League 2 side Vinh Long.
Despite not having the opportunity to play at the tournament, Phong was courted by Dong Tam Long An (defending V.League 1 champion at that time) and Binh Duong soon after.
Moving to Binh Duong in 2006 was a turning point in Phong's career.
“As a young player trained by Vinh Long, I had no choice. I only knew that after the meeting between the leaders of two sides, I was transferred to Binh Duong,” said Phong.
When he moved to Binh Duong at the age of 21, Phong received only VND100 million (US$4,350) as a signing on fee. It wasn't much money, but according to Phong, playing for an ambitious team like Binh Duong was a dream come true.
In eight years in Binh Duong, Phong twice won the 2007 and 2008 V.League 1 title and helped Binh Duong reach the semi-finals of the 2009 AFC Cup - the best achievement of a Vietnamese club at that time.
Thanks to his performances, Phong was selected for the national team by coach Henrique Calisto and was a key part of the team that won the AFF Cup in 2008.
The midfielder scored three vital goals in the tournament, with a brace in a 3-2 win over Malaysia in the group stages and the opening goal of a 2-1 first-leg win in the final against Thailand.
In his time as a pro, Phong only changed clubs twice, moving from Vinh Long to join Binh Duong (2006-2013) and then from Binh Duong to SHB Da Nang (2014-2017).
For many players, moving from club to club is important as it allows them to sweep their earnings, but Phong is different.
"For me, being able to live well with my job is my satisfaction. I don't like to transfer because every time I go to a new club I have to get acquainted from the beginning to adapt to the living environment, tactical intentions of the coach and the way of playing of new teammates," said Phong.
After retiring at the end of 2017, Phong stayed with Da Nang as an assistant for newly-appointed coach Nguyen Minh Phuong, a former teammate in the national team.
Following the end of the 2018 season, coach Phuong moved to Binh Phuoc and Phong followed him. Because Binh Phuoc lacked players, Phuong convinced Phong to be both an assistant and player to lead the young V.League 2 squad.
|Nguyen Vu Phong prepares for Binh Phuoc players training. Photo zing.vn|
Due to having a 2018 break, it was not tough for Phong to regain his fitness, but he soon was back to his old self and won the respect of the younger players.
Watching Phong playing in friendly matches to prepare for the 2020 season, it’s hard to imagine he was a 35-year-old player. He moved aggressively, launching attacks and looking for opportunities to hunt goals.
As the V.League 2 season is a marathon, not a sprint, coach Phuong is afraid for Phong's health.
"This year I will use Phong less because the young players are also growing up. Although physical strength is not a big problem for Phong, I am afraid of him being injured due to too much effort," said Phuong.
“Phong” in Vietnamese means “wind”, and while Phong the player may be more of a breeze than a whirlwind on the pitch these days, the key thing is he's still blowing. VNS
2008 AFF Cup champion Le Tan Tai has announced he will retire at the end of the V.League 1 season.