Vietnam should plan for 2026 World Cup now: English coach

By Tuan Hoang, Xuan BinhOctober 7, 2022 | 05:53 pm PT
Vietnam should plan for 2026 World Cup now: English coach
Vietnamese players react after scoring against the UAE in a 2022 World Cup qualification game, June 16, 2021. VnExpress/Lam Thoa
Steve Darby, a renowned coach in Southeast Asia, said Vietnam can start preparing for the 2026 World Cup qualification by preventing injuries and relying less on foreign strikers at club level.

There will be 8.5 slots for Asian teams in the 2026 World Cup. What do you think about Vietnam's qualification chance?

I believe Vietnam can make it if they can continue on their current development. Japan, Korea, Australia, Iran and Saudi Arabia are almost certain to qualify. That leaves the UAE, Vietnam, China, Thailand, Qatar and possibly Iraq, Syria and Jordan competing for the remaining 3.5 slots.

What do Vietnam have to prepare in order to qualify?

The key is planning! The top nations had already planned for the 2026 World Cup since 2018. The 2026 qualifiers will start in November 2023, but Asian teams will begin in 2024. The optimal squad of Vietnam at that time should feature seven or eight core players, plus the best youth players.

There are four main tasks for Vietnam. Firstly, the best players in the country should aim to be playing abroad in higher leagues such as J. League or K. League. That is why I have respect for what Quang Hai has done. No matter what he will come back a stronger player from his experience in France.

The second thing is that V. League should reduce the quantity and improve the quality of foreign players in the championship. How can strikers improve if they do not get to play regularly in V. League? Don't just sign big and athletic players who often lack football education. Look for experienced players in Easter European, Japan and Argentina.

Thirdly, V. League clubs need to improve their pitch conditions and training grounds. Last but not least, all clubs must have qualified medical staff so that the players can avoid unnecessary injuries.

Which quota for foreign players is enough at V. League?

I think two foreign players for each club is enough. This means they will have to do their research and be careful about who they sign. They should not rely on YouTube videos and the words of the agents. The top clubs must develop professional scouting systems.

A foreign player must be better than local players to justify a high salary. They also need to be professional on and off the pitch.

Malaysia stopped using foreign players for two years, from 2000. During that time two of their best ever strikers Indra Putra and Khalid Jamlus came to light. Maybe it’s time for the V. League to be brave. Only players qualified for the national team are allowed in V. League.

Who will be Vietnam's core players at the 2026 World Cup?

A World Cup team usually have their core players at 28 to 30 years old, when their football intelligence and physical ability are at their peak. There will always be exceptions such Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi or young talents like Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden.

The core players will also need to have international experience, like Que Ngoc Hai, Bui Tien Dung, Do Hung Dung, Nguyen Quang Hai, Nguyen Cong Phuong, Nguyen Tien Linh and especially Nguyen Hoang Duc.

Vietnam must also find a top goalkeeper and give as many chances for young strikers as possible, that's why I would also look at Nham Manh Dung, who did very well at the U23 team.

The key is to have experienced players as the spine of the team. But the biggest issue of Vietnam at the moment is finding a natural goal scorer. That's not easy when most V. League clubs play foreign strikers.

Vietnam's journey to final qualifying round of 2022 World Cup. Video by VnExpress/Hoang Khanh

Do you think VFF should form a squad of elite players to train and play at Europe for like several months? That's what Qatar have been doing lately. Would that increase our chance to qualify for the 2026 World Cup?

Easy to say but very difficult to do. Can VFF afford the expenses for that? I doubt it. This will also reduce the quality of V. League. It's better to improve the V. League and play against top teams during the international break. They should treat the AFF Cup and SEA Games as preparation tournaments and give the chance for young players in those tournaments.

Should we use half-Vietnamese players like Dang Van Lam or Vietnamese players who were born overseas to improve the team?

100% yes. It’s legal and it benefits the team so there’s no reason for Vietnam to ignore that. Some of these players with one Vietnamese parent can be as patriotic as a player whose parents are both Vietnamese. Brendan Gan of Malaysia is a perfect example. If these players come from football academies in Europe, they will have a good knowledge base.

However, I'm not a believer in naturalized players who only have been in Vietnam for five years as these mercenaries don't really care about representing the national team. It’s better to use half-Vietnamese players like defender Jason Quang-Vinh Pendant.

It is something the women's national team should also do. They have qualified for the 2023 Women's World Cup and should consider the Australian and American players of Vietnamese origin.

This is a big chance for Vietnam, the media must support the teams to build trust among the fans. VFF should also keep supporting the teams financially.

Steve Darby, the former coach of Bahrain, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam womens team. Photo by the Asian Football Confederation

Steve Darby, the former coach of Bahrain, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam women's team. Photo by the Asian Football Confederation

China in 2002 and North Korea in 2010 surprisingly qualified for the World Cup. What can Vietnam learn from them?

Sadly, China could only qualify for one time in 2002. They are an example of a self-destruct football system. China with its large population and financial power should qualify for every World Cup. I have heard many reasons and one of them is corruption at all levels in the football system. I worked in China as a scout for English club Everton FC to find young talents. The talents are there! But things will only be different when there are changes in the China football administration.

I coached Thailand to play against North Korea in 2009, they had good players and were well-organized. However, those players were kept like prisoners in the hotel. They ate separately and were not allowed to go out of the hotel. There were security guards in the lobby 24 hours a day. That is not a way to treat people and I think this reflects on their football.

You said Vietnam should play better teams. The last time we played a friendly against a top 80 FIFA team was 10 years ago, against China in Wuhan. How can we play more friendlies against better teams?

The key is indeed money, but the marketing department of VFF has to develop connections with sponsors and TV companies, in order to earn more money. VFF can also look for nations who will be playing Asian nations in the World Cup and offer them a friendly.

Do you think Park Hang-seo would still be the manager of Vietnam then? Or should we hire another coach who has a better profile than Park?

I think Park has done a brilliant job. He established a tactical discipline and the players want to play for him. A new coach would have to identify players from the beginning and also learn to handle Vietnamese football politics. Believe me, it is difficult for a foreign coach to work in Vietnamese culture. I would stick with Park but have two Vietnamese assistant coaches working with him to succeed him in 2025 or 2026.

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