Vietnamese women's football needs support after World Cup

By Steve Darby   August 4, 2023 | 07:27 pm PT
Vietnamese women's football needs support after World Cup
Vietnam defenders (in white) try to mark Lieke Martens of the Netherlands in the Women's World Cup group stage game on August 1, 2023. Photo by FIFA
Former coach of Vietnam and Australia women's football team Steve Darby gave a deep analysis of how Vietnamese women's football can be improved in the long run after the World Cup.

I have just returned to Liverpool after a period of time in Sydney, Australia. I was speaking at a Football Writers Festival and doing a lot of TV and radio media work as I was an ex-coach of the Australia women's team.

Sadly, I couldn't get to New Zealand but was kept up to date by the former Vietnam women's team captain Bui Thi Hien Luong. I also watched all the games on television live.

This World Cup is by far the best I have attended. I was at the World Cups in Sweden and the U.S. but the media and fan interest in Australia and to a slightly lesser extent New Zealand has been amazing. Everywhere you go there are mainstream media covering all the games and the Australia women's team are getting coverage in the big newspapers. Not even the men's team get this. But the biggest impression is the amount of advertisements and commercials featuring female footballers. This is also happening in England. Women’s football is booming in many countries.

Football belongs to everybody! It doesn’t matter what your color, religion, sexuality or race is. This Women's World Cup has shown that football is truly an inclusive game.

I thought Vietnam were excellent in their first two games, they showed discipline and character. Unfortunately, Netherlands were just too powerful for them in the third game. It’s also difficult to keep a disciplined defense on a continuous basis. Also Vietnam had nothing to lose so they could attempt to attack more. Sadly, at this level, if you play attacking football against bigger teams you will usually be heavily punished.

One unique feature was that Vietnam were highlighted in Australian media for the way they sang their national anthem with true patriotism. Not every nation do this and the U.S. were not even singing!

Also, the performance and result against the U.S. (0-3 loss) made the world notice Vietnam. To me it was like comparing a motorbike taxi to a Ferrari due to the money spent on the U.S. and the number of quality players they have. Many people were expecting a result similar to Thailand’s 0-13 defeat against the U.S. in the last World Cup in France, but this was a proper score and certainly a gain for Southeast Asian football.

If I am being honest only two Vietnamese players stood out for me, in that they may get professional contracts abroad: right-back Tran Thi Thu Thao and defender Tran Thi Thu. Goalkeeper Tran Thi Kim Thanh made many great saves but will not get a contract due to her limited height. I hope I'm wrong I would love to see more Vietnamese female players going abroad.

In my opinion, there are two major lessons for Vietnamese women's football. Firstly, there has to be an increase in financial investment that will make preparation better and will hopefully also increase the size of the player pool. Many girls who have the ability are not playing football or are not identified. Get national team players to visit and coach football schools. Get them to become role models for the young girls. This will both promote the game and give extra income to the players and develop a career path for them after retirement.

The second lesson is they have to start searching and targeting bigger players! You can be small in midfield and maybe attack like Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona, but it's essential at the top level that your defenders and goalkeepers are tall. There are tall female athletes in Vietnam as I have seen but they play basketball and volleyball. Vietnam Football Federation (VFF) needs to build a proper talent identification program to search for naturally tall players and get them into playing football when they are young.

Captain Huynh Nhu (in red) - the only Vietnamese female footballer playing overseas - tries for the ball during Vietnams debut game at the Womens World Cup against the U.S. on July 22, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Dong

Captain Huynh Nhu (R) - the only Vietnamese female footballer playing overseas - tries for the ball during Vietnam's debut game at the Women's World Cup against the U.S. on July 22, 2023. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Dong

If you have small players you can’t make them taller, but you can make them stronger, so young footballers must also start proper weight training programs on a long-term basis. You have to get rid of the old-fashioned mindset that weight training is not good for females. A proper weight program will make you leaner, stronger and faster.

The limitation that Vietnam face in order to continue to improve and develop is the size of the playing population. Whilst Vietnam has a large population, the number of female footballers is quite small compared to the U.S. or England.

The number of games that they played are far too few and the quality of facilities for preparation is low. There must be a strong national league, possibly making it compulsory for V. League teams to have women’s teams.

I think there have been great improvements by VFF in women’s football, but if you want to compete at this level it takes money and long-term planning.

The easiest thing to see was the physical difference between Vietnam and the other teams in their group. You are up against teams with better nutrition and lifestyle with long-term youth development programs.

Vietnamese players also have to overcome the cultural barrier where a player gives up football when they get married. I only had one married player on the team when I was coaching Vietnam and many said they were under family pressure to stop playing football and settle down and have children. That is a tough cultural barrier to break down. But it can be done, as both Australia and the U.S. have players who brought their children with them to the World Cup.

An increase in money for the players to make football a viable profession is also essential. The great thing is after this World Cup every Vietnamese player will receive $30,000 from FIFA. This money goes directly to the players and VFF will also receive a sum as the team qualified for the tournament.

That is a great boost for players and a great incentive for future players. Also, the marketing department of VFF must start to get players into sponsorship deals with female-related products. In Australia, Sam Kerr is a millionaire thanks to sponsorship deals, so are England captain Leah Williamson and Alex Morgan of the U.S. VFF marketing department must realize that women spend money, so female footballers can be role models and used in advertising.

Vietnam also has to start a talent identification program abroad, in countries where there are large Vietnamese populations like Australia, the U.S. and parts of Europe. There must be many players with a mother, father or grandparents who are of Vietnamese descent. The world is changing and Vietnam has to adapt.

I think the best thing for Vietnamese players would be to get into the U.S. College system where they can learn to become professional players, develop physically from daily training and quality nutrition and get an education. Then they will find the next step toward professionalism easier.

It’s essential that the young elite players start to learn English, since if they go to the U.S. they will live and work in an English-speaking environment.

To be honest virtually everything I suggest would apply to the male players.

Overall, Vietnam should be proud of their women’s team and should keep encouraging and supporting female players. Credit must also go to Coach Mai Duc Chung who has done an excellent job over many years.

I honestly believe the team did both themselves and the nation proud in this World Cup. They gave performances that gained worldwide respect.

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