Alfred Riedl: the man who kickstarted Vietnamese football’s ascent

By Xuan Binh, Tuan Hoang   September 9, 2020 | 11:03 pm PT
Austrian coach Alfred Riedl laid the foundations for Vietnamese football to rise from near obscurity to a top team in Southeast Asia.

Riedl’s important contribution is undeniable though he does not have much to show in the trophy cabinet. He coached Vietnam’s national team for 61 games in three different periods over five years, more than any other manager to date. While he is remembered for taking the team to the finals but failing to cross the final hurdle, his work with the team woke the nation up to its potential and brought it into serious regional reckoning.

During his spells with the Golden Dragons, from 1998-2000, 2003-2004 and 2005-2007, Vietnam won 27, drew 14 and lost 20 matches. His win rate is higher than that of the other famous foreign coach Vietnam had, Portuguese Henrique Calisto, who managed 16 wins in 52 matches.

Reidl’s most successful period with Vietnam was 2005-2007. In 2007, Vietnam got into the top eight of the Asian Cup for the first time in history. The U23 team coached by Reidl the same year also made it to the last qualification round of Olympics 2008.

Some called him "the greatest runner up of Vietnamese football," because despite taking the national teams to finals at several different tournaments like Tiger Cup (now AFF Cup) 1998 and the 20th, 22nd and 23rd edition of the SEA Games, the team did not win any of them.

Former defender Tran Cong Minh said: "Coach Riedl has had many ups and downs with Vietnamese football. I wish he had won something with Vietnam during those times. Nonetheless, we have learned many valuable things from him."

Alfred Riedl has coached Vietnam in 61 games, more than any other manager. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Dong.

Alfred Riedl has coached Vietnam in 61 games, more than any other manager. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Dong.

He first coached Vietnam in August 1998 after being invited by former Vietnam Football Federation (VFF) President Pham Ngoc Vien. After leaving the head coach position of Liechtenstein, he came to Vietnam with his wife when he was 48 years old. He took charge of the national team just a few days before they started their Tiger Cup 1998 campaign.

That team was the first golden generation of Vietnamese footballers, with players like Nguyen Hong Son, Nguyen Huu Thang and Le Huynh Duc. After beating Laos 4-1, Vietnam held Singapore to a goalless draw and won their last group stage game 1-0 against Malaysia. After advancing to the semi-finals, Vietnam ran into arch rivals Thailand. Riedl led the team to a 3-0 victory, the first ever by the national team against Thailand in an official tournament. However, in the final, the Golden Dragons lost 0-1 to Singapore.

A year later, Riedl helped Vietnam to reach another final at SEA Games 20 in Brunei. Vietnam didn’t concede a goal in the first five games, but they fell again at the last hurdle, losing 0-2 to Thailand.

In the Tiger Cup 2000, after Vietnam only managed a fourth place finish, Riedl had to step down.

He returned to the country to coach Khanh Hoa FC in the V. League a year later. His mission was to get the club out of relegation zone but in 13 matches, they only won once, drew four and lost eight.

On June 1, 2003, Riedl started his second stint with Vietnam, coaching the U23 team at SEA Games 22, which Vietnam hosted for the first time. He was expected to take the team to victory with the home advantage. Things went smoothly with the talent of Pham Van Quyen, a prodigy of Vietnamese football then, coming to the fore. Once again, Vietnam reached the finals and met their nemesis, Thailand, who scored the decisive goal in extra time. Riedl left the team for the second time.

After Vietnam was disqualified in the group stages of Tiger Cup 2004, the VFF called for Riedl’s help again to manage the U23 team for SEA Games 23. Vietnam reached the final for the third consecutive time and the familiar scenario of losing to Thailand was repeated. Vietnamese football was also shocked by a match-fixing scandal that year.

In 2007, Riedl underwent a kidney transplant after an unidentified fan donated one of his organs. He came back and coached the team for the AFF Cup 2007. The team stopped their run in the semi-finals. Yet again, they lost to Thailand.

Riedl received a lot of flak after the disappointing result, but he redeemed himself with a bang at Asian Cup 2007. Vietnam was one of the four hosts in that tournament. In the opening game, Vietnam shocked everyone with a 2-0 victory over the UAE, in which the second goal scored by Le Cong Vinh was selected one of the best goals in Asian Cup history.

Although losing 1-4 to Japan in the next game, they went on to manage a 1-1 draw with Qatar and became the only Southeast Asian team to advance to the quarterfinals that year. Their run also stopped there with a 0-2 loss to eventual champions Iran, but that was the first time Vietnam became one of the top eight teams at the Asian Cup, before doing it again in 2019.

Riedl’s last bang with Vietnamese football was at the Olympic 2008 qualifiers. U23 Vietnam got 12 points after six games, placing it above Lebanon, Oman and Indonesia to advance to the final qualification round, where they were grouped with stronger teams like Japan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The team only managed to get two draws and lost the rest but it was the first time that they made it to the final qualification round of the Olympics.

Reidl resigned in 2007 after failing to take the U23 team to the final of SEA Games 24. A year later, he returned to coach Hai Phong FC and helped them finish third in V. League 2008. In early 2009, he had to leave after three consecutive losses.

Nguyen Huu Thang, the head coach of Vietnam in AFF Cup 2016 and Riedls old student, pours him a cup of water during a pre-match conference of the Vietnam and Indonesia game. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Dong.

Nguyen Huu Thang, Vietnam’s head coach at AFF Cup 2016 and Riedl's old student, pours him a cup of water during a pre-match conference for a game between Vietnam and Indonesia. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Dong.

Riedl ended his coaching career after taking Indonesia to the final of AFF Cup 2016, and one more time, he lost to Thailand. As a manager, he coached 14 teams and clubs over 27 years.

In December 2019, Indonesia invited him to return and manage their national team. However, before he was able to make a decision, his condition got worse. On the first day of 2020, one of his blood vessels broke and he had to undergo treatment for a few months.

Alfred Riedl breathed his last in Austria on September 8 at the age of 70, after years of battling cancer. His death has been mourned by football lovers across Southeast Asia and beyond, including Vietnamese fans.

The VFF wrote on its website: "The passing of Alfred Riedl is a huge loss not just for his family and Austrian football but also for Vietnamese football. He was an important figure, having coached Vietnam through many tournaments and achieved impressive results. His dedication for the development of Vietnamese football will be appreciated forever."

Le Huynh Duc, head coach of SHB Da Nang and former star forward for the national team, said: "When I was the top scorer of the domestic league in 1998, he called me up to the national team for the Tiger Cup hosted in Vietnam. Although he only coached me for that one tournament, my impression about him has never faded. He cared a lot about the players although he was strict."

Many people who have worked with him agree that Alfred Reidl played a key part in putting Vietnam on the Southeast Asian and Asian football maps, making people sit up and take notice of the Golden Dragons. In doing so, he made a lasting contribution to Vietnam that will never be forgotten.

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