Striker finds his feet after bumpy ride

By Nguyen My   March 17, 2020 | 02:36 am PT
Striker finds his feet after bumpy ride
Nguyen Xuan Nam celebrates his goal that secured HCMC FC's 1-0 victory against Thanh Hoa at a V. League 1 match in Thong Nhat Stadium, HCMC, March 15, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Dong.
Having found the net six times in four matches for Ho Chi Minh City FC this season, Nguyen Xuan Nam is in fine form.

However, en route to the summit, the striker has experienced many lows.

A Hanoi FC youth academy graduate, Nam was once a key player of the national Under-19 team along with defender Que Ngoc Hai and midfielder Do Hung Dung. But he could not compete with the likes of Nguyen Van Quyet and Hoang Vu Samson for a spot in the Hanoi FC senior team, and was sent to Laos’ SHB Vientiane on loan in 2014.

It was a tough period for the Hai Duong-born striker since the Lao Premier League was not as competitive as a young player like him wanted.

In an interview in Vientiane in 2015, he said: "I was not given the chance to play for more than a year, and I also lost my place in the team.

"It is very sad for a young player like me.

"At times I thought I would quit football to go back to school."

But he plowed on, determined to prove his worth. He finished the 2015 season as SHB Vientiane’s top goal scorer and the league’s second best.

Both the club and national team managers tried to convince him to acquire Lao citizenship and play for the country, but Nam had his heart elsewhere: "I want to prove myself in Vietnam, not in Laos. I came here to play so I could show everyone what I’ve got, and hopefully I can return to Vietnam and play for the national team."

It was thought that after such a successful season abroad, he would finally get the playing time he deserved at Hanoi FC, but it was not to be: He only played 46 minutes in the first half of the 2016 V. League season before he moved to Saigon FC.

Nam had two good seasons at his new club, but just before the start of the third he tore his knee ligament in a pre-season friendly. The horrific injury ruled him out for 10 months.

"It was a forgettable period for me. I honestly cannot remember all the injuries that I have sustained in my career. I have been putting up with them since I was young. In my two seasons with Saigon FC I tore ligaments in both my legs.

"The injuries have posed a serious threat to my career. There were times when I felt like giving up. But my parents and family motivated me to keep going, because football is not just a job, it is my passion."

So when Pho Hien FC, a V. League 2 club, came calling in 2019, he agreed to play for them. He believed it was the perfect place for him to return to the pitch and play his way back into form.

He was the 2019 V. League 2 top scorer by three goals, catching the eye of the ambitious Ho Chi Minh City FC, who made a move for him in January.

Despite being only the backup striker for Nguyen Cong Phuong, Nam was able to make a dream start at Ho Chi Minh City FC by scoring six times, all of them decisive and winning goals, in four outings in the AFC Cup and V. League 1.

His incredible goal scoring form has taken the club to the top of both the V. League 1 and group F of the AFC Cup.

Had it not been for the Covid-19 outbreak, which has delayed Vietnam’s 2022 World Cup qualifier against Malaysia, Nam would have been in a great position to get his first senior call-up.

Many fans feel it is such a shame for both the team and the man himself that he will not have the opportunity to don the Vietnamese jersey while at his absolute best.

Nonetheless, should he remain clinical in front of goal when V. League 1 returns, possibly in April, the 26-year-old may well be on his way to realizing the ultimate dream.

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