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The tireless hero of Hoang Anh Gia Lai

By Xuan Binh   May 15, 2021 | 12:00 am PT
The tireless hero of Hoang Anh Gia Lai
Nguyen Van Toan during a game for Hoang Anh Gia Lai in V. League 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Dong.
Indestructible Nguyen Van Toan is the key player for his club Hoang Anh Gia Lai and could possibly become the same for the national team.

After two seasons of being the assist king in the V. League, he is on course to become the top scorer this year.

Despite not being as famous as some of the other players from the Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) youth academy like striker Nguyen Cong Phuong and midfielder Luong Xuan Truong, Toan has been a pillar of strength for the team over the past six seasons.

There were times when Phuong and Truong went abroad to play that he stayed back at the club, which sometimes struggled to avoid relegation and were usually in mid-table.

Now, when the team are on top of the league and racing toward the title, he remains irreplaceable.

Since he made his V. League debut in 2015, no player has played more games than him: The 25-year-old has made 153 appearances, three more than SHB Da Nang goalkeeper Nguyen Tuan Manh.

Toan does not have the ideal physique for a forward, a disadvantage when facing bigger players, but he hardly ever gets injured. Since 2016 he has only missed two games, one of them due to suspension and the other due to a groin strain.

In March this year he sprained his ankle, but returned in time for a league game six days later and played the full match. Normally, it takes at least two weeks for a sprained ankle to fully heal.

Though small and slight, Toan has all the qualities needed to be a top striker. He has electric pace and great skills on the ball, vital for counter-attacks, an important part of the team’s tactics this season under Thai coach Kiatisuk Senamuang. HAGL have scored nine times on the break, with Toan contributing to almost all of them.

His ability to play wide and trouble the opposition, not to mention his pinpoint crossing, has made him a coaches’ dream and irreplaceable at HAGL.

It was in 2019 that he started to shine as a playmaker. He scored nine goals and made 11 assists in 26 games, and was named the assist king that season.

His excellent form continued last year with five goals and eight assists, and he was once again crowned the assist king of V. League.

But this season he leads the league with seven goals in 12 games along with Brazilian Rodrigo Dias and Ivorian Oussou Konan. Toan has also made three assists.

Nguyen Van Toan celebrates a goal with his teammate against Binh Duong on May 2, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Dong.

Nguyen Van Toan celebrates a goal with his teammate against Binh Duong on May 2, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Duc Dong.

His stellar play and a solid defense have made HAGL the favorites for the title this year, and there is nothing he wants more.

He said in a post-match interview in April: "This is my seventh year in the V. League. My desire for the title has never faded. I will always fight for HAGL even when others leave the club. I don’t want to play just for fun, I want to play to help the team win."

But things have not gone so well for him in the national team. He made his first appearance for Vietnam in March 2016, scoring two goals against Chinese Taipei. He scored twice more over the next 12 months, and then began a long goal drought.

He has not scored in four years. But he has been called up to the team for the World Cup Asian qualifiers in June. With his current form, Toan can hope for a spot in the starting lineup. Hopefully, his fortunes are set to change.

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