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When you go to Vietnam, be sure to wear flowers in your hair

I’ll tell you something, right from the off, right from my first training session here in Sấi Gon, well it’s actually Ho Chi Minh City, yes I know but my team is called Sấi Gon. But you said here in Sấi Gon, you’re not in Sấi Gon. I am technically. You wouldn’t say here in Everton would you, you wouldn’t say here in Crystal Palace? You wouldn’t say here in… Okay I get it, shut up will ya.

What was I saying? Oh yeah, as soon as I saw this team training I knew 2 things right away. The first was that for the first time in my short career, I had a team of footballers. Shut up don’t say anything. What I mean is, compared to my Ming Chuan team these players have got talent. I’m sure it’s not that I was used to mediocre players in Taiwan and that my Sấi Gon team look like world beaters compared to that Ming Chuan side, but these players know exactly where to be and what to do. Oh and a lot of them speak English, which is a bonus isn’t it.

The second thing I knew right from the off is that promotion from this division is only going to be a matter of when, not if. That boy Cruz is something else and I’m telling you this, he’s far too good for this division and he bloody well knows it! He’s got a swagger about him that’s a mix between arrogance and irritating, but if he backs it up on the pitch I’m not concerned in the slightest. My worry early on is that he does do well, which I’m sure he will, and V League teams come calling. I’ve managed to keep him here for now, but if or when an offer comes in I might not be able to keep hold of him, but that’s something that we’ll address if the time comes.

My first competitive game in charge of Sấi Gon was a National Cup game, Vietnams FA Cup if you will, against Viettel FC. We were the home side, playing at the Thống Nhất stadium, not like a lady’s thong so don’t ask.

A good thing about this game was that Viettel are in the same league as us, so a good measure of how we’ll fare in this campaign. Now the game wasn’t a white wash, and we never really blew them away, but we managed to win the game using our 5-2-1-1 set up, progress was made and we’ve got Dong Thap in the next round, who are a top division side.

During our first league game, I’m stood on the sideline and I smile to myself. You’ve done a good thing coming here Vince. Cruz isn’t only a good forward, but he turned provider twice in this game as we beat Viettel again. Cruz was drawing the double team from the Viettel defence, but managed to play a through ball to Xuan Hop who was playing the hole, and he curled a shot that was sweet as a nut round the keeper into the top corner. 

The game was put to bed when Cruz surged forward down the right hand side, stopped and waited for the defender to make his move, as he did Cruz dinked the ball over the onrushing defender and Thanh Tu hit it on the volley but scuffed it by hitting it into the ground, the keeper was flapping his arms wildly and instead of catching it managed to bundle it over the line. It was the type of goal you see on those football blooper videos on Youtube. We did concede late on, but never looked like anything other than winners.

By the end of our first month together, Sấi Gon FC had played 5 and won 5 of our first 5 games together, with Cruz banging in 4 goals in those games.

We’d merely lived up to the favourites tag, but ask anyone and they’ll say that even the favourites for anything need a manager to steady the ship, and my aim here is to get out of this division at the first time of asking, and build from there.

A regular occurrence kept happening by the way, and that was with the tactic we’ve set up, for the most part we’re camped in our opponents half, here look, this was taken during our recent game against Binh Puoc which we won 2-0. We were the away team and in blue:

You’ll notice only our keeper is in our half, the other 21 players are in the opponents half. This is both encouraging and worrying. The encouraging part is obvious, we’re dominating games right from the off, and so we should. But the worrying part, let me see if you can figure it out, I’ll give you a clue. Here’s the goal times in that Binh Phuoc game:

79’ – Cruz

88’ – Minh Phuong

The goal times for the game before, a 2-0 win against Khanh Hoa:

72’ – Cruz

86’ – Cruz

Need more clues? How about the second game and first league against Viettel:

57’ Xuan Hop

85’ – Thanh Tin

Whilst we’re at it, my first game here:

74’ – Xuan Hop

I’ll tell you what my concern is, that we’re scoring goals is great, but we’re waiting late in to the games to score them.

Our earliest goal has come in the 57th minute of a game, nearly an hour into play. I don’t want to change things for changes sake, but what happens when the other teams figure us out and play each game to contain us for as long as possible? Before long, those goals around the 72nd minute will turn to the 82nd minute, then maybe we don’t get another until the 89th and eventually, we might not score any at all.

It’s a concern, but not a big concern just yet.

Next episode – Someone once said winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing

Previous chapter – Excuse me, are you going to Vietnam?

Episode 1 – This is not another European journeyman

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