Tuesday, 03/08/2021 08:55

An ode to Nguyễn Trọng Hoàng, master of the dark arts with a heart of gold

Nguyễn Trọng Hoàng (under) in action for his club side Viettel. — Photo

Peter Cowan

Despite what your teachers and your parents may have told you, we all have our favourites.

There are plenty of Vietnamese footballers I enjoy watching, but there’s one who stands head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to my affections: Nguyễn Trọng Hoàng.

It’s not because he’s the biggest, fastest, strongest or even most skilled player. No, I love watching Hoàng because he’s a true master of the dark arts of football.

He’s the sort of player his teammates love having on their side and his opponents dread the sight of.

Each boot left just a little late in a tackle and every toe accidentally trodden on is akin to the masterful strokes of the pen that formed the literary masterpiece The Tale of Kiều, written by Hoàng’s fellow Nghi Xuân District, Hà Tĩnh Province native Nguyễn Du.

Make no mistake though, Hoàng can play a bit too. He won the Silver Ball in 2011 and the Bronze Ball in 2019, but as someone who can trap a football further than others pass it, his technique has never been the way to my heart.

Unfortunately, though, he has earned a bit of a reputation as a dirty player both here in Việt Nam, and to a lesser degree abroad, thanks to a few questionable tackles while representing his club and country.

Because we all live on the open cesspit that is the internet these days, it will come as no surprise that his reputation means he receives a fair bit of abuse online, as do many athletes.

The stuff I find most galling is the characterisation of players like Hoàng who came through the ranks at Sông Lam Nghệ An as inherently unsporting or dirty players. This criticism exposes the abuser’s barely hidden contempt for people from central Việt Nam.

Perhaps the nature of social media has encouraged this abuse or simply enabled the spitting of bile that’s always been under the surface. Regardless, you don’t need to go through what Simone Biles did last week or what Ngô Hoàng Thịnh did a few months back to know that we have a problem remembering athletes are people too.

Over the weekend though, Hoàng served up a timely reminder that he’s far more than what he does on the pitch.

Several local media outlets reported that he’s decided to auction off his 2019 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games winners medal for a charity that is funding the procurement of ventilators desperately needed to treat COVID-19 patients.

Hoàng first competed in the SEA Games as a sprightly 20-year-old in 2009, when Việt Nam lost in the final. They went one better 10 years later, taking gold in the Philippines. As one of two over-age players the win meant a lot to Hoàng, even though by that time he’d already won virtually all there was to win in Việt Nam.

"When I received the medal, the feeling was really hard to describe. I was very lucky. I thought I wouldn’t be able to play in the SEA Games again," he said, according to VnExpress.

While I’m not suggesting we lionise the man for an act of charity he can afford, as those far less well-off than footballers have given so much to the fight against the pandemic, giving up something of such deep personal meaning for the greater good is worthy of some recognition.

So here’s to Nguyễn Trọng Hoàng, master of the dark arts, philanthropist and all around top bloke. — VNS

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