AFF Suzuki Cup: Is it time for Le Cong Vinh to retire?

South-east Asia has been blessed with some top strikers over the years but there are few better than Le Cong Vinh. The Vietnamese goalgetter has said that he will retire from international football at the end of the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup in December.

Already with two goals in the tournament so far, five more move him onto 56 on the international stage. That would put him level with Lionel Messi. That would be some company to have. Even better, it would mean that only Cristiano Ronaldo (63) has scored more goals of those players still active.

To see Cong Vinh’s name next to such lights would be a fabulous achievement. Even if he does not manage to match Messi, if he grabs two more goals in the next few days then he equals Noh Alam Shah’s tally of 17 in the AFF Suzuki Cup. Again,this would ensure that there is even a bigger entry for the striker in the regional record books.

Le Cong Vinh’s name will forever be feted in the history of Vietnamese and Southeast Asian football. He was there at the 2007 Asian Cup when he helped the Golden Stars to the quarter-finals, a fine achievement. Only a defeat at the hands of eventual champions Iraq ended that run.

The Nghe An native delivered the AFF Cup Suzuki Cup in 2008. Those times will never be forgotten. Hanoi erupted in joy and celebration and for those who where there, they will struggle to experience the same levels of excitement in a stadium. His header in the dying moments is part of the continent’s football history.

Cong Vinh has also tried his luck overseas. First it was Portugal and Leixoes Sport Club. He did not get many chances to play and the goals didn’t exactly come but it was a valuable time and a great learning experience. There was also a spell with Consadole Sapporo in Japan. Again, he did not set the league alight but did show a little of what he can do and helped smooth the way for others.

Those short spells have punctuated a fruitful goalscoring careeer in the Vietnam league. All in all, when the Binh Duong striker retires, he can look back with pride.

But he should think again about retiring from the international game just yet. At the age of 30, he still has much to give. Just look at the way he has played in the group stage, grabbing vital goals against Myanmar and Cambodia. The striker just offers a constant goal threat. His movement is still there and he can still drag defenders around and create space for others. Basically, he continues to guarantees goals.

But there is more than that. He is a leader for the team. Vietnam have some very exciting young players coming through. The likes of Luong Xuan Truong, Nguyen Cong Phuong, Vu Van Thanh, Que Ngoc Hai and Nguyen Van Toan are all in their early twenties. They will form the nucleus of a very good team over the next few years, for the short-term, they need some leadership.

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There is some age and wisdom in the squad. There is actually a pleasing balanced of youth, experience and players approaching their peak but there is no one like Le Cong Vinh. There is no one with the record he has, the experience he has and nobody with the aura he has.

The striker has contributed so much to Vietnamese football but there is still some more left to give. It is only two years and one month to the 2019 Asian Cup. When that kicks off, he was have just turned 33 and still be able to give defenders a torrid time.

First he should stick around to ensure that the Golden Stars manage to qualify for the tournament. This should happen but there is work to do. Success at the AFF Suzuki Cup is great but ultimately, it has to mean something and it has to lead to the national team challenging on a continental level. The expansion from 16 to 24 teams means that Vietnam has to be there.

Perhaps the striker does not have to play in all the friendly games if he does not desire to do so but his presence is needed when the pressure is on. Le Cong Vinh is still the man for the big occasion and given the talent in the country at the moment,there should be plenty of big occasions to come.

Matching Lionel Messi would be great but there is still more to do for this legend of South-east Asia. It is not time to retire. It is time to think again.

John Duerden

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