Currently, each club competing in the country’s professional football leagues is authorized to register as many as four foreign players, and a maximum of three are allowed to play on the pitch at the same time.
Under such a restriction, many club bosses have sought to apply for citizenship for their international players, while the footballers themselves also desire to be naturalized, since this means a far greater profit coming to their pockets, newswire VnExpress said.
Brazilian goalkeeper Fabio Santos, who started playing in Vietnam in 2001 for Dong Tam Long An, is the trendsetter of this wave.
The naturalized goalkeeper enabled Dong Tam Long An to have all four of its foreign footballers play simultaneously in a game, without breaching the rules.
The goalie, under the Vietnamese name Phan Van Santos, thus contributed greatly to the Long An-based club, which won one championship in the First Division and two V-League trophies.
Following the Brazilian Vietnamese’s success, the V-League, Vietnam’s top-flight football league, has seen 14 such cases of naturalized players over the last few years.
Love money or country?
While most of the foreign players claim that “I love Vietnam; I want to play for the Vietnamese national team” once they receive their Vietnamese passport, few are as straightforward as Huynh Kesley Alves of Saigon FC.
The local citizenship would help him find a job easily, with larges wages as well, the Brazilian said frankly.
And he was right.
Prior to his naturalization, Kesley Alves only received monthly salary of around US$10,000 at Becamex Binh Duong, and $100,000 upon transferring to another club after his one-year contract ended.
Things have changed since he began playing under the Vietnamese first name Huynh, with his wage skyrocketing to $15,000, and his transfer fee tripling.
Similarly, many other foreign footballers have changed their lives by going through the naturalization process.
Nguyen Hoang Helio of Song Lam Nghe An left his Brazilian national team for the Vietnamese one, and saw transfer price rise from $30,000 to $200,000 a year. The stories are the same for Le Tostao of Zimbabwe and Ronal Marti of Uganda.
Reality shows that most of the naturalized footballers do so only for one target -- money, though none of them explicitly admit this as Huynh Kesley did.
Goalie Mykola, for instance, used to earn only $500 a month while playing for Thanh Hoa. When transferred to Ninh Binh he naturalized, and with the completely Vietnamese name Dinh Hoang La he asked for a $200,000 full-year payment.
“Few of the naturalized footballers can speak fluent Vietnamese. They come here for the money,” stated football expert Nguyen Van Vinh.
Vinh said that not all of the international footballers have better skills than the domestic ones, and they thus do not contribute anything to improving the quality of the football clubs.
“Naturalized footballers are only the club bosses’ makeshift plans, as they cannot domestically recruit qualified players,” he concluded.
While international footballers can quite easily apply for citizenship, it is not simple for overseas Vietnamese players to find a job in Vietnam.
For instance, Frenchman Johnny Nguyen of Hanoi Club is not recognized as a Vietnamese player when he plays in the V-League.
Similarly, Emil Le Giang, a player from the Slovak U-17 national squad, will also be considered an international player if he is recruited.
“The naturalization of foreign players is wasteful and ineffective in the long term,” said Vinh.
“How many young, talented domestic footballers have had to give up their chance to play in the V-League to the nearly 20 naturalized footballers?”