Goalkeeper Trần Nguyên Mạnh has played an important part in Viettel's successful V.League 1 campaign. Photo nongnghiep.vn
The 28-year-old joined Viettel from Sông Lam Nghệ An (SLNA) earlier this season and quickly became a reliable player for the Hà Nội-based team.
Mạnh played all 20 matches in the national premier league and conceded only 16 goals, a stinginess only equalled by Hà Nội FC.
In the second leg of the tournament, the player from the central province of Nghệ An truly showed his worth.
After conceding once in the opening match against Hoàng Anh Gia Lai, Mạnh kept a clean sheet in the remaining six matches, helping his side take five 1-0 wins and a 0-0 draw.
Mạnh's performance showed his command of the position, from claiming crosses to reaction saves, he showed the full bag of tricks.
"I am really happy. This is my first season for Viettel. Viettel deserve the championship,” said Mạnh.
“At this time last year, the decision to leave SLNA was very difficult for me. I chose Viettel because this is a good environment for me to develop. Joining Viettel was the right decision for me,” he added.
Mạnh, who had played for SLNA for 10 years before moving to Viettel, was the best goalkeeper of the 2019 football season with nine clean sheets for SLNA.
Saddest memory in career
There are mistakes in the career of any goalkeeper, but Manh's mistake in the match between Việt Nam against Indonesia in the second leg of the semi-final of the AFF Cup 2016 on December 7, 2016 was devastating. He was sent off after kicking an Indonesian striker.
Defender Quế Ngọc Hải had to replace Mạnh in goal with Việt Nam down to 10 men, in a match Việt Nam would go on to draw 2-2 after extra time, sealing their elimination at Hà Nội-based Mỹ Đình National Stadium 4-3 on aggregate.
However, after that failure, Mạnh bounced back with SLNA and won the 2017 National Cup.
“For me as a goalkeeper, there are many happy and sad memories. In the match against Indonesia, I was too sad. That game took place so quickly while Việt Nam were losers. I just wanted to get the game over as quickly as possible. And then the team lost and were eliminated. I received countless criticisms. It was a memorable lesson for me,” Mạnh said.
“Although there was a lot of criticism, there were also a lot of fans, especially my family, that always encouraged me. In addition, I was told by former national team striker Lê Công Vinh that I had to soon forget all the problems and the important thing was how I performed on the training ground. When I returned to SLNA, I was always trusted by coach Đức Thắng and the leadership, helping me to come back stronger,” he added.
Desire to return to national team
In early 2018, Mạnh was injured in a match at the AFC Cup 2018 when playing for SLNA, knocking him out for a year.
In 2019, he was selected by coach Park Hang-seo to the national team but he missed the 2022 World Cup qualifiers because of an elbow injury.
In the latest squad from the South Korean coach, Mạnh wasn’t named, something that motivates him to perform well for Viettel.
“Coach Park regularly attends the V.League 1 matches. For any player, it is a huge opportunity to present yourself to the national coach. However, what I think in every match is to focus on playing well, how to contribute to the club to get the best results,” said Mạnh.
“All Vietnamese players are looking forward to playing for the national team. Me too, I will continue to work hard to have a good performance for my club to seek chances,” he added.
Talent of Nghệ An
Inheriting his talent from his father, a physical education teacher, at the age of 12, Manh applied to join the SLNA football training centre and was successful.
At first, Mạnh played as a striker. However, once he had a go at playing goalie, the coaches quickly noticed his ability.
In 2012, Mạnh was promoted to the senior team of SLNA as the second choice behind Nguyễn Viết Nam. At the end of the 2012 season, when Nam suffered a serious injury, Mạnh got his opportunity.
Following excellent performances in the final matches of the V.League 1 2012 season, Mạnh became the No 1 goalkeeper of SLNA.
In 2013, Mạnh was in the U23 team to compete in the Southeast Asian Games 27 in Myanmar and two years later, he was in the squad for the Vietnamese team competing in the Asian Cup 2015.