Steadying hand in Vietnamese football

French coach Guillaume Graechen has had a strong attachment to Vietnamese youth football since 2007, when he started out with the Hoàng Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) Arsenal JMG Academy. He has experienced all of the ups and downs that come with a training career, but is considered a symbol of HAGL youth football.

Graechen,43, coached the national U19 team in 2014, finishing second in the AFF U19 Youth Championship, which had a strong effect on Vietnamese football.

In 2019 he led the U19 national team to victory in the International U19 Football Tournament, and recently helped the U17 Nutifood HAGL team finish second in the National U17 Championship.

He is expected to continue to unearth and train more talented young players for Vietnamese football in the future. Thanh Nga spoke with him.

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NOW & FOREVER: Graechen plans to live in Việt Nam after he retires.

Inner Sanctum: Could you introduce yourself and tell us why you decided to work in Việt Nam?

Before managing I played for Dijon, Angers, Sedan, and Romorantin. At the age of 29, Guillou Jean Marc contacted me through Dufour Vincent, who was my coach and is currently general manager of JMG Football. I accepted the proposal to become project manager in Việt Nam with HAGL.

Inner Sanctum: You train young footballers at HAGL, you led HAGL in V.League 1, and you also coached national junior teams. Could you tell us about these jobs and the pressure that comes with them?

It was an enriching experience professionally and culturally. Trainer and coach are two completely different jobs. Trainers have time to work with players without feeling pressure from results. It’s all about the pleasure of the game. As a U19 national team or V. League 1 coach, the question of time and results leads to more psychological work regarding the players, but the pleasure and the game must remain the same, though this is not always obvious.

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EYE TO THE FUTURE: Young players in the first course of the HAGL Arsenal JMG Academy, including Nguyễn Công Phượng and Lương Xuân Trường.

Inner Sanctum: You trained talented young Vietnamese footballers such as Công Phượng, Xuân Trường and Văn Toàn, who are now key players in the national team with success in regional and continental tournaments. How does that make you feel?

I am proud of all of them and wish them all the best in the future. I also don’t forget all the other players I’ve been involved with, because they have all become good people, and this is the most important thing for me. I also had a very good team of staff, with Nguyễn Đức Bảo as translator, teacher, and supervisor, and Dương Minh Ninh and Nguyễn Văn Đàn as assistants. I thank them for their dedication to the HAGL-JMG project.

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TEAM TALK: Guillaume Graechen training with the HAGL team. Photos courtesy of Guillaume Graechen

Inner Sanctum: I know you are a very special coach at HAGL, not only training players but also taking care of them like a father. What makes you do that?

First of all, I have a passion for football and I pass that on to the players. When you work with your heart, with humility and with honesty, the players will invest themselves in the process.

Secondly, the job of manager of a JMG academy requires that you organise all the sporting, financial, educational, and medical aspects, so you have to be in contact with players at all times. I always take on the role of “second father” in order to educate the 10 or 12-year-olds who join the academy.

Inner Sanctum: What do you think about HAGL football in particular and Vietnamese football in general?

HAGL has everything needed to succeed, with magnificent infrastructure in an exceptional setting, good players trained at HAGL-JMG and by the club, a real football stadium with no athletics track around it, and a climate in Pleiku that is perfect for playing football.

Vietnamese football is developing, efforts are being made in infrastructure, stadiums are being renovated, and pitches are getting better, though there is still progress to be made. Ground play can’t be developed on poor-quality pitches, and Vietnamese players have the physical characteristics to play short and on the ground with speed.

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FAMILY AFFAIR: Graechen and his happy family.

Inner Sanctum: Can you tell us a little bit about your family in Việt Nam? I know your wife is Vietnamese, so do you feel cultural differences in your family?

I have two boys and a girl. Of course, Asian culture is different from European culture, but love is universal.

Inner Sanctum: You have now been in Việt Nam for many years. What are the advantages and disadvantages of working and living here?

In my line of work, only the place where I live changes. The work remains the same.

For family life, there are only advantages. My family travels between France and Việt Nam, and my children have dual nationality and speak both languages. This opens their minds to travel. Việt Nam is my adopted country, and I will retire here, not in France. The only disadvantage is that my parents and sisters are far away. Video calls just can’t replace human contact.

Inner Sanctum: What impresses you most about living in Việt Nam?

The sweetness of life and people sharing and helping each other, which are becoming increasingly rare in France.

Inner Sanctum: What do you often do in your free time?

I spend time with my family, watch a lot of football matches, and enjoy good Vietnamese food. VNS

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ON THE WAY UP: The HAGL team featured many players who are now stars of the national team, such as Lương Xuân Trường, Nguyễn Công Phượng, Vũ Văn Thanh, and Nguyễn Văn Toàn.
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