The one exception is when they’re tackling a Việt Nam national team member, in which case the ball comes second to causing grievous bodily harm.
I’m being facetious of course but judging how Ngô Hoàng Thịnh has been treated in the last week, quite a few football ‘fans’, pundits and officials do subscribe to the ludicrous theory above.
In case you’ve been living under a rock (or have better things to do than follow the V.League 1), last Tuesday, HCM City FC’s Thịnh broke Hà Nội FC and national team star Đỗ Hùng Dũng's leg in a horrific challenge, ruling the latter out for at least six months and likely longer.
It was a devastating blow for Dũng, his club, the national team and Thịnh, who was visibly distraught at what had happened, but that didn’t matter to the keyboard warriors of social media.
In the hours since the accident, the midfielder’s Facebook account was flooded with abusive comments, with many supposed fans claiming he intended to injure Dũng, others calling for him to be banned for life and some even threatening Thịnh.
Understandably, the Nghệ An Province-born player quickly deactivated his verified account to avoid the torrent of abuse.
Football pundits also joined the pile-on, either overcome with the same anger the commenters displayed or simply hoping to draw clicks with provocative headlines and quotes.
I’ve seen pundits describe the challenge as “malicious”, Thịnh accused of lacking respect for his fellow professionals or indeed the game, and one even said he should regret the challenge for the rest of his life.
To say there’s been a loss of perspective would be an understatement and I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if the shoe were on the other foot?
If Dũng had snapped Thịnh's leg, would the national team’s star midfielder have been hounded off Facebook? Would pundits have called his character into question? Would he have been banned for the rest of the calendar year like Thịnh?
This isn’t merely a hypothetical question, as the nature of a contact sport means things like this can happen to anybody and indeed the current national team captain Quế Ngọc Hải received a lengthy ban for what turned out to be a career-ending challenge on another player in 2015.
Of course, Việt Nam weren’t on the precipice of reaching the final stage of World Cup qualifying back in 2015 and Hải wasn’t the inspirational captain he has since become, so I think it’s fair to question whether he would have received the same punishment or reaction today.
Hải was roundly criticised at the time but has since rebuilt his reputation largely off the back of his performances in the red of Việt Nam and while I hope Thịnh is afforded the same opportunity, I fear he may not be so lucky.
Due to the fervour the national team inspires here, I worry his only chance to win redemption in the eyes of many is by adding to his 15 Việt Nam caps, though some pundits say he shouldn’t get the chance to do so.
Coach Park Hang-seo’s team is justifiably loved for their incredible exploits in recent years, but how that love has inspired such viciousness towards Thịnh for what was a horrible accident is sickening.
While such challenges do need to be taken out of the game, throwing Thịnh to the wolves solves nothing and indeed does Vietnamese football a disservice.
We would all do well to remember that without a domestic league and pros like Thịnh, there would be no AFF Cup or World Cup glory to cheer, no opportunities to drive around Hoàn Kiếm Lake celebrating, no stage for the likes of Dũng to develop on. VNS