The Local Game: When opportunity knocks

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Yaya Toure back when he dominated the Premier League with Manchester City. — AFP Photo

Peter Cowan

Opportunity knocks but once, or so the saying goes, but not it seems for V.League 1 clubs, who by some accounts have spurned two great opportunities in recent weeks.

Yaya Toure and Yohan Cabaye were both linked with moves to the V.League 1 recently but neither has ended up in Viet Nam, with Toure taking a coaching role in Ukraine and Cabaye (who has Vietnamese heritage) retiring.

Either one would have been a blockbuster signing for Vietnamese football, but Toure, in particular, would have been a true marquee arrival, as a player, coach or a combination of the two.

Now, at this point, the cynical among you may ask how likely it ever really was that a Premier League, La Liga, Champions League and Africa Cup of Nations winner was going to strut his stuff in the V.League 1? Can clubs over here really afford to pay the wages a player like Yaya Toure can command? And wouldn’t the money be better spent on long-term development rather than a flashy signing?

I planned on writing this column as a debate on the merits of a V.League 1 club signing a player like Yaya Toure, but after just a little scratching beneath the surface, it seemed less and less like much of a debate.

As it turns out, Toure was ready to take up to a 90 per cent cut in his wages to play in Southeast Asia after falling in love with the idea of playing in the region, according to Richard Harcus, CEO of Harcus Consultancy Group, which represents Toure in Southeast Asia.

Richard told me at one stage there was serious interest from a club in Viet Nam to the point he thought it was “as good as a done deal”, but communication from the Vietnamese team simply ceased and Toure moved on to begin his coaching career in Ukraine.

To say Richard was disappointed the deal didn’t come to be would be putting it mildly, as he thinks having a player like Yaya Toure in the V.League 1 would open up endless possibilities for the league thanks to the worldwide attention a player of his calibre brings, the increased fan interest and new sponsorship opportunities, to name a few benefits.

It’s hard to argue with Richard on those points and I certainly know my friends here and overseas would have a greater interest in the V.League 1 with Yaya Toure playing in it, as just like in politics, name recognition matters.

To give but one example, the uptick in social media reaction that Việt Nam News football stories see when a local club brings the likes of David N’Gog in for a trial shows how much a name can matter. And no disrespect to the former Liverpool forward, but Yaya Toure is a much bigger name than David N’Gog.

So Yaya Toure wanted to come to Việt Nam, he wouldn’t break the bank and would have brought benefits off the pitch as well? So why didn’t the move happen?

It’s hard to say what’s really going on behind the scenes at a V.League 1 club, especially when sporting success may not always be the number one goal.

I suspect a lack of ambition or bravery may be what’s keeping the movers and shakers in local clubs from making splash moves like signing a Toure or Cabaye, as there’s much greater embarrassment if the player is a flop (which in all fairness isn’t entirely out of the question with older superstars) than comes from signing an unknown second division Brazilian.

How else can you explain Hà Nội FC forward Geovane Magno earning more per month than former France international Yohan Cabaye was reportedly seeking to play in Việt Nam?

As good as Magno may be, indeed I thought he was the best player in the league last season, the opportunity to sign a Cabaye or Toure won't always be around for V.League 1 teams, and passing up on it does the league and fans a disservice.

Let's hope they grab the next one with both hands instead of letting it slip by. — VNS

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