Highland football club thrives while the others struggle

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Several Vietnamese clubs want to adopt the business model that Premier League club Arsenal is helping to develop at HAGL-Arsenal JMG in Gia Lai Province, but translating intention into reality is proving difficult.

According to Arsenal's managing director Ivan Gazidis, who visited the Vietnamese Football Academy last week, what HAGL-Arsenal JMG is doing is very similar to what is done at the English club in London.

Arsenal trains local juniors and signs up promising unknowns from elsewhere to develop into top-flight footballers who can then be sold to other clubs.

In this way, Arsenal avoids having to rely much on corporate sponsorship.

This summer, to give the latest example, the third richest football club in the world after Manchester United and Real Madrid, according to Forbes, has just sold Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure to Manchester City for 41 million pounds (US$67 million).

The Hoang Anh Gia Lai Group owns and runs the club of the same name in Gia Lai, making it easier to adopt a successful business model for the club.

Its talent scouts roam Vietnam looking for promising footballers as young as 12 years old to emulate Arsenal.

Unlike Gia Lai Province, places like Nghe An, Dong Thap, Khanh Hoa and Da Nang abound in talented young players and are a rich source of potential recruits who might get nowhere without the backing of a committed sponsor like Hoang Anh Gia Lai.

Khanh Hoa is one of several clubs struggling to survive. Its president, Le Tien Anh, admires what they are doing at HAGL-Arsenal JMG but says it is very difficult to do the same.

"In football generally, some sponsors only want to advertise themselves and have little or no interest in the game, let alone its future. When they've had enough, the sponsorship ends," Anh says.

"It's not easy to find a decent coach, so some clubs have to hire foreign coaches. Hoang Anh Gia Lai can do it successfully because of the company's reputation and presence."

When Arsenal managing director Ivan Gazidis and commercial director Tom Fox spent a couple of days with HAGL-Arsenal JMG last week, HAGL president Doan Nguyen Duc handed them an invitation for Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger to visit Vietnam.

Duc offered to fly Wenger to HAGL-Arsenal JMG in Pleiku in his private jet.

Fox responded by saying that Wenger could come during next summer's break for the World Cup 2010 in South Africa.

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