Risk factor comes with a big price tag

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It took all of five hours for Henrique Calisto to double his salary.

At the end of the contract renewal negotiations on Wednesday, the Portuguese tactician had increased his income to a hefty US$25,000 a month plus perks.

It was not a major surprise that the Vietnam Football Federation (VFF) agreed to this sum last Wednesday. There were several factors at play, but the primary one was that there was no other contender.

VFF has no other candidate in the running for the position of national coach, despite Calisto’s inability to bring home the gold medal at the last Southeast Asian Games.

Vietnam lost 0-1 to Malaysia in the final after conceding an own goal in the last minutes although they’d beaten their opponents 3-1 in a group stage match.

Calisto, however, guided the team to victory at the Asean Football Federation Cup after defeating Thailand 3-2 in a two leg final last year. That guaranteed a significant advantage at the negotiation table.

Calisto’s salary of $25,000 per month after tax is almost official after vice president of VFF Le Hung Dung said “it is higher” than the $20,000 mentioned by VFF President Nguyen Trong Hy when he talked to the media last week, saying no club can afford to pay such a high salary.

Well-informed sources confirmed that the real number was indeed $25,000 after tax and other expenses including housing, transport, telephone, healthcare and 2 plane tickets to Portugal every year. Calisto will have to pay tax on any bonus money he receives.

Dung said that these bonuses (for good performances) will be much higher than the $20,000 he received after winning the Asean Football Federation Cup last year.

But the problem is: all of these are “just basic agreements” and VFF still has to wait for Calisto’s signature.

If the new contract is signed, the Portuguese coach will continue to lead the national football team until March 2013.

But apart from being the sole contender (because VFF was not looking elsewhere), why was the federation so willing to double the coach’s present salary of ($ 13,500)?

Avoiding risk

More than anybody else, VFF knows how hard it is to find a foreign coach.

The coach must understand Vietnamese football and have a strategy that suits the Vietnamese player’s physique.

The federation would be taking a huge risk if they choose a new coach and fail to achieve their targets.

VFF had burnt their fingers by choosing a wrong man for this position earlier. In 2002, VFF signed a two year contract with Christian Letard following an introduction from French national team manager Aime Jacquet. Nine months after Letard took charge, the national football team had performed poorly and was defeated in humiliating fashion at the LG Cup. Under public and media pressure, VFF sacked Letard, but two years later, the French coach prosecuted VFF at the FIFA Sports Court and won $140,000 in compensation because the federation had fired him without negotiation.

Needless to say, this verdict drew derisive reactions from Vietnamese football fans and the media, slamming the stupidity of VFF officers squandering people’s tax money.

The lesson was almost learnt again just a few months later.

Looking for another foreign coach in a hurry, VFF had no one to choose but Edson Tavares from Brazil who had coached the Vietnamese national football team for the Independence Cup in 1995. At this tournament, he had coached the Vietnam A and B teams, and both had reached the semifinals.

More importantly, after only 45 days of training, Vietnamese players had developed the physique to play on equal terms with taller and bigger South Korean players. Tavares is still considered the man who cast the first stone for modern football in Vietnam.

But the second time around was different. After 9 months under Tavares, the national football team had played 15 matches, lost 7, drawn 2 and won only six. They were eliminated in the group stage of the Tiger Cup in 2004 after losing 0-3 to Indonesia at the My Dinh stadium in Hanoi.

That defeat brought Alfred Riedl back for safety reasons although VFF knew that their national team had always lacked a trophy under the Austrian coach. His team surrendered the Tiger Cup trophy in 1998 after conceding a goal that a Singaporean player scored with his back in the last minutes. Then at the SEA Games in 2005, Riedl managed to take his team to the runners up position, losing to Thailand.

Hero in the making

Henrique Calisto had actually appeared on the Vietnamese football scene a long time ago, following an advertising campaign in 2001 by the boss of Gach Dong Tam Long An Corp., Vo Quoc Thang.

Thang wanted to promote his products by investing in a first division club, getting a few foreign players and bringing Henrique Calisto from Portugal as its head coach.

Calisto used to coach Boavista in the 1986â€"87 season in Portugal, but he earned just $3,000 per month at Gach Dong Tam Long An. However, it did not take much time for him to display his acumen.

He needed only one season to win the first division championship, then Gach Dong Tam Long An was promoted to the V-League. The club became famous for both its investment and its hot head coach.

When the Letard accident happened, he was appointed as the national team’s coach to prepare for the SEA Games in 2003. Inheriting a broken team from Letard, he surprisingly took home the bronze medal, but that did not help him keep his seat. After several quarrels with VFF officials, Calisto came back to Dong Tam Long An and helped the club to win two V-League championships consecutively in 2005 and 2006.

Because of the time he has spent at the V-League, Calisto understands every club and every player even if they are playing in the (second tier) first division. At the V-League, he is known as the “magician” â€" the man who can turn over any match.

And then the times produced their hero. When Alfred Riedl’s team failed to impress at the SEA Games 2007, it was time for Calisto to step up.

Reported by Le Huynh Le

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