A foreign man approached and patted on a shoulder of a Vietnamese sport journalist working at the Lao national stadium. The two recognised each other and started chatting amidst the bustle atmosphere of the SEA Games 2009.
“He said: ‘If you are free tomorrow morning, I wanna invite you to a breakfast and a coffee.’ At that time, Alfred Riedl is the head coach of the Lao national football team. Despite the heavy pressure he was bearing, he still extended the cordial invitation to me, and this really moved me,” said Minh Hai who later became famous with a Vlog channel specialised in sports and football in particular.
Hai is among the rarest and closest, in both the job and the life, to the Austrian coach during his time working in Vietnam.
Talking to the Vietnam Plus, Hai revealed numerous interesting anecdotes on the Austrian man who had huge influence on generations of Vietnam’s football.
“Bringing” Viet home back to Austrian
Very few know that Riedl had a deep love for Vietnam. His first days working with the country’s football were associated with food.
Ending each training, when footballers came back for a rest and a bath, the Austrian coach always treated himself to a cold Hanoi beer.
“For him, Vietnamese food is very important although his was very choosy. He was not a man of street food or pavement life, but had a particular taste for Vietnamese food, especially signature dishes like pho, bun cha, bun bo Hue, etc.,” recalled Hai.
Many fans often misunderstand that Riedl’s love for Vietnam comes from the donation of a kidney by a Vietnamese man. This is right but not all, as he loved the country from the simplest things.
Riedl had a special interest on Vietnamese ancient culture. While working in Vietnam, he had a habit of visiting painting studios, especially those of folk genres. Besides those of famous trends, anything related to the Vietnamese nation was a magnet to the Austrian man.
He told Hai nobody can imagine that his house in Austria is like a Vietnamese one. Riedle brought everything from his “second homeland” to make his house “the most Vietnamese”. Entering the house, visitors can easily recognise the Vietnamese space, with walls decorated with his photos in the Southeast Asian country.
“Vietnam is not only my home country…”
That is the sentence Hai always keeps in mind on Riedl. It was repeated in every chat between the two.
Rield always talked about his kidney transplant to stress that Vietnam is part of his blood.
In 2007, thanks to the great help from Vietnamese doctors, he got the transplant after years suffering from kidney failure. Had it not been for the donation from a Vietnamese, the former head coach of the Vietnamese team would have had to visit hospital three times a week and said “adieu” to football at an early date.
In the Satu Jam Lebih Dekat in 2011 on Indonesia’s TV, Riedl had a surprise – meeting again Doctor Nguyen Trong Hien who had played a great role in the successful medical operation of his life, and the man who had donated his kidney to him.
Choked by emotion, the Austrian coach could not hold his tears. Embracing the donor, he said: “You save my life.”
Riedl often said he himself enjoyed much love from Vietnam, and that is why he felt obliged to repay it. It is because of the love that he searched for ways to fulfill the self-imposed obligation.
Hai recalled: “While the team was training at the National Sports Training Centre No. 1, a worker there had a seriously ill child and fell into extremely difficult financial condition. Every month, Alfred Riedl provided the worker with some money and kept it a secret. The media and many people did not know about this until long later. At that time, nobody knew how he came to know so well about the situation of the worker.”
A great personality
“Leaving his football achievements aside, in my opinion, Alfred Riedl is professional and civilised, a very respectable personality of the then Vietnam’s football. His personality is manifested in many aspects. He never scolded his disciples while many other coaches did when the players committed faults,” Hai said.
Riedl’s men attested that fact and called him “Master” with love. Former player Quoc Vuong said: “Nobody could have anything to blame him, even those who he often left on the bench. They all knew to accept that and respected him in the expertise. He is a whole-hearted man.”
Meanwhile, once-talent Pham Van Quyen said: “To Alfred Riedl, all what I want to say is ‘Thank you’. He was the coach who enthusiastically and sincerely trained me right on my first days with the team, and a witness of my most memorable glories and failures.”
In 2005, Riedl’s assistant Vu Tien Thanh was brought to court. The Austrian man was the only coach to be present at the trial. He said: “To the law, Thanh is a criminal but to me, he is a close friend and I wanna up his morale in his hardest time.”
The anecdote on Riedl’s handling of midfielder Vu Minh Hieu is also a manifestation of the coach’s personality. The talented player did not get the call he had long waited for to the national team, for he had leaked stories in the changing room. For Riedl, principles must simply be respected.
Long later, asked by Hai, Riedl said: “I regret for failing to keep Hieu at the team then although I knew he was a talent. However, under the regulations, I opted to place the common benefit before the personal sentiment.”/.
Following his kidney transplant, coach Alfred Riedl could continue his football career, but anyway his body was far from being really OK.
As his condition turned serious, his wife painstakingly persuaded him to take some rest back in Austria instead of continuing with football. Ultimately, Riedl had only one choice: his reason of life or his life.
“I know that day will unavoidably come, but I can’t hold my sadness at the loss of a friend. I am shocked as I’ve never thought Alfred Riedl passes away so quickly,” said Hai with immense sorrows.