Hanoi rocks for Rosicky and Co and as Arsenal love hits fever pitch
Vietnamese and Communist Party just can’t get enough of ‘Dad’ Wenger and touring Gunners
Lukas Podolski of Arsenal talks with fan Vu Xuan Tien (The Running Man) ahead of the international friendly between Vietnam and the visiting Arsenal side. Photograph: Chris McGrath/Getty Images
All over Hanoi, people were wearing Arsenal jerseys. The first thing many people say in this football-mad country when they spot a foreigner is “Arsenal!” As the first English Premiership side to visit Vietnam, the Gunners were pushing against an unlocked door.
Asia is a growing source of revenue for Premiership and other European football clubs, keen to boost brand awareness and sign deals with companies in a fast-developing region where overseas teams are better supported than local ones .
But choosing Vietnam was a canny piece of business. Fans have been crying out for a Premiership side to visit this country of 88 million people.
The biggest news story of the past few days was the tale of “Running Man” Vu Xuan Tien, who ran eight kilometres chasing the team bus to share the love with his favourite team. He was cheered on by players on board chanting “Sign him up”.
He eventually caught up with the bus, after hitching a lift on a motorbike, and was given a standing ovation by the players – and a hug from Arsene Wenger, as well as an invitation to come and see Arsenal next season.
There were T- shirts showing Wenger wearing a Vietnamese traditional hat, and he became known as “Dad” to the legions of new fans. Everywhere Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott went, they were mobbed.
Arsenal arrived in Hanoi with an 80-strong delegation, including 24 players, and stayed for three days at the city’s most luxurious hotel, the Intercontinental Hotel at the city’s west lake.
They had earlier been in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, where they beat a “dream team” selection 7-0 in front of 50,000 delirious fans.
In Hanoi they demolished a Vietnam selection 7-1 and in the stadium, the 40,000-plus supporters managed to cheer both sides simultaneously.
When one overseas fan shouted “Arteta, you’re rubbish” as the Spanish midfielder sent a free-kick soaring over the bar, local supporters turned around, shocked. There is little understanding of criticising your own team in Vietnam.
A taxi driver, who spoke very little English, said he liked Arsenal, but Vietnam were no good. “Vietnam is no good at football. Vietnam is good at war!” he said. This is after all, a country that has fended off attacks from France, the United States and China in living memory.
There had been controversy in the run-up to the Vietnam leg. Doan Nguyen Duc, the rubber and timber tycoon sponsoring the tour to Vietnam and one of the country’s richest men, owns companies allegedly behind widespread environmental and social crimes.
As well as sponsoring the tour, Arsenal has partnered with MR Duc, who is the president of a local team, in setting up a training academy for youth players in central Vietnam.
Arsenal did all the right things when they were in town. The team played blind football with visually impaired children at Nguyen Dinh Chieu School.
Some 25,000 people turned out to see a training session the night before the game.
For some reason, Czech midfielder Tomas Rosicky is a huge star in Asia and was the most popular of all the players.
He was mobbed everywhere he went, and when his name was announced at the stadium, there was pandemonium. There are different reports about why this is, but there seems to be consensus he brings good luck.
Tickets for the game cost 400,000-1.5 million dong (€14.40-€54) each. Vietnam’s 2012 annual per capita income was less than €1,200. The match was seen as a great opportunity to showcase the countryand the achievements of the ruling Communist Party.
Fears of cancellation
There had earlier been fears the Vietnam leg would be cancelled because the owners were looking for 1.5 billion dong (€54,000) for the rent of the My Dinh National Stadium, eight times the usual cost.
The government intervened in the form of Vietnam Football Federation (VFF) chairman Nguyen Trong Hy, who said it was a “political duty” to welcome Arsenal to the country.The government also contributed part of the cost of bringing Arsenal to the country,