HÀ NỘI — The road to success can have many twists and turns.
Just ask Tô Văn Vũ, the 28-year-old who is quickly establishing himself with the national football squad.
As a child, Vũ would walk the streets of Đồng Nai Province with his mother, shining shoes to earn a living.
Now it's his football boots that are polished to perfection as he continues living the dream of a professional player.
“My football journey has been like a dream come true," he said.
"When I look back at what I have done, it is incredible. I am lucky because I overcame many challenges to be a professional player.
"Thanks to football I escaped from poverty that I was stuck in throughout my childhood.
"Now, I am happy to have the chance to pursue my passion and contribute to football.”
Born in 1993 in Thanh Hóa Province, Vũ followed his parents to Đồng Nai Province for better life when he graduated from high school in 2011.
While his mother earned money as a vendor, Vũ supported his family as a shoe shine boy.
Mother and son worked hard to earn a living as they walked dozens of kilometres each day.
And as he crouched down cleaning shoes, Vũ would dream of his true love, football.
Eventually his big chance came.
He said: “When I was 20 my friend got me a trial at Đồng Nai FC who were scouting players for their U21 squad to compete at the national championship.
"I scored two goals in a trial match that day and after one week training with the team, I signed a contract.
“I was different than all my other teammates because I had not yet trained or practised with any team or football centre.
"I had no worthy rival in terms of physique in regards to technique, I was seven to eight years behind the others because at 20-years-old, I was late starting my profession.
“In the early days, I was really self-conscious because of my shortcomings. So I spent more time training by myself to sharpen my finishes and passes and strengthen my skills to control the ball.”
His hard work paid off, and in 2013 he got his chance with the first team of Đồng Nai FC playing in V.League 1.
He moved to Bình Dương in 2017 and three years later, he was named captain.
It was a remarkable change for the boy who once shined shoes for a living.
His next milestone came when he received the call to join the national squad.
"The news made me happy like crazy," he said.
"It is the dream of any player but it is even bigger for a shoeshine boy who wants to be a footballer. But life sometimes does not go the way we want and an ankle injury forced me out of the team.”
Two years later he was named for the second time but did not make it to the first team.
“Coach Park Hang-seo saw my aspirations and said the door to the national team is open to everyone who does a good job. He encouraged me to strive for next time,” said Vũ.
Dream to come true
Bình Dương FC coach Đặng Trần Chỉnh echoes the South Korean's words.
“Vũ has good physique, technique and speed," said Chỉnh.
"He is also doing well in 1v1 duels. He can serve Park’s need for a strong winger in his 3-5-2 formula.”
Vũ, who can play as either a defender or midfielder, is one of the key players in the three-time champions’ plan. He was in the starting line-up in all 52 matches scoring eight goals and 10 assists.
Chỉnh added: “It is clearly that Park sees Vũ’s potential so he called him to the national squad.
"Vũ was called twice but did not make the final list. I told him to try his best next time.
"Playing in a team, players should share the same philosophy and have equal levels of technique, if not he would not be a suitable part of that team.
"I told him if he could manage his style more appropriately and simply, he would be a playmaker and definitely find his place.”
On Thursday, Vũ joined the national squad in Hà Nội for another training camp, and could not wait to show Park his strong progress and energetic will.
Vũ said: “The career of a player is short. I’d love to wear the national team jersey and I don’t mind vying for a berth. As long as I have a chance, I’ll give it my all.”
But one thing's for sure, when he finally does pull on the national team jersey, it will surely mark the end of a remarkable journey from shining shoes to shining bright in Vietnamese football. VNS
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