Đỗ Hùng Dũng (right) stretches during a national team training session over the weekend. Photo courtesy of VFF
Đỗ Hùng Dũng is back from injury, but in the immortal words of LL Cool J, don’t call it a comeback.
There was great fanfare over the weekend as the Hà Nội FC midfielder made his return to national team training in Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu Province, eight months after suffering a horrific leg break in V.League 1 action.
Considering how traumatic Dũng’s injury was it’s hard to begrudge anyone getting excited over the photos that have emerged of him on the training pitch, but I’m going to do my best.
Yes, it’s great to see Dũng photographed on the pitch and not in a hospital room, but I think it would be a mistake to have him heavily involved in Việt Nam’s AFF Championship campaign, for a number of reasons.
First of all, there’s the obvious: is he really physically ready for a return to competitive action?
Unfortunately, the national team does have a poor recent record of rushing players back too quickly after injuries and aggravating their problems. Đoàn Văn Hậu, who recently underwent yet another knee operation in South Korea, is one example and his fellow defender Trần Đình Trọng is another.
After having worked so hard to rehabilitate from such a nasty injury, it would be gutting to watch Dũng having to face another spell on the sidelines.
What’s more, the AFF Championship can be a feisty affair, hardly making it the place for a player to ease himself back into action.
While Việt Nam are the best team in the competition on paper and a sight better than some of the weaker sides like Laos and Cambodia, the reality is that every match is a Southeast Asian derby of sorts, and we all know that derbies can be bruising encounters.
Ultimately, only Dũng and his medical team know if he’s ready to return, but even putting his physical state aside, I think it’s fair to ask if there’s even a place for him in the starting XI.
A lot has changed since Dũng last played competitive football in March, with the biggest difference the emergence of Nguyễn Hoàng Đức.
For my money, the Viettel man is Việt Nam’s best midfielder not named Nguyễn Quang Hải and has made the holding midfield position his own, even ahead of Nguyễn Tuấn Anh.
Dũng could be deployed further up the pitch instead of the middle of the park, but again I think he would find minutes hard to come by, as Nguyễn Công Phượng, Nguyễn Văn Toàn and to a lesser extent Phan Văn Đức are all more deserving of selection.
I’m not saying Dũng can’t eventually win back his place in the starting lineup by any stretch of the imagination, but he shouldn’t walk back into a team that has been playing at a high level since he’s been out, regardless of their tough run of results against Asia’s best in World Cup qualifying.
If he is to play any part in the AFF Championship over the coming weeks, I’d like to see him do it from the bench and with his minutes few and far between.
As gruesome as Dũng’s injury was, thanks to modern medicine and sports science, there’s no reason he can’t come back and reach the same high level he was playing at before. It would be a shame to risk that by rushing him back too soon. VNS