Troussier faces test of credentials as Vietnam look to make mark at Asian Cup

Philippe Troussier's well-travelled managerial career has now taken him to Southeast Asia, after he agreed to take charge of Vietnam last February. Wang Hua/VCG via Getty Images

Even for a tactician as experienced and well-travelled as Philippe Troussier, a test of credentials is what he will be facing when he leads Vietnam at the upcoming AFC Asian Cup.

Admittedly, it should not be the case for someone who has been in coaching since 1983 and has two FIFA World Cups under his belt -- having managed South Africa and Japan at the 1998 and 2002 editions respectively.

Yet, when Troussier was unveiled by Vietnam as their new man at the helm last February, he was following in the footsteps of a man revered among fans in the Southeast Asian nation.

There was little fanfare when his predecessor Park Hang-Seo was handed the reins of the Golden Star Warriors in 2017.

After all, despite a number of club jobs in his homeland, the South Korean's claim to fame remained being assistant to Guus Hiddink as his nation pulled off their stunning run to the semifinals of the 2002 World Cup.

Surpassing all expectations, the appointment of Park was followed by a glorious era for Vietnam.

They first showed their potential by reaching the final of the 2018 AFC U-23 Championship before finishing fourth at the Asian Games -- a tournament which had current stars such as Son Heung-Min and Kaoru Mitoma playing for South Korea and Japan respectively.

By the end of that year, Park had led Vietnam to the AFF Championship as they returned to the summit of Southeast Asian football for the first time in a decade.

With regional success in the bag, Park then turned his attention to the wider continental scene.

As he nurtured an exciting group of emerging talent -- now viewed by many as a golden generation -- Vietnam would reach the third and final round of Asian qualifiers for the World Cup for the first time, which officially put them among the continent's top 12 teams.

Their endeavours at the last Asian Cup in 2019 also saw them achieve a creditable quarterfinal finish, narrowly losing 1-0 to powerhouses Japan via a VAR-awarded penalty.

Eventually, as Vietnam relinquished their status as Southeast Asia's top team following Thailand's resurgence, Park decided to call time on his reign -- stepping down after the most recent AFF Championship at the start of 2023.

Fondly referred to as 'Teacher Park' by the majority of the Vietnamese football community, the South Korean will go down as one of the nation's most-beloved figures.

Which is why, for all his own credentials, Troussier does have big shoes to fill.

He has started well enough.

A bronze medal at last year's Southeast Asian Games was not the desired outcome but far from a total disappointment.

In the second round of Asian qualifiers for the next World Cup, Vietnam have three points from their first two outings with the one defeat they have suffered thus far coming against a formidable Iraq outfit and, even then, with the only goal of the game arriving right at the death in the 7th minute of injury-time.

Yet, after what Park achieved, just doing well enough probably will not -- and should not -- suffice.

When they were choosing Park's successor, the goal was to find a coach to now bring them to the next level -- and the man they settled on was Troussier.

He has inherited a squad who should reaching their prime sooner rather than later, with the likes of Đỗ Duy Mạnh, Vũ Văn Thanh and Nguyễn Văn Toàn in their late 20s and around the half-century mark for international appearances, although injury has denied Vietnam the services of goalkeeper Đặng Văn Lâm and striker Nguyễn Tiến Linh.

Perhaps the biggest task on Troussier's hands will be to get Nguyễn Quang Hải back to his best.

The talismanic playmaker with a penchant for shining on big occasions, Quang Hải was once regarded as one of Asia's up-and-coming stars but his progress has somewhat stalled following a disappointing spell in the French second tier with Pau.

As he showed at the last Asian Cup, Quang Hải is good enough to cut it with the continent's best when he is at the peak of his powers.

Getting him back there, which could significantly boost Vietnam's prospects at the Asian Cup, will go a long way in helping Troussier prove he is the man to take them forward.