Anh Tuan is a talented young man. So talented, in fact, that his story is drawing the attention of football fans from Vietnam to Vines Cross.
The reason? Tuan has achieved a first — at the tender age of eight he has become the first Vietnamese footballer to sign with Arsenal, an English football club that, says Tuan’s father, “never quite wins anything but usually gets close.”
This is something that Duong Duc Phat, the 28-year-old buffalo herder from Binh Dinh, hopes his son will change.
“I wanted Liverpool to come forward for him,” he explains. “They win everything. But being at Arsenal is probably better for Tuan. It’s a challenge. I’ve told him that he’s got to help them win the EPL by the time he’s 16.”
Anh Tuan’s bright future — he leaves for England in the summer — belies the humble circumstances of his past. Born to a farming family living in the mountains, not too far from Qui Nhon, it was only his mother’s clever bargaining skills on the buffalo trading market that enabled him to go to school.
When Anh Tuan was three, his mother, Lan Hong, convinced a foreign NGO that her family’s generational poverty warranted substantial aid. As a result she received two young buffalos of mixed genders. She bred them and cared for them until they reached full maturity at the age of two years, while husband Duc Phat drank away the annual rice yield in the form of homemade moonshine. After fattening the family buffalo to their maximum size, Lan Hong went to the monthly buffalo fair and made a tidy profit. She then returned to the NGO and claimed her buffalo had been stolen. Saddened by her convincing story, the NGO bought her another pair.
All of this benefitted the young Anh Tuan, who was sent to school where he joined the youth football squad. So adept was he at his newfound love, that at six years old he was running circles round the seniors, and by the age of seven, he was asked to play in the junior U14 team for V-League side Binh Dinh.
The contract Anh Tuan just signed with Arsenal is worth a total of £2 million (VND66 billion). It will enable his mother, father and two sisters to move to the UK while he learns his trade as a soccer player.
“I can’t wait to move to the UK,” says Duc Phat. “But I’m worried about the alcohol they sell over there. I hear that all the beer is refrigerated. I can’t think of anything worse.”
Lan Hong is more optimistic.
“I’m going to set up a buffalo meat restaurant,” she says. “It’s a local speciality and I’ve heard they like Vietnamese food in the UK.”
But for little Anh Tuan, living so far away from home is a challenge. The only English he has learnt so far is on the football pitch and from watching football on TV — a vocabulary of swear words and obscure sports terminology that will likely prove useful but limited on the streets of Islington. Nonetheless, he is confident.
“If all of those other foreigners playing in England can’t speak English, then it doesn’t really matter,” he says. “I only need English to play football and I already know words like ‘goal’, ‘offside’ and ‘oy, ref’. So, it should be easy.”
Adds Duc Phat: “I’ve heard that a team called Manchester United is buying players for stupid amounts of money. After we’re all settled in London, I’m going to sell Anh Tuan to them for a mountain of dong.”