Attendance has fallen sharply in the last few years and clubs are losing money, which causes problems for wealthy club owners, many of whom have withdrawn their investments, also partly due to a general economic slowdown in Vietnam.
The national team also put in a dismal performance at the most recent Southeast Asian Games and has plunged to 145th in the FIFA World Rankings.
However, in Vietnam the love of the beautiful game dies hard. Soccer is, by all measures, the most popular sport in this country of about 90 million people.
On many Hanoi street corners, young boys — often barefoot — can be seen kicking cheap plastic balls around on the pavement after school classes, but sports facilities are lacking.
This is why the HAGL academy could prove so crucial to the development of domestic soccer.
“The fact we’ve trained them, for seven years, to play together, think together, it will affect Vietnamese football,” Graechen said.
“If the core of the best players continue to progress together, they will not need to talk each to other … they will just have to glance at each other to understand,” he added.
HAGL, one of Vietnam’s largest conglomerates, has recently attracted negative media attention after being identified in a Global Witness report as a driver of land disputes in neighboring Cambodia and Laos due to its extensive rubber plantations there.
A petition has been launched asking Arsenal to end its cooperation with HAGL — also one of the main sponsors of the Gunners’ recent Hanoi match — as it “brings shame on our club.”
HAGL “are using Arsenal to bring a veneer of respectability to their disgusting behavior,” the petition says.
Many of HAGL’s academy students hope to eventually play for a top-end European club, while others are likely to join V-League teams.
Ksor Uc, 17, from a poor Jarai ethnic minority family, hopes to one day play for Manchester United.
“I also dream of being able to put on the national team shirt and bring glory to Vietnam,” he said.