Amidst what could be described as one of the biggest transfer sagas in Southeast Asian football, Vietnam international goalkeeper Dang Van Lam has finally officially signed for J.League 1 side Cerezo Osaka. The Russian-Vietnamese officially becomes the third Southeast Asian player set to take part in the 2021 J.League 1 season, following Thai duo Chanathip Songkrasin (Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo) and Theerathon Bunmathan (Yokohama F. Marinos) and also the first Vietnamese to play in the Japanese top flight.
To describe Van Lam’s transfer to Cerezo as something that did not ran smoothly would be a massive understatement. The saga revolving Van Lam’s J.League move involved a cocktail of events that led to Thai football fans leaving angry comments in the J.League’s social media posts announcing Van Lam’s arrival, which includes the goalkeeper refusing to attend any Muangthong training sessions, allegations of Muangthong not paying his wages, and FIFA intervening to allow Van Lam to move to Cerezo.
The whole saga kicked-off in early January, when Vietnamese news outlet Nhan Dan and Japanese sports media Sports Hochi announcing that Cerezo had agreed verbally with Van Lam in regards of the goalkeeper’s signing. However, with COVID-19 limiting the flights going in and out of Thailand, two European sides – Dynamo Moscow of Russia and SC Braga of Portugal – have declared their interest in the 27-year old.
Things became convoluted when Muangthong took offense towards the statements made by Van Lam’s agent, Andrey Grushin, to the media in regards of Cerezo’s, Dynamo’s, and Braga’s interests towards his client. Van Lam had paid his compensation fee to the Kirins and have cancelled his contract with the Nonthaburi giants, however as the deal between Van Lam and Cerezo was a mere verbal agreement between the two parties, Muangthong felt that Van Lam was still contracted to them. The COVID-19 pandemic has not only prevented Cerezo and Van Lam from making anything official as soon as possible, but also altered the Thai League schedule significantly.
The alterations meant that foreign players in Thai clubs had to extend their contracts – set to expire in November 2021 – to March 2022. As the agreement between Cerezo and Van Lam was still of a verbal nature, despite the Vietnamese goalkeeper paying his way out of his contract he is still considered a Muangthong player and the club wants him to conduct his act accordingly, requiring him to attend for regular training sessions. However, Van Lam refused to attend said sessions, viewing that he had already cancelled his contract with the Kirins by paying out his compensation fees. This infuriated Muangthong and after their threats of fining their goalkeeper for his refusal to attend training went unheeded, the Kirins’ higher ups were infuriated even further after Grushin had accused Muangthong of violating financial terms with his client, as Van Lam’s recent wages were not paid out yet.
Muangthong’s chief executive officer Ronnarit Suwacha hit back at Grushin’s allegations.
“It is true that Muangthong had contacted Cerezo in regards of Van Lam, however we can confirm that our contract with him has not been terminated,” Ronnarit said as quoted from Siamsport and VNExpress, “Grushin’s statements about us violating financial terms with Van Lam were also untrue. We have paid Van Lam in full since the start of the pandemic.”
Ronnarit also revealed that Muangthong had to cut their players’ wages by 30 percent due to the ongoing pandemic, with the permission of the Football Association of Thailand (FAT). The 30 percent cut will be received by the players in February of this year, meaning that no financial terms were violated.
Van Lam did not help his case as he uploaded pictures of himself relaxing on a beach to his social media whilst the entire saga was unfolding in the background, infuriating Thai football fans in the process.
With Muangthong accusing both Van Lam and Grushin of unprofessional behavior and violation of contract, the 4-time Thai League winners are ready to sue the two men in court, with Grushin, representing himself and Van Lam, stating that they’re ready for a court battle with Muangthong as Van Lam had the right to cancel his contract with the club.
“Van Lam and I have followed the correct regulations,” Grushin said as quoted from VNExpress, “We’re confident 100% that we will win this case and we have nothing to worry about from this lawsuit.”
The entire saga had taken a toll on Van Lam’s transfer value, which saw his valuations decrease from 300,000 Euros to 200,000 Euros.
With FIFA overseeing the court battle between Muangthong and Van Lam, whoever comes out as the losing side from this battle could potentially face severe consequences. Should both Van Lam and Grushin lose this court case, the goalkeeper would have to pay a hefty fine and undergo a four-to-six month suspension. And should Muangthong lose this case, they might receive deduction in points or even worse, relegation.
As FIFA investigates this case, the highest governing body in football has issued a temporary transfer license for Van Lam. This means that Van Lam will be allowed to sign for Cerezo, who had shown the greatest interest in the goalkeeper. The men in pink have also requested the Japan Football Association (JFA) to ask FIFA to grant Van Lam his transfer files.
The development further riled up the Muangthong camp, who are confident that they will win this court case. Ronnarit revealed to Goal Thailand that the JFA had requested FIFA to grant Van Lam’s temporary transfer license behind Muangthong’s back and they will try their hardest in overturning FIFA’s decision. Ronnarit also voiced his confidence that the FIFA investigation team will be fair and impartial with their final decision.
As the whole saga is still unfolding behind the scenes, the J.League’s English social media channels announced Van Lam’s arrival to Cerezo on Saturday, much to the delight of the Vietnamese audience and the obvious displeasure of the Thai ones.
With Grushin confident that his client would emerge victorious from the ongoing court battle and Muangthong fancying their chances too, it’s up to FIFA to decide who’s right and who’s wrong in this entire debacle. But setting aside the convoluted saga, Van Lam’s J.League switch is a sign that Southeast Asian talent is indeed being recognized widely by the giants of East Asian football.
The likes of Chanathip, Theerathon, Teerasil Dangda, and Thitipan Puangchan have proven that they could cut it in the Japanese top flight and whilst Luong Xuan Truong and Nguyen Cong Phuong’s South Korean exploits were less than successful, they were enough to make South Korean clubs notice the potential of the Southeast Asian market, with the establishment of the ASEAN player quota for both the K League 1 and K League 2 prior to the 2020 season and Indonesia’s Asnawi Mangkualam being linked with a move to the K League 2’s Ansan Greeners.
As for Van Lam, his Cerezo move presents an end to a period of uncertainty that saw him lose his number one goalie spot to Thai goalkeeper Somporn Yos in the months leading to his exit, while at the same time opens up a chapter where Van Lam could showcase his talents at a higher level.