Second AFF Championship title or not, Park Hang-seo will sign off with legend status in Vietnam secured

Park Hang-seo will be looking to end his reign as Vietnam coach with one final hurrah by leading them a second AFF Championship title under him in, with the second leg of the final against Thailand taking place on Monday. AP Photo/Nguyen Manh Quan

On Monday evening, Park Hang-seo will take to the Vietnam dugout one more time.

Having confirmed he will depart as Vietnam coach at the conclusion of the 2022 AFF Championship, his reign may yet end with a last hurrah in the form of a second regional title -- with the final evenly poised after a 2-2 first-leg draw against Thailand on Friday evening.

Averse to the spotlight but never shying away from ambition, Park will certainly be hoping for one final highlight in an already-glittering list of achievements.

There will be no shortage of hunger from his players to send him off on a high, for he is a man who has undoubtedly revived Vietnamese football since he arrived in 2017 amid little fanfare as a relative unknown.

Prior to his appointment, Vietnam were in the doldrums -- sleeping giants looking on as their other Southeast Asian rivals surpassed them.

Following the high of reaching the quarterfinals of the AFC Asian Cup and winning a maiden AFF crown between 2007-08, Vietnam would fail to significantly build on that.

Despite reaching the semifinals in three of the next four editions of the AFF Championship, they never looked genuine contenders and even suffered the ignominy of a group-stage elimination in 2012.

Failures by the under-23 side to reach the knockout stage at the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in 2013 and 2017 were viewed as disappointments.

Since Park's arrival, Vietnam have added another AFF title to their names, along with back-to-back gold medals at the last two SEA Games.

And it is not just on the regional stage where they have shone.

A fourth-place finish at the 2018 Asian Games, a last-eight appearance at the 2019 Asian Cup and reaching the third and final round of Asian qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup for the first time ever were all landmarks that came under Park's tutelage.

For his understated demeanour away from the field, Park has never been afraid to be a firebrand the moment he is on the bench watching his team in action.

Never one to shy away from a touchline spat or even fire back a jibe or two at the opposition in his media conferences, the villainous character the South Korean has been portrayed as in rival nations has only enhanced the adulation and endearment he is held to in Vietnam.

Yet, he has also had his fair share of detractors -- mostly from outside the country.

It is undeniable that his time in charge of Vietnam coincided with a golden generation of talent, but Park still had to help the likes of Nguyen Quang Hai, Do Duy Manh, Vu Van Thanh and Doan Van Hau fulfil their full potential.

At the other end of the spectrum, Nguyen Cong Phuong and Luong Xuan Truong -- two of the most-hyped Vietnamese prospects over the past decade -- have never really been able to establish themselves as genuine stalwarts for Vietnam under Park.

As much as he has had outstanding players at his disposal, Park deserves credit for nurturing them into becoming a formidable team. One that is no longer content beating the likes of Cambodia and Laos at regional level, but looking to challenge heavyweights such as Japan and Saudi Arabia on the continental stage - as they did in the Asian qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup.

There are also those who, with some validity, have been critical of Park's conservative approach to football, which at times has been said to be overly-defensive and even negative.

Such a game plan is understandable against stronger opposition, but throughout his reign even against opponents Vietnam are expected to comfortably see off, Park has been satisfied to still adopt a conservative approach to claim a comfortable but far-from-resounding victory, rather than use the opportunity to attempt a more expansive and dominant style of play.

But that could just be who the man is and maybe that is why his time in charge of Vietnam is indeed coming to an end.

Perhaps having achieved all they can under Park, it is now time for the Vietnamese to find the next person who can take them further.

For now, there is still one last dance for Park and Vietnam.

They will be hoping it leads to him lifting his second AFF title but, either way, it will take nothing away from the legacy he has carved out over the past five-and-a-half years.

That of a Vietnamese football legend.