Australia should also mourn major ASEAN figure Alfred Riedl

Alfred Riedl as head coach of Indonesia Source: Getty Images

If a former national team coach of, say, France or Spain, who had also worked in many other places in Europe died, then it would be a significant story in English-speaking media.

Perhaps not headlines news but you would know about it. It would surely also be mentioned in Australia too.

Yet the death of Alfred Riedl went largely unmentioned down under.

A hero of the country’s immediate and giant neighbour Indonesia and well-loved in Southeast Asia’s number one nation Vietnam, the Austrian is a major figure in ASEAN football and there was genuine sadness around the region at the news he passed away at the age of 70.

Australia may not be a Southeast Asian nation off the pitch but on it, they are a member of the ASEAN Football Federation.

He should be mourned down under too, but there don’t seem to be many column inches devoted to the well-travelled European.

Some of that is down to Asia itself. The continent has never been great at telling its own football stories and ensuring that major figures get the recognition they deserve, but Riedl was different - stories followed him around.

Stories such as: while he was in charge of Vietnam in 2007, the former Austrian head coach needed a kidney transplant. More than 50 fans in the Southeast Asian nation stepped forward to offer one of their organs.

Riedl told me later that he couldn’t believe such generosity -  but others could.

It was his third stint in charge of the Golden Stars. He had led Vietnam to the final of the 1998 AFF Championships, then the country’s best showing at the biennial regional event.

There they lost 1-0 to Singapore in the final thanks to a ‘Shoulder of God’ goal from Sasi Kumar who recently tried to get Reidl on his radio show but was told that his health would not allow it.

By 2007, Vietnam were preparing for the Asian Cup as one of four Southeast Asian co-hosts. It was a big deal as the country had never appeared at the competition as a unified entity before with South Vietnam’s three losses in the 1960 Asian Cup the most recent participation.

Yet Riedl had the transplant in March, just four months before the tournament kicked-off. The operation, made possible by a kidney donated from a Vietnamese fan, was a success.

Vietnam managed to get out of their group and were defeated by eventual champions Iraq at the quarter-final stage

It was a major success and helped pave some of the way for the country’s rise to become the number one team in Southeast Asia.

Years later, as head coach of Indonesia, he would be reunited with his Vietnamese life-saver on live television. The two became firm friends and kept in touch ever since.

Life as Indonesian head coach is tough but Riedl handled it better than most despite being caught up in a barely believable power struggle during his first tenure that saw the country have, for a time, two federations, two leagues and two national teams.

He returned in 2016 to lead the Merah Putih to the AFF Championships once more. This was a hard job at the best of times but almost impossible this time as the country was just coming off a one-year FIFA ban that had stopped football in the country.

Despite little preparation and only being able to select no more than two players from each club, Riedl led the team to the final, playing some excellent football along the way, where they gave a strong Thailand a very tough test. It was a fine achievement.

Honest and straight-talking, yet friendly and open, Riedl was a pleasure to deal with and interview. His players loved him too as did the fans. There were no mind games before matches and no excuses afterwards.

He genuinely cared about trying to improve the football scene where he worked spending time with players on and off the training pitch to give them the help they needed.

He used to ask journalists to come up with better questions so they could write better articles and would also plead with fans - especially in Vietnam - not to celebrate victories on their motorbikes as this often led to fatalities.

Riedl was also an advocate of Australia in Southeast Asia, feeling that there was an important role for the country to play in the region.

Not many foreign coaches have been as well-loved in Southeast Asia as Alfred Riedl and that is testament to the man and the manager.

As an ASEAN football member, Australia should mourn him too.