SEA's Best Imports Ever: Sebastian Merlo, the Argentine/Vietnamese record-breaker

Sebastian Merlo arrived in Vietnam in 2009 and defenders in the 'S'-shaped country have been cursing the day ever since. The reason is simple: The Argentine-born attacker starting scoring from the get-go and has not stopped. 

Over 140 goals later and a V-league record of scoring in nine consecutive games, Merlo has something else in his locker besides an ability to find space in the area and the back of the net.

The 32-year-old also possesses a Vietnamese passport. If fans in Da Nang get their way, he may start turning out for the national team.

The Golden Stars with a latin-forged cutting edge? It sounds scarier than a trying to cross a Saigon street. The passport came earlier this year.

“My club asked me to apply last year,” Merlo told FourFourTwo. “I stayed here a long time, my two daughters were born here.

“I have another contract for three years. It is better for a club as they can play more foreigners and I will be classed as a local player. This is my second home.”

Maybe things can change. I can score goals for Vietnam and can make the team stronger

The same happened to Hoang Vu Samson, or Samson Olaleye to give him his original Nigerian name.

The African-born striker has scored more goals in the league than any other player in history and also now has Vietnamese citizenship.

There has been a debate as to whether one or both the strikers should get the call.

In the past, the Vietnam Football Federation (VFF) has called up foreign-born players for the national team in unofficial friendlies against clubs and Olympic teams.

Merlo is a prolific striker. Photo: VietNam News

But for real games, it has been a different matter. As such Merlo is not expecting a call-up anytime soon.

“It is not my decision so I don't know, the VFF don't call foreign players for the national team,” he said.

“Maybe things can change. I can score goals for Vietnam and can make the team stronger. It will be better for the team and we will be able to get better results.

Many fans here in Da Nang have told me that they want me to play for Vietnam, but it is not up to me

“I am ready to play at any time and I am not going to play for Argentina. Many fans here in Da Nang have told me that they want me to play for Vietnam, but it is not up to me."

While Merlo is optimistic, he understands the VFF's decision.

"They only want Vietnamese players. If they choose foreign players to play for the national team there will be no chance for the Vietnamese players.

“Every team has two foreigners so every team signs two foreign strikers. It makes it difficult for the local strikers and if they start selecting foreign players for the national team, it is harder still for the strikers here.”

Merlo and Olaleye could form a potent combination. Photo: Liputan 6

Along with Samson, Vietnam would have the most feared strike force in Southeast Asia, and Merlo concedes he is very much in favour of the idea.

“He is a very good striker,” said Merlo. “I think if we both played for the national team, we would be a very good combination.

Vietnam is my second home, it is a beautiful country and the people are warm and friendly

“I think that he could play behind me and we would score lots of goals.”

If the call does not come then he will stay to see out the three years of his contract and then probably return to South America.

“Vietnam is my second home, it is a beautiful country and the people are warm and friendly, but when I finish my career I think I will go back to Argentina and learn how to coach and then decide what to do, whether to train kids or something like that.”

Perhaps Merlo could train Vietnamese strikers to be more like those in Argentina.

Da Nang are regular V-League contenders. Photo: Thanh Nien

Since the retirement of the legendary Le Cong Vinh last year, the team has been lacking a reliable goalscorer.

“In Argentina, they start playing young. At school here, it is difficult as there is no time to play.

“When they are 20 years old in Vietnam, then they start to understand tactics, but by that time Argentine players have understood for years and the training is harder and the Argentina strikers are stronger.

“Vietnamese defenders are fast and strong, but not so tall.”

Whether it is for Da Nang, Vietnam or Argentina, what Merlo wants to do is score goals.

“Every season I want to score more. I always try to score. It is not always easy and that is true in Vietnam too.

“I sometimes am lucky and sometimes it is about being in the right position and being lucky, but I also train 100 per cent.”

It means he is always ready to answer any call that comes his way.