Danny van Bakel & DJ Myno: the unlikely Beckhams of Vietnam
This is the bizarre story of how Danny van Bakel, an amateur football player from the Netherlands, got a Vietnamese superstar girlfriend, became the best football player in the Vietnamese professional league and how, together, they are known as the David and Victoria Beckham of South-East Asia.
Van Bakel started off as a semi-professional football player in the Netherlands who was more famous for his off pitch party behaviour than his football moves on the pitch. But through a dodgy Vietnamese football agent, his height and looks and a random coffee shop encounter with a Vietnamese famous dj Danny himself has reached superstar status on a par with David Beckham in Vietnam!
Here is the unlikely story of his rise to superstardom…
The early Dutch football years
Van Bakel played a couple of years for Dutch second division (semi) professional team Helmond Sport focusing more on his speciality of after match beers (the so-called ‘third half’) than living the life of a real professional in the making. Soon enough Danny was benched most of the three seasons he played for Helmond Sport and in the end he only played 19 games for the team. To find a way out of this dead end situation Danny took a step back to the amateurs where he hoped to start playing games again.
Van Bakel started looking for a team that would appreciate him and where he would be able to refind the pleasure in the game. He ended up with the amateur team of Dijkse Boys.
“It was a big step backwards but I just wasn’t living the lifestyle – with my party behaviour – for a professional or semi-professional team. And even if I had I would have not been talented enough to make it anyway” Danny laughingly explains.
Many successful years with the amateurs of ‘Dijkse Boys’ followed and they promoted four seasons in a row up to the highest Dutch amateur league. Van Bakel really enjoyed those years and would have probably stayed there forever were it not through a strike of destiny – his team went bankrupt, withdrew from the league – that van Bakel had to move on. What followed is incredulous…..
The mysterious phone call
At the moment that his football career looked doomed Danny went to play for a Belgium club close to Antwerp. Halfway that same season van Bakel got a call. He got a call from an agent in Vietnam if he wanted to come and play for a ‘top team’ in the Vietnamese league. The what?! Yes the Vietnamese professional football league……
“I got a call from Frank van Eijs, a Dutch football agent in Vietnam if I wanted to play some exhibition games for Binh Duong FC in Vietnam. The manager had been tipped off by Gokhan Balci another player during my ‘Dijkse Boys’ days. I was completely in shock as I had absolutely no idea what to expect from such an offer. I didn’t even know football was a popular game in Vietnam.
Some years before this offer I had played some trial games for a team in Iran, which in the end turned out pretty bad. I came away from Iran with a terrible feeling hence my initial doubt for another foreign exotic adventure.
So initially, overwhelmed with doubt I rejected the offer.
However, the idea of playing football in ‘tropical paradise Vietnam’ shimmered in the back of Danny’s mind. So much that one day, when he passed a Dutch travel agency, he went inside, had a look at the Vietnam offers, and on a whim he booked a flight! A real impulsive decision “but that is how I am” Danny acknowledged afterwards.
Starting a Vietnamese adventure
Van Bakel had no idea what to expect from his Vietnamese adventure. The only thing he knew was that Binh Duong FC, his new Vietnamese club was called the “Chelsea of Vietnam” due to its wealthy owners and financial background.
The only knowledge he had about Vietnam as a country was twofold: He knew he liked eating Vietnamese spring rolls and he had watched the TV series “Tour of Duty” all of his youth years. Enough for van Bakel to embark on this exotic football adventure.
Arrival in Vietnam
The first three days van Bakel stayed in a posh hotel together with the team manager and other new players in Ho Chi Minh city. Among the new players were guys who had played in the professional leagues of Italy, Sweden and Germany while Danny came straight from the amateurs.
“I had played at “Dijkse Boys” for an audience of 300 people while these pro guys were showing me photos of them playing in front of a full stadium with up to 30.000 spectators. My photos showed games with no spectator stands at all so I wisely did not show any of that”
Before van Bakel started his trial period at Binh Duong FC his agent Van Eijs – who had been a professional in the Vietnamese league himself – gave him a tip: “If you want to make it as a football player in Vietnam you gotta physically tackle, push and kick the Vietnamese players. Play rough and break them. They gotta know you are there”. So that is exactly what van Bakel did. With his impressive physique and 1.93m height he played like as if he was in the middle of an episode of “tour of duty” himself and completely overpowered his opponents.
The end of the Vietnamese adventure?
Completely exhausted after his first training session he was led to the ‘club house’, the place where the players of Binh Duong were supposed to stay and sleep.
The rooms for the ‘interns’ (van Bakel was still in his trial period) were located at the backside of the building. And those rooms definitely did not live up to the standard of a “Chelsea of Vietnam” at all: “There was a water basin and a mattress on the floor. That was it. The guy who showed me the room removed some dead insects from the mattress and left. I was devastated and could only think they tricked me again. Damn.”
Iranian nightmare memories
Again indeed as some years earlier Van Bakel had taken up a traineeship for a team in Iran. He thought he was going to play for an Iranian top team that was being managed by Dutch manager Ernie Brandts at the time. If he would perform well during the traineeship he could join them on a training camp in Dubai. Or so he thought. However when Van Bakel arrived in Iran the team had already left. His manager quickly arranged a traineeship with another Iranian team but when he arrived four hours away from Tehran in the middle of the dessert Danny knew he had to get out of there.
Now in Vietnam he felt the same as that crazy time in Iran again and the only thing he wanted was to get out of there.
His barn style room was one in a long row of similar ‘housing’. His neighbours were three African players who were in a similar state of shock. A bit further there was a little kitchen where three women were stirring a big pot of food. Or something that was supposed to be food.
Everything was dirty and there were creepy and dead animals all over the place.
“How was I going to survive this. I was definitely not capable of sleeping there or eating that food”
Desperately Danny called his agent Frank Van Eijs, the man who had brought him here. “Frank told me I had to sit it out for a bit longer. He advised me to make a pillowcase from my T-shirt, go to sleep and train hard. Once I earned a contract everything would change he said”
Danny tried it. For about twenty minutes. Up to the moment that a big rat ran past his mattress. That was it. And Danny was off.
Party the pain away
He grabbed his bags and jumped in a taxi back to Ho Chi Minh City.
In front of the hotel he had stayed in on his arrival Danny met another Dutch player: Jayson Trommel, a former eredivisie (Dutch premier league) player who had ran away from a Vietnamese traineeship in similar fashion as Van Bakel. They shared their misery and went out for a wild party night to forget their problems. They ordered a big bottle of whisky and went wild in the crazy Saigon nightlife. “We went all out and partied till sunrise the next morning. It was already light and buzzing with life when I got back to the hotel and got to bed” Van Bakel recalls.
An hour later he got woken up brutely. His agent Van Eijs was knocking like a madman on his door. “Training time, Van Bakel!” he yelled. His supposed club Binh Duong had called Van Eijs to find out where their Dutch player had gone?! After he had explained that Van Bakel had left because of the miserable living conditions at the club house, miraculously, everything changed for the better.
“When Frank had told them that I had left because of the mattress on the floor in that dirty room, the team thought I was some sort of superstar football player. They begged me to come back. It took Van Eijs two hours to convince me to go back there but in the end I agreed to play one last exhibition game and if that went well they would offer me a contract.”
Becoming a professional football player
So two hours later Van Bakel found himself in a taxi back to Bin Duong, twenty kilometers outside of Ho Chi Minh City. Still hungover from the night before Van Bakel played out all his physical advantages and tackled his way through the game impressing the management.
And then everything changed.
The team offered him a 1.5 year contract for a monhtly wage of €5.000. On top of that he got a big cash sum of ‘signing money’. Suddenly Danny was a professional football player!
Van Bakel did not have to stay in the dirty team accommodation and got his own place to stay.
But not all was normal.
A lonely crazy start
In spite of the money it was a crazy period for van Bakel: he missed his Dutch friends and family, was very lonely, didn’t like the strange Vietnamese food….basically he was thinking about Holland every minute of every day.
“the training methods were completely crazy. We had to run around and up staircases carrying bags full of sand. The fitness room consisted of ancient exercise machines from the era of Bruce Lee” Van Bakel looks back. “My body was protesting in every way possible. I wasn’t used to training two times a day. In Holland I trained two times a week and I knew my way around the clubs and pubs better than the football pitch.”
It was not all bad as from that moment on Van Bakel played his games in front of a crowd of 30.000 fans in a real stadium. Most of the matches were broadcast live on Vietnamese national TV.”
“The way they play football in Vietnam was completely different. I was a central defender but when I moved forward to the middle field to join in an offensive move everyone just stared at me – and stopped playing – as I was not supposed to be there. So I quickly stopped doing that and started behaving like a Vietnamese defender, just concentrating on taking out my direct attacking opponent. Playing rough and dirty is the default game play in Vietnam. Before kickoff everyone is friendly and nice but once the ref blows his whistle it is all elbows, spitting, pushing and kicking whenever the referee isn’t looking. It is a power game over here.”
The beginning was real tough for Van Bakel. Both on and off the pitch.
“From the onset I was the new kid in town and I was all the way down the hierarchy. Everyone knew everything better and I was supposed to listen to them. My teammates were constantly telling me what to do and where to walk. Not only them, but also the trainer of our goalkeepers and even the left wing defender of the second team where instructing me what to do. I went mental.”
To make matters worse the coach went along with this behaviour and was criticizing Van Bakel in similar fashion.
“Everything I did was a mistake. If I ran, I should have walked. If I shot on goal, I should have passed the ball to a teamplayer. Nothing was ok. Until one day I exploded and yelled out to our head coach: “Fuck you!! Shut up, and let me play my game!” They were completely flabbergasted and from that moment on they left me alone.
Drinking snake blood to win a game
As you might expect from an exotic place like Vietnam (at least through the eyes of a Dutchie) they had some crazy rituals at the Binh Duong team.
“They had this mad ritual with snakes. Once in a while a guy on a motorbike would arrive with a case full of snakes. He would kill them on the spot and cut them open. All the players would eat the meat and drink the snake blood as they believed it would make them stronger and better players. I refused to do that as I didn’t believe in the healing powers of ‘drinking snake blood’. Better even, I overpowered every player who participated in the snake rituals during practise!!
Oh well, in Vietnam these superstitious ideas are pretty common and are part of the way of life.
After a defeat the players never blame team tactics for example. Way more important for a good game result is the order in which the players enter the team bus. One day I accidentally entered the bus first. We won. Well next time the entire team was waiting for me to enter the bus first as that was the auspicious sign needed to win the next game. Luckily we lost that game with 2-0 otherwise I would have had that burden all season long.”
Also the way they treated injuries surprised the Dutchman:
“One day I had a problem with my achilles tendon. They told me to go see a herbal doctor. When I got there the guy rubbed my entire leg in some strange and smelly herbal substance and I had to eat two mysterious black balls. They looked like giant rabbit excreta. And they tasted like it too, absolutely disgusting. Surprisingly the pain was gone next day.”
Getting at ease in Vietnam
In spite of all these strange situations Van Bakel started to feel more and more comfortable.
After a couple of months Danny got the hang of it and slowly started enjoying his new life. He got used to the tropical climate and he didn’t detest training twice a day (in Holland he trained twice a week) anymore. The only thing he couldn’t get used to was the food.
“My stomach just couldn’t get used to the food. I had serious stomach problems and diarrhea basically all the time. You don’t want to know how much time I spent on the toilet in those days” van Bakel laughing says.
In spite of that all van Bakel impressed on the pitch. He was the central defender in his team and played better and better during the season. He impressed both the team manager as well as the Binh Duong FC fans. His team played in the top of the League every season. And the tall van Bakel was one of their better and more consistent players.
Off the pitch toot, as a single guy in the Saigon nightlife, Danny started enjoying himself. Going out on his days off was his way of blowing off steam. And crazy things happened there too.
In his second season Van Bakel got company at home. From a monkey named Balla.
“At one of the animal markets I would always pass by they had this cute little monkey. These animals were sold to be eaten, and I felt real bad for that cute monkey. So one day I decided to buy her. Such a happy crazy monkey. In the taxi back home she was jumping all over. I took her to the club and all but after a while she started throwing things around. Then I had to leash her and finally, after my transfer to Dong Nai (another pro team in the Vietnamese league) end 2012 I gave her to a teammate who would take care of her.
The David Beckham of Vietnam
Around that time Van Bakel had become one of the most popular players in the Vietnamese league. With his height he would tower above everyone else and he could be easily spot walking the streets of Ho Chi Minh city. No hiding for the tall Dutchman.
“I am a pretty straightforward defender who kicks the ball away from our own box. I am not the typical scoring striker. Nevertheless after every game there were two thousand fans waiting for me to get my autograph or take a picture with me. And the stadium would be filled with banners carrying my name and kids wearing the shirt with my name and number. From time to time I really felt like I had landed in an episode of ‘candid camera’, it felt that surreal.”
The comparison with David Beckhams popularity as a football player was often made by the Vietnamese press. And after he got a relationship with Vietnam’s most famous DJ that only got worse……
Meeting DJ Myno, Vietnam’s superstar deejay
Was Van Bakel’s star rising due to his performances on the pitch. He was about to get a whole lot more famous.
On one of his days off Van Bakel went to a coffee house in the centre of Saigon. His eye fell on a pretty girl sitting in the back of the bar.
“When I saw her I knew I had to go after her. I had no idea who she was. And she had no idea who I was. We started chatting a bit and it was not before long that we went on a date.”
Her name was Dj Myno, a superstar in Vietnam, known as the hippest house-deejay of the 100 million populated country.
They were off to a slow start as Van Bakel was playing in another part of Vietnam in those days, and she had a super busy dj schedule. On his days off Van Bakel would fly to Ho Chi Minh so they could spend some time together.
Van Bakel & Dj Myno: the Beckhams of Vietnam
Their fame slowly rose to crazy heights and they became a real celebrity couple nicknamed the David and Victoria Beckham of Vietnam.
Their professional and private lives are covered in magazines and newpapers and they make regular appearances in tv-shows and commercials.
“At first I would appear only in the sports section of the newpapers but ever since my relationship with Myno I seem to be covered more in the showbizz sections of the Vietnamese press.”
When the ‘Vietnamese Beckham’s” announced that they were expecting their first baby they made it to the front page of national papers. Van Bakel and Myno decided to go to Holland to bring the baby on the world without the craziness of the Vietnamese press around.
“Everyone in Vietnam knows that we are in Holland to get a baby” Van Bakel said when back in his hometown of Geldrop. “It feels so unreal to be covered by the press in such a way. Honestly I am just an average guy from the Dutch countryside”.
Meeting his youth idol Ruud van Nistelrooy
Funny things do happen due to his Vietnamese fame.
“The other day I was one of the special guests at a Champions League event in Ho Chi Minh city organised by Dutch beer giant Heineken. Ruud van Nistelrooy was one of the other guests. He was my hero when I was a kid and Myno said that I stared at him with open mouth the entire time. haha.
I went over to ask him for a photo. “ey, another Dutch guy” he said. “What are you doing here?” Well I play football here, I answered. “Oh” said van Nistelrooy. He had no clue who I was.
I did get the photo though.” van Bakel added with a smile.
Playing the World Cup?
“When the Brazil world cup 2014 started everyone came to me with the question: “Why are you not playing on the world cup for Holland?” They just couldn’t understand that I had not been selected for the national team. haha. I usually replied with: “Well I think Louis van Gaal (the Dutch coach) does not have my Vietnamese phone number.”
Maybe Van Bakel will play for the national team sooner than later. Next year he plans on applying for a Vietnamese passport and a lot of football officials have already spoken out the wish to get him in the Vietnamese national team. Van Bakel is not reluctant to do that.
A new Vietnamese club: Thanh Hóa
After their baby was born, the celebrity couple went back to Vietnam to work on their careers. Danny had just signed a new contract with his third Vietnamese team Thanh Hóa. A signing bonus of $80,000 made him switch teams. It means he won’t be playing his games close to his family but with the extra cash he can afford flying back everytime he has a day off.
The Vietnamese league might not be very famous in the rest of the world. The fact remais that for the 100 million inhabitants of the South-East Asian country it is the most important league in the world. “Not bad that I, an average Joe from Holland, became a famous player over there.” Van Bakel said.
Not bad at all!
Not bad at all Danny van Bakel!