Asian Football - New coach Hong vows to unite and play Korean way for 2014

South Korea's pool of talented individuals will be transformed into one formidable team ahead of the World Cup finals in Brazil next year, new coach Hong Myung-bo said on Tuesday after signing a two-year deal.

Reuters
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Hong, who led the Koreans to a bronze at the London Olympics last year, took over on Monday from Choi Kang-hee, who stepped down last week after completing his mandate of guiding the side to their eighth consecutive World Cup finals.

South Korea only just scrapped through to Brazil on goal difference, though, with Choi's repeated attempts to play all his attacking talents together routinely misfiring and drawing criticism from angry fans.

"I took the job in the midst of difficulties because a person is assessed when he is facing a challenge or hardship, not in his comfort zone," Hong told reporters at the Paju National Football Center on Tuesday.

Hong, still adored in his homeland after skippering the Koreans to fourth place at the 2002 World Cup, said unity was the key to success in Brazil and the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia.

"The slogan for the year 2014 is 'One Team, One Spirit and One Goal,'" the 44-year-old said.

"I will not choose the best players of a team, but will make the best team of players."

Hong played 136 games for the national team and is regarded as one of the best Asian players of all time.

His playing career included stints with South Korea's Pohang Steelers, Shonan Bellmare, Kashiwa Reysol in Japan and the Los Angeles Galaxy in the United States.

After retiring, Hong moved into coaching and had spells as an assistant to Korean national team bosses Dick Advocaat and Pim Verbeek before taking charge of the Under-20 side then leading the Under-23's to their first Olympic medal in soccer.

Despite that achievement, his crowning glory remains the 2002 World Cup under Dutch manager Guus Hiddink.

Prior to his appointment on Monday, Hong spent five months working under Hiddink at Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala.

"While being trained in Russia, I realised how good Korean players are," Hong said.

"Their attitude towards training and soccer and respect for opponents. I missed that. I was blessed to be offered a chance to work with these great players again."

When Hong was leading his side to the last four of the World Cup 11 years ago he was part of a squad who were mostly based at home.

BEYOND ASIA

He takes over a squad full of promising individuals playing in top leagues around the world, including forward Son Heung-min, who recently signed for German side for Bayern Leverkusen.

"South Korea has grown since 2002 both in quality and quantity but I cannot say how its goal has evolved accordingly," Hong said.

"In order to upgrade the South Korean soccer to the global level, we need to look beyond Asia. We should have a neck-to-neck game with any other team in the world."

Unlike many of his predecessors, Hong's reputation elicits immediate respect in the dressing room, according to one of his former team mates.

"He deserves to be called 'a legendary defender' in Korea and is not someone I dare to evaluate," former Manchester United midfielder Park Ji-sung said on Monday.

"As a coach, he knows how to coordinate the opinions of players and staff and make decisions by consensus. He is a motivator and mentally 'binds' them."

Hong has made a name in management circles by getting the best out of younger players, perhaps a by-product of his time under Hiddink, who dismantled the old-fashioned Korean hierarchical system in which youth always had to give way to seniority on and off the field.

Hong vowed to been just as radical again with blending a new style of play for the twice Asian champions.

"We are not Spanish or German - we are not pursuing their style of soccer," he said.

"With Korean players' diligence, dedication and sacrifice for the team, we will come up with a soccer technique that is not only competitive but our own."

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