(News Focus) Given reprieve, football coach Hong must return to basics: experts
SEOUL, July 4 (Yonhap) -- Now that he's been given a second chance after a disappointing World Cup, South Korean men's football head coach Hong Myung-bo should return to basics, experts said Friday.
South Korea suffered two losses along with a draw in Group H at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil last month, finishing last among four nations in the country's first winless World Cup since 1998.
The early exit put Hong, one of South Korea's most iconic football stars and ex-national team captain, on the hot seat. Yet the Korea Football Association (KFA), the national governing body of the sport, said Thursday it will retain the beleaguered coach at least for the remainder of his contract, which runs through the Asian Cup tournament in January.
Hong Myung-bo, head coach of the South Korean men's national football team, takes questions after returning from the FIFA World Cup in Brazil on June 30, 2014, at Incheon International Airport. (Yonhap)
The KFA also said it rejected Hong's offer of resignation in the immediate aftermath of the World Cup, adding it expects the coach to learn from his experience in Brazil and do a better job at the continental competition next year.
To accomplish that, Kim Dae-gil, an analyst for the cable station KBS N, said Hong should remind himself of the same principle he once vowed he'd honor when naming players to his squad.
Upon taking over the national team in June last year, Hong said he would only call up players who are getting regular minutes on their respective clubs. Yet the coach went against that very idea by picking forward Park Chu-young, who'd seen virtually no action for Arsenal, for the 23-man World Cup team.
Park was one of 12 players on the World Cup squad who had played for Hong at the London Olympics in 2012, when South Korea won the bronze medal. It was the country's first Olympic medal in football, an accomplishment that further elevated Hong's status, but Kim argued that the coach should put it behind him.
"He has to rethink the way he builds his squad," the analyst said. "I think the memories of the Olympic bronze might have been too strong for Hong. As we saw in Brazil, those players were either still developing or were simply not in form."
With only one year to prepare for the World Cup, Hong opted for players who were already familiar with his system. He faced criticism that he had picked players based on his personal connection with them, not on merit. And those same players came back to haunt the coach in Brazil.
Park was considered among the biggest scapegoats, recording just one shot in two matches before getting benched in the group finale versus Belgium. Left fullback Yun Suk-young, who hadn't seen much action for Queens Park Rangers in the past season, started all three group matches but did little to justify his presence.
"I think Hong learned the hard way that players confined to the bench on their clubs can't suddenly turn it around and make a difference at the international level," Kim said. "He has to go for players that are in form."
Kim Ho, who coached South Korea at the 1994 World Cup, said the technical committee of the KFA should do a better job of scouting talent and aiding the coach in the player selection.
"The technical committee should provide Hong with a guideline or a measuring stick so the coach can pick the right players," Kim Ho said. "The committee should be independent and separate itself from administration (within the KFA)."
Kim Dae-gil pointed out that Hong was thrown into the fire when he might not have been entirely ready. Hong was an assistant coach at the 2006 World Cup, and then led the under-20 squad at the 2009 FIFA U-20 World Cup, and the U-23 teams at the 2010 Asian Games and again at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Though he enjoyed success on earlier teams, Hong had never coached at the senior level and had also never been on the bench for a professional club.
"(The World Cup) was probably too big of a stage to be making his head coaching debut at this level," Kim said. "He has to use this opportunity to harden himself and overcome his limitations."
Hong has about six months to go until the Asian Cup in Australia, where he will try to restore fans' faith. Yet for all of South Korea's football prowess in Asia, highlighted by eight consecutive appearances at the World Cup, the Asian Cup has been quite elusive.
South Korea hasn't won the signature Asian Football Confederation (AFC) event since 1960, the second edition of the quadrennial competition. The last time South Korea even reached the final was in 1988, when it lost to Saudi Arabia on penalties.