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(News Focus) Football governing body criticized for handling of coach's firing
By Yoo Jee-ho
SEOUL, Dec. 8 (Yonhap) -- In sports, they say coaches are hired to be fired. But hardly has a firing of a football coach come under more scrutiny than this week's dismissal of Cho Kwang-rae as the bench boss of the senior national team.

   Cho was informed of the dismissal late Wednesday and the Korea Football Association (KFA), the local football governing body, made it official Thursday.

   The KFA explained that South Korea's 2-1 upset loss to Lebanon during the regional qualification for the 2014 FIFA World Cup was the decisive blow. South Korea was ranked 31st in the world heading into that match, while Lebanon was 115 spots behind.

   Sports coaches come and go, and the firing can be justified from different perspectives. KFA officials explained that they believed South Korea wouldn't be able to reach the World Cup given the way it had been playing under Cho. And that loss to Lebanon jeopardized South Korea's hopes to advance in qualification.

   Plus, Cho had been panned for relying too heavily on players based in overseas leagues. His offensive-minded tactics, emphasizing speed and quick, short passes, were at first hailed as groundbreaking, but they were also deemed so complicated that some younger players couldn't entirely grasp them.

   Rather than the dismissal itself, the KFA came under fire for the way it handled the situation and how it failed to take proper steps.

   The KFA's technical committee reserves the right to hire or fire national team coaches. Before any naming or dismissal of coaches, the committee must meet to discuss the situation and report to the board of directors.

   Hwangbo Kwan, head of the technical committee, said Thursday that he had discussions with KFA's senior executives over Cho's status, but admitted he never held a formal meeting with his committee. He explained that he was still in the process of naming new members to the committee after he became the new head in early November and said he felt he needed to take a prompt action with the coaching post.


Hwangbo also acknowledged that corporate sponsors of the national football team pressured him. He said sponsors are important for the national team and some called for an immediate coaching change.

   Football analysts said the KFA's action bordered on irrational and the technical committee should have exercised more independence from KFA's leadership and its sponsors.

   "I've never seen the technical committee simply hand out a pink slip to a national team head coach without having prior discussions," said Lee Yong-soo, an analyst with broadcaster KBS. "The KFA really shot itself in the foot with this. The technical committee could have met to discuss this and could have granted Cho a better farewell than this."

   Shin Moon-seon, former TV analyst and currently professor of sports statistics at Myongji University, said the KFA was "irresponsible" with its handling of Cho.

   "The KFA is an organization that is supposed to serve local football, and a political decision like this is bound to anger football fans and insiders," Shin said. "The KFA just infringed upon the basic rights of a national team head coach, and it's easy to see how little respect it may have for coaches on junior levels."

   Technicalities aside, experts also believe Cho deserved some benefit of the doubt and one defeat shouldn't have sealed his fate.

   Despite the loss to Lebanon, South Korea still remains in first place in Group B. The top two teams from the group advance to the fourth and the final round, and South Korea can finish at least in second place with a draw against Kuwait in the final group match in February.

   During the qualification, Cho also didn't have the luxury of seasoned veterans such as midfielder Park Ji-sung and defensive back Lee Young-pyo, both of whom retired from international play earlier this year. Also, Cho often selected unheralded local K-League players to fill the void when his Europe-based players were injured.

   "Coach Cho was really caught in a difficult situation," Shin said. "He had injuries, and players in overseas leagues weren't in optimal game shape because they weren't getting many playing opportunities at their respective clubs."

   Lee Yong-soo said Cho, who became the head coach in July last year, had just begun establishing a new identity for South Korean football.

   KFA said it plans to name Cho's successor before the end of the year. Hwangbo said the governing body hasn't yet approached anyone but it hopes to hire a coach who knows South Korean football well, regardless of his nationality.

   "We will start everything from scratch, from a blank slate," Hwangbo said. "We will try to make a decision that we feel will help us reach the World Cup."