[NOTEBOOK]From Guus Hiddink, some lessonsSome Koreans are suggesting that Guus Hiddink's name ought to be changed to Hee Dong-gyu, which means "blissful Eastern star." Hopes have begun to soar that Mr. Hiddink, the Korean national team's soccer coach, will become a Korean citizen. Few doubt that this blue-eyed foreigner has become this month's most popular and loved person on the peninsula.
Mr. Hiddink's name is at the top of the list of names searched for on various Internet sites. In the last 30 days, there have been more than 1,000 newspaper articles about him. Guus Hiddink dolls and T-shirts are being snapped up quickly in stores across the country, and companies are publishing research papers and holding seminars that focus on his leadership.
The Dutch coach, who has delivered the first World Cup victory in South Korean soccer history, deserves the praise showered on him. Nobody has said the victory over Poland was pure luck. It was skill that brought Korea victory, and the aftermath was full of surprises. The Korean team's improved skills have now been shown to the world, and the team has become the pride of Asia. Moreover, the victory has contributed to uniting the Korean people. There is nothing in the past that has brought more joy than this triumph.
How things have changed in only a few months. Earlier this year, at the Gold Cup matches, there were cries to fire this foreign coach after Korea finished the tournament with one win, one draw and three losses.
Last year, after Mr. Hiddink was appointed coach of the Korean national team, he experienced one ordeal after another. When Korea lost to France, and the Czech Republic by 5-0 scores, Mr. Hiddink was given the nickname Oh Dae-yeong, or "Mr. 5-to-0." He was criticized for taking a long vacation. Some said that Mr. Hiddink couldn't coach the players since they couldn't understand each other. Some said that the coach should be changed, and the sooner the better.
Much of the criticism of Mr. Hiddink faded away last month when the Korean team beat Scotland, 2-0. The corporate officials who have studied Mr. Hiddink's leadership said that victory was the result of a long-term plan.
Mr. Hiddink has applied the principle of competition to Korean soccer and stressed the importance of physical strength.
He has cultivated unknown players like Park Ji-sung, Lee Eul-young and Kim Nam-il, and promoted fierce competition among his squad.
But to accomplish all of this took time. It seems as though the Dutch coach has mapped out a 500-day plan since his appointment in preparation for the World Cup. And even though he was harshly criticized, he kept on with his program. The reason that in the last 500 days the Korean team has recorded 13 wins, 9 draws and 10 losses is because the Korean squad has consistently competed against strong teams.
If the coach had focused only on short-term success and wins over weaker teams, he would have left the Korean people with a false sense of accomplishment.
In the 1994 World Cup in the United States, Saudi Arabia reached the round of 16. But since the World Cup in France in 1998, Saudi Arabia's national team has changed coaches 12 times. The result of that shake-up was an 8-0 loss to Germany last week.
As long as people continue recruiting new help whenever a problem occurs, those people will not become first-class in anything. But how about the situation in our country?
Since the Kim Dae-jung administration took office, there have been seven education ministers. The Ministry of Construction and Transportation last year changed ministers five times. The average time for a minister in this administration to stay in charge is 11 months. Under President Chun Doo Hwan in the 1980s, the average life span of ministers before resigning was 18 months, and under the Roh Tae-woo administration the figure was 14 months.
During the Kim Young-sam administration the average tenure was 12 months.
It took 500 days to revive the Korean soccer team, and therefore whoever the next coach may be, people should wait at least 500 days before criticizing. Coach Hiddink has shown us that consistency is required for a first-class product.
The writer is business news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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