Soccer’s ‘national duty’ center of furorOn Monday, Humberto Coelho canceled a practice he had scheduled for the national team as the final tuneup before squaring off against Japan next Wednesday.
Coelho dit-ched the workout once he found that Choi Tae-wook, from Suwon Samsung and seven other players from Suwon and Anyang LG failed to show at the team training center in Paju, Gyeonggi province.
This incident marked the first time that pro teams refused to release their players for training with the national team. At a news conference, the national team coach said he hoped pro team coaches would not view him as an enemy but rather as a comrade on the same ship.
Coach Coelho originally devised a three-day training regimen, but now will only squeeze in one day of training, on Monday. Kim Jin-kuk, an assistant coach with the team, reiterated at the news conference that the national team had carefully arranged its training schedule out of consideration for the K-League, which he felt should be more cooperative.
Now, the Korea Football Association adds that on April 3 it sent an official request for the unscheduled training date to each K-league team and even telephoned the teams.
K-League team officials deny receiving anything, except for a phone call. To give you a measure of the overall mood, one K-League team official who declined to be named said: “That’s the way they do things. But let me tell you, we are tired of putting up with this crap.”
Whatever the truth may be, it’s apparent the association and the K-League need to quit bickering and communicate a lot better.
In reality, pro teams whose rosters include national team members often face a dilemma. Because of the national team’s scheduling, players like Choi Sung-kun of Ulsan Hyundai will miss about a third of all competition days with his team. Hyundai can’t be too happy about this since it is picking up Choi’s tab.
Naturally, owners want their players on the pitch with their own teammates. From a financial viewpoint, the absence of star players also means fewer ticket sales.
The call to national duty was always considered something sacred. The prospect of not making players available for the national team has been taboo ― until now.
Besides the standard training before exhibition matches, there are schedules for Olympic qualifiers, the Asian Games, the World Cup and smaller competitions. The winter season was generally handed over to the national team without questioning.
Egged on by public pressure and other factors, professional teams have grudgingly lent out their players for the short term. But the recent incident proves they are no longer so accommodating. The frequent summoning of pro players puts them at greater risk of injury, as they must stomach grueling schedules, not to mention the financial loss involved. Players sometimes have to play immediately after a national match.
“For the good of the country” is no longer an acceptable pretext to call up players. It’s time that the Korea Football Association and the K-League work on a schedule that satisfies both sides. Players need to be protected and the K-league needs those star players to keep the fans happy.
by Brian Lee