Future rosy for K-League, cloudy for CoelhoScreaming at the top of his lungs in sync with the murderous chanting of FC Seoul’s supporters, Lee Myong-gu was having a great time.
He wasn’t the only one. His two elementary-school sons, Lee Jae-hun and the younger Lee Myeon-jun, were also clapping and screaming, laughing from time to time, drinking in scenes of Seoul’s first professional soccer game in nine years.
The Lees had come to Sangam World Cup Stadium to watch the first match of the K-League, which was played in Seoul, now that the Anyang Cheetahs, who moved to a new home prior to this season, have been rechristened FC Seoul. Though Anyang fans may be in a hissy fit over the betrayal, I must say that overall the move was a good one.
In the past, other than when the national team played foreign clubs in Seoul, there was little to watch. But all that has changed since Saturday.
“If I have time I am thinking of coming here every time they play,” Mr. Lee says.
“Me too. If I had only time,” I caught myself thinking and nodding along with 47,928 other fans, the biggest turnout since the formation of the K-League.
Hopes are high for a renaissance akin to the 2002 season, when more than 3.7 million people gripped by World Cup fever flocked to stadiums nationwide. Let’s hope the K-League can learn from its past to build on this momentum.
While the domestic soccer scene is off to a good start, the future of the national team remains murky, as its skipper, Humberto Coelho, has sealed his fate with a draw against the 142d-ranked Maldives in a qualifying match for the 2006 World Cup.
Kim Hak-beom, coach of Seongnam Ilhwa, may have hinted at one of the national team’s problems when he said, “We have seen little change in the lineup. What we need is more experimenting with players and grooming of new talent.”
Other experts, such as the TV broadcast analyst Shin Mun-seon, echo his views. In an interview, Mr. Shin said that unlike nations such as Argentina ― where only two players from its 2002 World Cup squad are on its current team ― Korea has failed to get an infusion of new blood.
Mr. Coelho’s fate will most likely be decided today, and word is he’s headed for the door before his contract is up in August.
But though blame ought to be placed with the coach, the players must honestly ask themselves whether they’ve become too smug, too complacent with their past achievements, and whether such a mentality has become the norm when they play weaker opponents. Otherwise, how do you explain losses against Oman and Vietnam?
Under Guus Hiddink, Korea’s coach during the World Cup era, even well-established players had to fight for their spot on the team. We all remember how Hong Myeong-bo and Ahn Jung-hwan were shunned early on by the Dutch coach and had to earn their stripes. Many of these players have made a successful jump to foreign leagues and have improved themselves since then.
The lack of competition within the national team may have contributed to the players’ current state of mind. For what little is left in his tenure, Coelho must keep tinkering with the lineup and probing for new talent.
No matter how low a team is ranked, upsets happen. On any given day, a hungry team can make anything possible.
Remember Portugal, Italy and Spain? We should know this better than anyone else.
by Brian Lee