Cracking the whip on the soccer pitchPAJU, Gyeonggi
Everyone knows Guus Hiddink, who shepherded the Korean soccer squad to the 2002 World Cup semifinals. And most of us are familiar with his short-lived Portuguese successor, Humberto Coelho.
Now the hard-to-pronounce Dutch name of Johannes Bonfrere can be added to Korea’s growing list of national soccer squad coaches.
All three coaches share a similar background in that they played pro soccer in Europe before segueing into coaching.
Each of them also uses similar tactics on the pitch ― an emphasis on defense combined with a fast, high-pressure midfield attack. The key to this approach is conditioning; players must be able to out-work their opponents start to finish. None of the three ever overlook a sloppy pass or shot; they demand players practice as if they were in a competitive match. But the manner in which each approaches Korean culture and the media do differ.
Fresh on the job, it still remains to be seen how Bonfrere’s personality and style will mesh with the squad and the legions of fans. Over two consecutive days of training last week at the National Football Center, however, his coaching style gradually became evident.
The first day he worked the players almost to the point of collapse. The following day wasn’t much different; kicking drills following a short afternoon pickup game. When the players appeared to lose focus, Bonfrere barked that if they didn’t make it through another five passing-and-shooting drills they’d run sprints.
The warning seemed to work, as desire to impress the new coach resulted in more accurate passes and shots.
The first day players seemed relaxed as they followed their new Dutch coach’s instructions. The next day, their eyes showed tension and determination. Straight out of a Hiddink training scene, the regimen was intense.
Under Hiddink’s watch, players were run as hard as if they were playing an actual game, but they were also allowed full rest days between training sessions. Likewise the 58-year-old Bonfrere, former coach of Nigeria, also leaves players alone when there is a break in the training.
When Bonfrere stares and yells at players it is reminiscent of Hiddink’s style. Coelho, however, was soft-spoken and remained composed when he gave instructions. Bonfrere is not shy about calling individual players before him and scolding them.
Like Coelho, Bonfrere is not very accommodating of the media’s requests for interviews. When Bonfrere was asked for an interview immediately after the first practice, he replied, “Again?”
Since signing a contract, Bonfrere has consented to only two interviews. By contrast, Hiddink would mingle with reporters even when they weren’t asking to speak with him.
Each coach’s approach to Korean culture also varied. Hiddink wanted players to follow his rules: He asked them to address each other by first name instead of using the traditional Korean honorifics. Coelho tried to learn how to speak Korean and tried Korean foods.
As for Bonfrere ― Korean fans can only wait and see.
by Chang Hye-soo
More in Features
In the homoerotic world of K-pop fan fiction, how far is too far?
Sculptor Joo Hoo-sik finds inspiration in the Year of the Cow
Nothing's fair in love and Covid
Top culture stories of the year
[ZOOM KOREA] The pipe organ master with plans for a uniquely Korean instrument