World Cup captain sets retirementThe captain of Korea’s 2002 World Cup soccer team, Hong Myoung-bo, 35, officially retired from the sport last month, ending 25 years as a soccer player.
He began playing the sport in 1980, when he was in the fifth grade.
Hong left for U.S. Major League Soccer immediately after the 2002 World Cup, joining the Los Angeles Galaxy.
After two years in the United States, Hong says his English has improved, but the improvement was slow.
Hong won the Bronze Ball at the 2002 World Cup, recognized as the third best player in the tournament. He captained the Korean team to a fourth place finish. Hong was humble in accepting the award, addressing the audience with a simple thank you.
Hong smiles and says, “If I could do it again, I would have said, ‘I would like to dedicate this award to Koreans.’”
Hong was used to being a vocal leader on teams he played for, but because of the language barrier, he faced an entirely different situation in the United States.
“I was just a friend to the other guys on the team,” Hong says. “It was different from when I was in Korea or Japan. It was heartbreaking in the beginning, but later I felt more comfortable as I learned to relax.”
Hong also says he became mentally stronger. “I learned a lot from differences in management of soccer clubs in the United States.
“In the United States, soccer players have to find their own lodging and buy their own food after flying several hours to a city for a match. In Korea, lodging, meals and transportation are all arranged for athletes,” Hong says.
He says he has been a good husband and father, noting that his family has moved with him and thus he has been able to spend time with them, “except in 2002,” he smiles.
His two sons, Seong-min, 7, and Jeong-min, 5, practice soccer at the Bo soccer school, which he founded.
“They play for fun. The younger one likes soccer more and is interested in it. It is for them to decide to become soccer players,” Hong says.
Hong is often identified as a future soccer coach. “It would take a lot of time to become a good coach; it would be easier to begin a completely new career. I’ll make a decision after two or three years,” he says.
“From now on, my official title is chairman of the Hong Myoung-bo scholarship foundation,” he adds with a smile.
The two-year-old foundation will hold its second annual charity match in Incheon on Dec. 26, to help children suffering from cancer.
by Chang Hye-soo
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