National Football Center trains for the futureThe national soccer team trains here, and it was used extensively by the Korean team during the 2002 World Cup before it advanced to the semifinals. Present and future stars are created here, along with the training of adolescent players. This is the National Football Center in Paju, Gyeonggi province.
The center, which opened on Nov. 9, 2001, covers a vast 112,200 square meters (28 acres).
On a windy day last week, the national team players began arriving one by one, including Yoo Sang-chul, Park Jae-hong, Kim Young-kwang, Kim Sang-sik and Lee Dong-gook.
The players unload their luggage in their rooms. Uniforms and shoes are neatly placed in the room. National youth team members sleep four to a room, while national team players are placed two to a room, and the coaches have individual rooms. The national team coach, Johannes Bonfrere, uses a suite at the end of the corridor on the second floor, the same one used by former coach Guus Hiddink.
The players change their clothes and have lunch. Professional nutritionist Shin Hyun-kyung plans the menus. Since the players are involved in hard training, they consume 4,000 to 5,000 calories a day (the usual recommended amount is 2,500 calories).
On the menu are baby octopus, marinated baked potatoes, sirloin steak, broiled fish and spring greens. Spaghetti and rice are basics. At dawn on March 15, when they were leaving for Saudi Arabia, they had sandwiches and fruit juice.
“Mostly, they have a good appetite and are not picky about the menus, but people like Choi Sung-kuk eat very traditional foods like kimchi soup and fried kimchi, so I am careful about planning the menus,” Ms. Shin said.
When the national teams are inside, the center becomes like a fortress. The security level is heightened and outsiders are not allowed to enter the center. The players are given full autonomy except when they are training. Insiders say Kim Dong-jin reads a lot while Lee Dong-gook sleeps for long stretches at a time. The main building in the center has an Internet cafe, a billiard room and a karaoke room.
“Young athletes like Kim Young-kwang and Kim Chi-gon like to stay in the PC room,” said Lee Won-jae, a public relations official at the Korea Football Association. “The karaoke room is not popular because most people tend not to like singing when they are sober.” Of course, the center is alcohol free.
When the national team trains, the coach commands like a king. The center needs to arrange its schedule and provide anything that the coach requests.
Mr. Bonfrere gave a thumbs-up to the facility, saying the center is better than any other training facilities in the world. Recalling his previous career, Mr. Bonfrere said when he was coaching the Nigerian national team, he rarely had a chance to get to practice on grass. The center has six grass fields and one artificial grass field.
The players are also content. “In the past, we stayed in a hotel and practiced in a place like Misari,” Yoo Sang-chul said. “I found it very distracting, and the place was too far. Here, I can concentrate on training. Although I am here for a long time, I feel relaxed.”
“The center is designed to help us get rid of idle thoughts and focus on training,” Kim Dong-jin said. “There is no better place. For athletes, playing the game is what counts and the game needs to be well prepared.”
After dinner, the players gather and chat about what they did last month, when they didn’t have to train before going to bed.
Veteran player heads up center
The National Football Center’s head is Cho Young-jeung, 51, a former national team member.
“We wandered around from one place to another to practice on a grass field,” Mr. Cho said, recalling his playing days. “Our bus would travel on a dusty unpaved road for hours.”
Most of the training was done on bare ground. When there was an international competition in Korea, he had a chance to step on a grass field in Dongdaemun Stadium a day before the game.
“We had training in Europe in 1976, and the grass soccer fields were just everywhere,” he said. “I was envious of the fact that the European players had a grass field right beside their lodge so that they could always play on it.”
Last year, the center was used for 355 days. The national team stayed there for 48 days, while the youth team, with players aged 12 to 15, used it for 79 days.
The general public can stay there, too, on weekends for 250,000 won ($248); Paju citizens pay half that amount.
by Hur Jin-seok