Ex-national team star takes on coachingThe usually smiling face of Hwang Sun-hong, 37, the coach of the Chunnam Dragons’ reserve team, turned intense at the start of the game on Aug. 24. A light rain shower sprinkled Hwang's shoulders as he barked words of encouragement at his players.
During the half-time break, with Chunnam leading Ulsan 1-0, Hwang told them, “The Ulsan players are going to be aggressive in the second half, but if we hang on for 15 to 20 minutes, they will give way. Be calm, and give them a hard time.” Chunnam scored two more goals, while Ulsan managed to score once before the game ended.
Asked after the game what it was like to be a coach, Hwang smiled and replied, “It is difficult. Especially when the players do not play as I want them to.”
Hwang was a player on the national soccer team from 1988 through 2002. He played 103 A-level international matches, including those in the 2002 Korea-Japan World Cup, and scored 50 goals in total. He gave up playing in 2003 and became a coach. Although he was a star player, coaching is a whole new ball game for him with his limited experience in the “driving seat.”
No matter how much he emphasizes moves in training, some players blank out under pressure during a match, leaving him frustrated and wondering whether he was like that when he was a player. Yet Hwang says nothing beats the satisfaction he feels when he sees a player exploit that training on the field, a sense of satisfaction utterly unlike that of scoring a goal on his own.
Hwang is doing well as the coach of Chunnam’s second-tier team, which has nine wins, one draw and four losses, and leads the Southern League, which comprises teams from North and South Jeolla provinces.
Hwang currently lives in a dormitory with the team’s players in Gwangyang, South Jeolla province, away from his home in Bundang, Gyeonggi province. “There is no time to be lonely,” he says.
The second-tier team has 36 games a year, and Hwang has to prepare for the games and manage training. Just as when he was a player, he is away from home for a long time, unable to see his wife and children. He said he always felt sorry for his wife.
Hwang’s eldest daughter, Hyeon-jin, who is in the fifth grade, is tall and slim and resembles her father. He wants his daughter to compete in beauty pageants someday, and become a model.
His son, Jae-hun, is in the first grade and appears to have a talent for soccer. Hwang wants his son to become an athlete, but his wife demurs, having watched her husband suffer from injuries and stress. She says she prays that her son doesn’t follow in his father’s footsteps.
In a “homecoming” match for retired professional players on Aug. 21, Hwang was named most valuable player. Seven minutes into the second half, he had a nice overhead shot, and later succeeded in converting a penalty kick.
Some people joke that Hwang could return to the national team, but he dismissed the idea with a wave of his hand. “I was shocked when people said I gained weight,” he said. “I would need to lose weight before going back to the national team.”
When he was a player, he weighed no more than 80 kilograms (178 pounds), but now he touches the scales at 87 kilograms. Hwang said that he doesn’t eat much, but doesn’t exercise much either.
When Hwang talked about the national team's recent poor performance, his face turned grim. After Johannes Bonfrere was let go as the manager of the national team, Hwang said that the players were responsible as well.
“Since the 2002 World Cup, the players have shown no improvement,” Hwang said. “At that time, we came together for a common goal, but now the Korea Football Association, players and coaches are going their own way. If this continues, the fans will be disappointed at the 2006 World Cup in Germany.”
Asked whether he would like to become the manager of the national team, Hwang said, “Well, I don't know.” Then he laughed out loud, and with a big smile departed for Gwangyang.
by Jeong Young-jae