Already, Verbeek is on the defensive

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Already, Verbeek is on the defensive

We are in the post-2006 World Cup, Pim Verbeek era. Now, we are waiting to see how (or if) the national team climbs to the next level, from its perennial status as a traditionally strong team in the Asian region. In international competition, stronger teams call Korea a team to be “cautious” of, especially due to its fast-playing style, but other than that, no real respect is paid to a team that has shown flashes of potential in the last two World Cups.
Believe me, Verbeek is working the domestic K- League like crazy. He has the task of making a generational change while trying to keep the team’s performance at an acceptable level so he won’t get the boot before June 2008, when his two-year contract expires.
I think Verbeek is the right person for the job. His stints as an assistant coach in the previous two World Cups gave him the knowledge on domestic players, so he will need less time to discover and groom talent. If anyone can do the job, it’s him. This is also why the Korea Football Association handed him the job, even though he does not have much to show for his career as a head coach.
There is talent in the midfield. And as for strikers, well, let’s just say that the “killers” on the team are no worse than past teams. What really bothers me is the defense. I am still waiting for Hong Myung-bo to come out of retirement and take over the defense. Even a retired Hong seems to be a better option than anything the team has tried since he quit the national team in 2002. The void left by Hong, who anchored the defense for 12 years, seems to get larger as time goes by, because players have revolved in and out.
There are players such as the Dick Advocaat-discovered Kim Jin-kyu, who are decent defensive fielders, but we are still waiting for the entrance of someone who can link the defensive line with midfield. That person should have great vision and leadership to stabilize that defense, which seems good only against weaker teams.
Some serious searching to replace the departed Hong is needed. The national team is unlikely to transform into a scoring machine which can outscore opponents or keep up in a high-scoring affair with powerful attacking teams.
Kim Sang-sik, Kim Young-chul, Choi Jin-cheul and Kim Jin-kyu were the members that Advocaat selected to be in charge of the middle of the defense. Since then, Choi has retired and Kim Young-chul and Kim Sang-sik both turned 30 years old. That leaves Kim Jin-kyu as the only viable longterm solution. He is only 21, so time is on his side. However, I am not sold on his jumping capabilities and overall ability to control the defensive line and link it with the midfield to maximum effect.
There are young players, such as Lee Kang-jin of Busan I Park, who failed to make the final roster for the team but were called up for the preliminary roster. People who have seen him playing point out Lee’s skills of adjusting and leading the defense. Is Lee the answer? I don’t know, but I know that Verbeek does not have much time to find his gem. He may not be able to find a permanent solution until the Asian Cup in June 2007 is over or even some time beyond that. That is why I think his contract should be extended by at least a year now. To find a cure for this chronic problem, Verbeek needs enough time. Without a solid defense, this team won’t go far.

by Brian Lee
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