[Viewpoint]Club teams have to play ballI met Rudi Voeller in Leverkusen during the last winter vacation. Mr. Voeller was the coach of the German national soccer team for the 2002 FIFA World Cup held in Seoul. As a striker on the German team, he played in the 1986 Mexico World Cup, in which Germany won second place, and the 1990 Italy World Cup, in which Germany won the championship. During the 2002 World Cup tournament in Seoul, he led the German team as its coach and fought in the final. Now he coaches Bayer 04 Leverkusen.
In Leverkusen, Rudi Voeller is as popular as Franz Beckenbauer. His nickname is Tante Kaethe, which means “aunt Katrina.” Like most people who have led a successful life, Mr. Voeller is a typical personality who wins over people’s hearts rather than persuading them with logic.
We were to meet for lunch at the club restaurant attached to Bayarena, the home ground of Bayer 04 Leverkusen. In the morning of the same day, however, he forgot the appointment with me and absent-mindedly made another one with the stadium’s lawn caretaker. When I entered the restaurant, Mr. Voeller had already finished his meal and was drinking coffee, being careful not to get his mustache wet.
Mr. Voeler’s answers to my questions were given in an orderly manner, like he was reading from a written text. He started off speaking about the present situation of the Leverkusen soccer team, and then proceeded to its past glories and the contributions Cha Bum-kun made to Leverkusen by winning the UEFA, or the Union of European Football Association, cup in 1988. As a sports reporter from Korea, which was defeated by Germany in the semi-final at the 2002 World Cup in Seoul, I had a few extra questions for the commander of the team that had beaten Korea.
I told him, “It is difficult to work as the coach of the Korean national team because soccer clubs are reluctant to allow their players to play on the national team.” Mr. Voeller smiled and said, “Even if it were Gus Hiddink, could he manage every thing as he wanted?
In Germany, too, everything is the same. Coaches must travel across the whole country. They must visit Bremen, Kaiserslautern, Munich and so on and so forth. They should meet the coaches, talk with them and try to understand them.”
I don’t know the contents of the conversation Mr. Voeller had with the coaches. Even in Germany, which is said to be equipped with the most well-organized soccer management system in the world, the interests of the national team and individual professional teams are destined to conflict with each other. One thing that seems obvious is the fact that they must have openly talked about their difficulties. Mr. Voeller must have won the trust of the club coaches through this process.
On the basis of the trust of other coaches, he was able to lead the German team called the “tank corps,” which was reputed to be weaker than in past years, to advance to the final.
Hopefully, the Korean soccer team will win a ticket to play in the Beijing Olympic Games this year. However, the Korean Olympic team could not even hold a routine training session in January because professional teams refused to dispatch their players.
At that time, Olympic team coach Pim Verbeek said, “I cannot understand them.” There were people who worried about the team when it failed to produce good results in the match against Yemen on Feb. 28.
They say that the fate of a coach is precarious and the results of games speak louder than anything else a coach can say. But the grade of the national team is not decided by the skill of a couple of leading players.
A national team’s ranking is decided comprehensively by the basic strength of the country’s soccer population and the soccer fans’ support of their national team.
People can express worries over the national team, but it is not proper to place blame on Pim Verbeek only.
Mr. Verbeek is Dutch, like Gus Hiddink and Dick Advoccat, but he does not speak much nor is he sociable. He is not like Mr. Voeller, who can draw people to him. It may be difficult for Korean coaches to communicate freely with Mr. Verbeek, who speaks English with a strong European accent.
But they should not leave him in the category of “difficult to understand” endlessly. In fact, communication is not something that can be achieved only through words.
*The writer is the sports editor of the JoongAng Sunday.
by Hur Jin-seok