[In-depth interview]Exuding confidence in new challenge
Any football fan in Korea on hearing the name Hong Myong-bo will remember the smile that lit up his face after he nailed a goal during a penalty shootout against Spain in the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup.
Hong, now 40, was the leader of the national team then and seven years later from that miraculous game he is starting a new career as the head coach of the national team of youths under 20 years old.
The Korea Football Association appointed Hong recently to coach the team that will be participating in the Youth World Cup to be held in Egypt in September.
Additionally, Hong will be coaching the national team for the Olympic Games that will be hosted by London in 2012.
If he does well during the London Olympics, Hong will then be given the chance to coach the national team should Korea make it to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
As exciting as these prospects are, it is burdensome for anyone to be facing them.
Hong until now has been an assisting coach and is a complete rookie as a head coach.
Appointing Hong to lead the national youth team was unusual, not only considering his lack of experience but also because he is replacing Cho Dong-hyun, who had won the ticket to advance to the main tournament in Egypt after winning against other Asian national teams last year. By common practice there was no reason to replace Cho as head coach.
Hong said he understands the concerns over his lack of experience, but he is confident, based on his experience as a player and as an assistant coach.
He said many people think he is young because they retain an image of him as a young athlete.
“I’m already past 40,” Hong said. “It is an age when people play important roles not only in soccer but also in other areas.”
Hong said during his years as a football player he carried the psychological spirit of the team and it gave him the opportunity to see how a team operates in general.
“Also I have faith in the experience I had as assistant coach,” Hong added.
Hong said he accepted the job because it carries a vision of having the responsibility for raising a world-class soccer player.
“Last winter there were several teams that offered me the position of head coach, including even the J?League. I didn’t choose this because I didn’t have a choice,” Hong said.
Hong says he understands the pressure of being a head coach, especially since there is high demand for good performance.
“The performance of the Youth World Cup is important,” Hong added.
“But I will manage the team with a long-term view, headed up to 2012.”
He stressed that it was more important to raise young players with talent who could later become the center of the national team, like Ki Sung-yeung and Lee Chung-yong, instead of being obsessed with the scores at the Youth World Cup.
The new head coach says he doesn’t have a role model.
“Instead of following what others did, I want to test myself on my own through trial and error,” Hong said.
Hong worked as an assistant coach under Dick Advocaat who was the head coach of the Korean national team in September 2005. Hong also assisted Pim Verbeek and Park Sung-hwa after the 2006 World Cup tournaments in Germany.
Speaking about his impressions of the two coaches he worked for on the national team, Hong said Advocaat was a very sensitive coach, who would be concerned when a player had bloodshot eyes in the morning.
“Verbeek was extremely talented in forming a perfect training program,” Hong said.
“While working with foreign head coaches my thinking could have been tilted, but thanks to coach Park I was able to strike balance.”
Hong said when he became an assistant coach for the first time, all he needed to do was be a big brother to the players.
“However, one day during a coaching staff meeting, coach Advocaat was critical about why I didn’t throw in my own opinion,” Hong said.
“It surprised me and since then until the 2006 World Cup, I traded arguments with coach Advocaat and Verbeek like I would never see them again,” Hong recalled.
“In the process, I formed my own strategies and tactics.
“The first time my own opinion was reflected [in a strategy] I almost cried.”
Working under Hong is assistant coach Kim Tae-young, who played side-by-side with Hong during the 2002 World Cup.
Kim will be in charge of the team’s defense while Seo Jung-won, a veteran national team player, will also be joining Hong after receiving his coaching certification.
Seo will be responsible for the team’s offense.
“I told my assistant coaches that shouldn’t worry about the mistakes that they make. But I told them not to give me a pass for the mistakes that I make,” Hong said.
“I told them that I don’t need a coach who only makes comments that are sweet to my ears.”
Stressing that he has experience of more than 10 years in overseas leagues including in Japan and the U.S., Hong said he is ready to be open minded.
Hong has great pride in his abilities and the achievements he had made in the past.
“Some say that it is difficult for a star to succeed as a leader,” Hong said. “This is because the experience as a player makes one overconfident.”
Hong said he never holds himself up as an example for his players to emulate, because they are not him - a signal that it isn’t easy to execute plays that he did as an athlete.
“From second year of middle school until the second year of high school I was short and because of this it was the most difficult time for me as a football player,” Hong said.
“But I grew about 10 centimeters taller in my third year in high school. The techniques that I mastered when I was short later became my strengths.”
Such difficulty has only helped him grow as a player. As a coach, he didn’t have to go through difficult times - yet.
But Hong is confident that he will survive in his new challenge.
By Lee Hae-joon JoongAng Ilbo [email@example.com]
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