New student coach in a class of his own

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New student coach in a class of his own


Sungkyunkwan University football team coach Seol Ki-hyeon speaks at Chujeon Station in Taebaek, Gangwon, on July 29.[Ilgan Sports]

Star Korean footballer Seol Ki-hyeon, who was at the center of controversy over his appointment as coach at Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU), is now looking forward to lifting trophies with the students.

In March, the 36-year-old announced he was retiring from playing and went immediately to a coaching job at SKKU. However, the move raised questions as he only had a Class2 coaching license at the time, while a Class1 license is required by the Korean Football Association to coach college teams.

While he is currently listed as the interim coach of SKKU’s football team, he recently completed a Class1 coaching course and is waiting for the
licence to be issued.

Seol is one of Korea’s star footballers. He is mostly known for scoring an equalizer against Italy in the 2002 FIFA World Cup and help Korea reaching the semi finals. He also played in the 2006 FIFA World Cup.

During his career, the winger has played on various European teams, including Anderlecht, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Reading and Fulham. He is the first Korean to score a goal in the UEFA Champions League.

Now, more than four months after he took the helm of SKKU, Seol - who graduated from Kwangwoon University - has been gradually changing the team with his own style of management.

The SKKU team is going to the National Sports Festival in Ganeung, Gangwon, representing Gyeonggi. The team beat Kyung Hee University and Yongin University to qualify for the National Sports Festival in October.

The team made a surprise semi-final run at the 46th National University Football Confederation Cup, although it failed to overcome champions Korea University.

Ilgan Sports, the Korea JoongAng Daily affiliate, sat down with Seol last month at Chujeon Station in Taebaek, Gangwon.


Where is your hometown?

A. My hometown is Gohan-eup [in Jeongseon County]. When I was young, I came to Taebaek for training in the summer, and I can remember the weather was very impressive. This is a place where you can spend a summer without an air conditioner.

Your mother raised four boys after your father passed away due to an accident in a coal mine. What are your recollections of that time?

I still remember my mother crying and the scene at the mortuary when my father died. My mother is a great human being. She lives in Gangneung and came here last Wednesday to see our team’s match, but we lost. That’s
sad because I wanted her to see us winning.

How did players react when you first arrived?

They watched me with a lot of expectation. I was concerned after watching them because I had to do something for them. My first message for the students was that my system will be a lot different than what it had been. I will not be having training sessions much and will speak first before making corrections. At the same time I told them that I will take all the responsibility if my system goes wrong, but I want you to prove that my system is right.

So what has changed?

We exercise only once in a day and don’t train more than 70 minutes. Personal techniques can’t be improved through team training because some players lack dribbling skills, while others are not good at heading. How can all these personal differences be overcome through team training? Team training is for boosting cohesion in the squad and to let players know what their role is on the pitch. If players lack certain abilities, they should fix it on their own.

Did players follow your system well?

I told them you don’t have to wake up and eat breakfast if you don’t want to. Each player has their own style. I told them what’s important is your condition on the pitch and I don’t care what you do in your free time. And it’s changing. On match day, one-third of players just slept instead of eating breakfast.

You also told players to rest on weekends?

U-League (the college football league) is on Friday, so I gave them a vacation for weekends. I told players to take a rest, but there are always players who train on weekends. If a player does too much exercise, his body can slow down at an important moment of the match. When I found those players on Monday who had been training, they first lied to me that they didn’t exercise on the weekend, but later confessed the truth. They are just concerned that they haven’t trained enough compared to the past.

Do you have private conversations with students?

Yes. When I was playing for Fulham, I have good memories of talking with manager Roy Hodgson [now England’s national football manager]. Whether we won or lost, I had private conversations a lot outside of football. I felt the distance between coach and player was narrowed. That’s why I want to talk more about something other than football with my students.

What do students worry about most?

The same as other college students: getting a job (laughs). I told them about my personal story. I wasn’t special when I was their age, but as I worked hard I got a chance to play in Europe and for the national team. They look at me and have big dreams.

There was controversy when you became the SKKU coach because you were not alumni and didn’t have a Class1 coaching license. What do you think of that?

I thought if I have to show my football philosophy, starting as a college football team coach would be the right job. SKKU offered me a job at the right time and I accepted it with my player retirement decision. However, I was embarrassed because of the controversy, but I think I should accept some criticism. After all, what’s important is that I can deliver results here.

What’s your goal for this season?

SKKU is giving a lot of support to the football team and I want to make a team that can live up to the university’s reputation and get people’s attention. For this year, I want to get a trophy
for our seniors by winning the National Sports Festival or the U-League championship.

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