Ulsan's new manager Hong Myung-bo sets sights on K League title
Having finished the season with a win at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League, Ulsan Hyundai Motors FC are heading for a new start in the 2021 season, under a new manager.
Ulsan's victory at the AFC Champions League marked the end of the tenure of manager Kim Do-hoon, and on Dec. 24 the club announced that Hong Myung-bo would be taking over as the team's 11th head coach.
“Ulsan is a team with clear goals,” Hong said. “We’ve won the AFC Champions League, but disappointingly we’ve missed the K League’s regular season title for two straight seasons. Of the many new goals that I’ll have at Ulsan, the top one has to be to win the K League regular season.”
Before Hong was appointed as head coach for Ulsan, he was working as the executive director of the Korea Football Association.
“It’s not easy saying goodbye to the people I worked with for three years,” Hong said during an interview on Dec. 30. “But I’m trying to get through because I’m leaving for a meaningful new start.”
Ulsan appointed Hong as head coach as they believed that he had the strong charisma necessary to lead Ulsan in a new direction.
Looking at Hong’s coaching career, he started by taking over the U-20 national football team. He then moved up to the U-23 and senior national squads, managing the Taeguk Warriors from 2013 to 2014.
Hong then continued his coaching career with a Chinese football club Hangzhou Greentown.
Despite his time spent managing the national team at every major age group and working in China, the one thing Hong has always wanted to do is take the helm at a K League club.
“Not being able to stand on the pitch as the head of a K League club felt like unfinished homework to me,” Hong said. “The reason why I turned down multiple offers as head coach from overseas was because the K League was my priority. I feel thankful that I’m able to finish my job as executive director of the KFA and head to Ulsan.”
Hong isn't the only one with one big goal. Ulsan has been desperate to win the K League regular season title for the last few years. Both in 2019 and 2020, the club barely missed the trophy by finishing in second place behind Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC.
The 2020 season came with even more disappointment as they also lost the FA Cup final, once again to Jeonbuk. Despite continuously falling short in domestic contests, Ulsan were finally able to finish the season on a high note as they won the biggest tournament of them all: The AFC Champions League.
As Hong was appointed as head coach immediately after such a big win, his appointment comes with a lot of pressure. But Hong says that he’s still grateful to former manager Kim.
“Pressure regarding the team’s performance is something head coaches have to carry all the time,” Hong said. “I’m well aware of what Ulsan fans are expecting.”
Hong is still putting together the coaching staff that will help him drive Ulsan in a new direction. While it's quite normal in football for managers to move teams and take their coaching staff with them, Hong isn't bringing in his entire Hangzhou Greentown team, but looking to create the perfect staff for Ulsan.
And it's not just the coaches that will change. Currently, star player Júnior Negrão is preparing for a transfer while defenders Park Joo-ho is expected to join Suwon FC and Jung Seung-hyun will also be unavailable as he will be heading to the military.
“Regarding the squad, I’m still in negotiations with the club,” Hong says. “There were reports that said it would be created with younger players. But that doesn’t mean that we’ll be doing this intentionally. It’ll mean that if the players’ skills are similar, then we’ll prefer younger and cheaper players. We’ll be mixing the young and the old.”
As Hong takes over Ulsan, the K League is also expected to have some interesting competition between the coaches.
In the 2021 season, it won’t only be Hong that’ll be new to the K League. Jeonbuk also appointed a new head coach, Kim Sang-sik.
Hong and Kim Sang-sik are good friends, and the two of them are also close to Seongnam FC manager Kim Nam-il, so fans are already looking forward to the rivalry between the three.
“They were all good teammates and I contacted them regularly and received and shared advice,” Hong said. “In the K League, I’ll be the youngest and the beginner. So I’ll try to learn as much as possible. If the K League’s getting more attention for this kind of competition, then this is also a good thing.”
BY SONG JI-HOON, KANG YOO-RIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]