[The Fountain] The lovely tears of Papa Park

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[The Fountain] The lovely tears of Papa Park

The author is the deputy sports news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.

Head coach Park Hang-seo, 64, has ended his beautiful journey with the Vietnamese national football team. Having led the team to be the runner-up at the Asean Football Federation (AFF) Mitsubishi Electric Cup, which ended on Jan. 16, he stepped down from the position five years and four months after taking command in September 2017.

At the video press conference on Jan. 17, he wiped away tears and said, “I will never forget the time I mingled with the athletes in the medical room.” I’ve known him for nearly 20 years, but it was the first time the tough man from Sancheong, South Gyeongsang, showed tears.

Compared to Korean football, Vietnamese football has relatively poor performance and infrastructure. Nicknamed “Papa Park,” coach Park trained the players as if he was raising children. He taught them everything from the basics such as diet and exercise methods before and after the matches to the latest trends in world football. The last five years was the time that fundamentally changed the football system in Vietnam and enhanced the caliber of the team. Park called for proactive changes, emphasizing self-esteem and responsibility to the football association officials as well as the players.

The Vietnamese football community initially had a strong repulsion against a foreign head coach. It had leaders from football powers such as Germany, Brazil and Portugal to take the helm in the past, but there had not been much success. They only fulfilled the role specified in the contract and drew a strict line. They may have been competent head coaches, but they were not respectable teachers.

Papa Park was different. On the ground, he would yell at the players harshly, but after the matches, he treated them like a father and a big brother. He let an injured player take his business-class seat and personally massaged athletes in the medical room, something the Vietnamese footballers had never experienced. They were the proof that Papa Park’s leadership came from the bottom of his heart.

Leaving the football field, Park said, “I would be happy if the Vietnamese people remember Korean Park Hang-seo as a hard-working leader.” I’m sorry, but he is only half right: Korean Park Hang-seo not only worked hard, but he also did a great job. I applaud his hard work and beautiful tears.
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