Elder statesman Kwak hopes to be ‘friendly’ leader on World Cup team

By Korea Herald
  • Published : May 22, 2014 - 19:59
  • Updated : May 22, 2014 - 19:59
South Korea has assembled its youngest-ever World Cup squad for this year’s tournament in Brazil, with defensive back Kwak Tae-hwi the oldest member at age 32.

He’s the only player over 30 on a team that is on average 25.9 years old, nearly two years younger than the previous World Cup team from four years ago.

In a culture where seniority can often take precedence over merit in hierarchy, it is easy to imagine Kwak as the forceful voice over younger teammates off the field.

Yet in an interview before the team practice on Thursday at the National Football Center in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, Kwak said his leadership style is the exact opposite.

“I find that it’s much better (for the team morale) to compliment the guys than to come down hard on them,” Kwak said. “I want to cheer on the guys and let them know when they make good plays.”
Kwak Tae-hwi. (Yonhap)

Kwak, an offensive-minded defender for Al-Hilal in Saudi Arabia, said he has strong faith in his younger teammates, including winger Son Heung-min, 11 years Kwak’s junior.

“They may be young, but they’re all professional football players and have played well on their clubs,” Kwak noted. “They clearly know and understand what they have to do. They may seem all free-spirited and care-free, but they’re all following the rigid system.”

Kwak may be the stable force in the locker room, but he may not see much action in Brazil. Hong Jeong-ho of FC Augsburg and Kim Young-gwon of Guangzhou Evergrande, both 24, have been the main centerbacks under head coach Hong Myung-bo since last summer. They have complemented each other well, with Hong Jeong-ho providing the muscle and Kim offering smarts and an offensive touch.

Kwak is a solid defender on his own, strong on one-on-one coverage and able to jump in on offense, as attested by his five goals in 33 matches.

Kwak is getting his second chance at the World Cup, after missing out on the 2010 tournament with a devastating knee injury he suffered only days before the start of the event.

“I am preparing the best I can for each practice and each game,” he said. “I am also trying to figure out how to best lead the young guys and help build us into a team.” (Yonhap)