It is arguably the most visible job in South Korean sports. And with fame and the high profile come unreasonable expectations, which have been so heightened after the Dutch coach Guus Hiddink guided South Korea to the semifinals at the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
Though it was a historic run that probably will never be duplicated, the South Koreans, who are usually more passionate about their national team than the domestic professional clubs, have come to expect nothing less than a berth in the knockout stage at each ensuing World Cup. They have become tougher to please over the years.
Yet coaches that have come and gone since Hiddink, Koreans or foreign nationals, have not come close to clearing that high bar of expectations.
Hong Myung-bo, whose team crashed out of this year’s World Cup in Brazil, became the latest to join their ranks, as he leaves Brazil with his football legacy somewhat tainted. Hong has led a charmed life in football and the early exit here represented his first major failure.
|Korea head coach Hong Myung-bo (Yonhap)|
Hong took over the team last June, only about a year to go before the World Cup, after South Korea barely squeezed into the finals out of the Asian qualifying. Tasked with overhauling an underachieving squad with a limited pool of talent, Hong, it could be said, was set up for failure.
Still, fans back home won’t let Hong off the hook so easily.
At the start of his national team career, Hong built himself an image as a principled leader who would stick to his set of values under any circumstances. Hong, a former captain for South Korea, preached the “team first” values at his inaugural press conference, insisting that no single player would be above the team.
He also outlined his philosophy on player selection ― that he would only call up players who are getting regular minutes on their respective clubs, be it for friendlies or World Cup matches.