Hong Myung-bo, the embattled head coach of the South Korean men's national football team, announced his resignation from the post on Thursday in the wake of the country's winless World Cup, a stunning development only a week after receiving a vote of confidence from the sport's national governing body.
At a press conference held at the Korea Football Association (KFA) headquarters in Seoul, Hong said he takes the blame for South Korea's disappointing campaign in Brazil, where the country had one draw and two losses to finish last in Group H.
"A lot has happened over the past year, and I've committed my share of mistakes," said Hong, who took over the team in June last year. "I made decisions that I felt were the right ones at the time, but as the results show, I've had many failures. I'd like to apologize to fans for letting them down."
Hong coached 19 matches with a record of five wins, four draws and 10 losses.
This is the third coaching change for South Korea since late 2011. Cho Kwang-rae was sacked during the penultimate round of the Asian qualifying for the World Cup. Choi Kang-hee succeeded Cho but said he'd only coach South Korea through the final Asian qualification round. Choi left the job in June last year, to be followed by Hong.
Hong, the former national team captain who retired having played 135 international matches, the most among any South Korean, takes an unceremonious exit from the top coaching post.
Hong competed in four World Cups, from 1990 to 2002, as a defender and was an assistant coach at the 2006 World Cup. He captained the 2002 World Cup team that made a historic run to the semifinals on home soil.
As a head coach, he led South Korea to the quarterfinals at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2009, the country's best showing in 18 years. Then in 2012, Hong coached the country to the bronze medal at the London Olympics, South Korea's first-ever Olympic football medal.
Hong's announcement comes a week after the KFA said it would retain him until next year. Huh Jung-moo, a vice president of the KFA, offered support for the beleaguered coach, revealing that Hong had offered to quit immediately after the World Cup but the KFA had persuaded him to stay on for the duration of his contract, which runs through the Asian Cup tournament in January.
On Thursday, Hong said he first mulled resigning after South Korea's 4-2 loss to Algeria in the second group match and made his intention known after the 1-0 loss to Belgium that sealed his team's fate in Brazil.
Hong said he felt it would have been "irresponsible" on his part to quit the team with the Asian Cup on the horizon, but said he gradually lost confidence in himself to keep coaching the squad.
"After returning home, I carefully thought about my abilities as a coach and decided I still had many deficiencies," Hong said.
"I wondered if I would have enough energy to get the team back on track. I didn't feel I was good enough of a coach to take the country through the Asian Cup."
Asked why he didn't announce his decision to quit sooner, Hong said he was willing to remain the lightning rod for criticism in the aftermath of the early World Cup exit.
"If I had said I would resign as soon as I landed here, then it would have been an easy way out for myself," Hong said. "But I felt it was also part of my responsibilities to remain in the post and take whatever blame was coming my way."
Looking back on the World Cup, Hong acknowledged he'd made "tactical" errors in preparation for matches and also took the blame for failing to get his players in shape.
"Our players were not in great physical conditions, and a lot of things went wrong overall," he said. "But I believe having played in this World Cup will be a good asset for our players."
Hong also said he will share with the KFA his experience in preparing for the World Cup, so that the governing body will have reference points on what to do and what not to do in the buildup to the tournament.
Hong had earlier faced heat for some controversial selections for his 23-man World Cup squad. Namely, he chose forward Park Chu-young as his striker, though Park had played sparingly at the club level in England and had battled nagging injuries for most of the year.
The World Cup team included 12 who played under Hong at the London Olympics, leading to charges that the coach had picked players mostly based on his personal ties with them.
Hong on Thursday defended his choices.
"No coach in the world would play favorites when building a team for the World Cup," he said. "I can tell you right here with a
100 percent confidence that I made objective selections."
On Monday, a local media report said Hong, weeks before announcing the national team roster, had visited an expensive neighborhood just south of Seoul on a few occasions, hoping to buy land there, and signed off on his purchase on May 15 during the team's training camp. The report further upset fans who believed Hong should have been concentrating on the national team's World Cup preparation.
Hong said his real estate transaction was "an extremely private matter" and insisted he didn't do anything to compromise his commitment to the team.
"I didn't leave the team during practice hours for that," he said. "It couldn't be further from the truth."
Hong said he hadn't put much thought into his immediate future, adding he hopes to spend more time with his family and continue with his charitable activities through his foundation.
"I've been a player, a coach and a head coach, and I think I may have some untapped talent in me," he said. "I'd like to help the underprivileged people and remain socially active. I feel great knowing that I've done my best for the country for the past 24 years. I'd like to thank the people for their support over the years." (Yonhap)