SPORTS

Korea's new U-23 football coach hints at Son Heung-min selection for Asian Games

By Yonhap
  • Published : Sept 28, 2017 - 17:31
  • Updated : Sept 28, 2017 - 17:31
South Korea's new under-23 national football team boss, Kim Bong-gil, said Thursday he may select Tottenham Hotspur attacker Son Heung-min for his Asian Games squad next year under the right conditions.

Kim, who was appointed Tuesday by the Korea Football Association, will lead South Korea at the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) U-23 Championship in January next year and then at the Asian Games in August.

Like the Olympic Games, the men's football tournament at the Asian Games is open to players under the age of 23, but teams can also field up to three players who are over the age limit, better known as wild cards. Kim said it's too early to discuss wild card candidates, but didn't rule out the possibility of picking Son, who is 25.

"Son is recognized by everyone as the best player," Kim said. "But we still have lots of time left. If conditions are met, I think we can pick him."
 
In this file photo taken April 13, 2014, Kim Bong-gil, then head coach of Incheon United, directs his players during their K League Classic match against Suwon Samsung Bluewings at Incheon Football Stadium in Incheon. (Yonhap)

he 2018 Asian Games in Indonesia will be Son's last chance to earn a military exemption. In South Korea, male athletes who earn an Olympic medal or win gold at the Asian Games are exempt from the country's mandatory two-year military service. This could be particularly beneficial to professional athletes' careers and their teams' future.

Son, a former Bayer Leverkusen man, previously competed at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics, but South Korea were eliminated in the quarterfinals.

For the wild card selection, Kim said he will check the over-aged players' status in general.

"We have to consider the player's performance and his form before the squad selection," he said. "We also have to know if a player can mingle with younger members on the team."

Kim said he feels a heavy responsibility for taking the helm of the U-23 team since many big-name coaches were mentioned in relation to the job. Choi Yong-soo, former head coach of FC Seoul and Chinese side Jiangsu Suning, and Seol Ki-hyeon, former 2002 World Cup star and current Sungkyunkwan University coach, were previously bandied about as possible candidates.

Kim hasn't had as illustrious a career as some of the others. He served as the interim head coach for Incheon United in the K League Classic in 2010 and 2012, before getting promoted to the full-time head coaching position during the 2012 season. However, he was sacked in 2014 and then coached Chodang University in Muan, South Jeolla Province.

"I didn't expect to be selected for the job," he said. "I'm still dazed."

South Korea won the gold medal at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon under Lee Kwang-jong, who passed away last year due to leukemia. Kim said his goal is to continue winning at the Asiad for the sake of the country's football and for Lee.

"I will prepare hard to win our second straight gold medal, so that Lee's achievement won't be ruined," he said. "Lee and I played together for five years at Yukong football club in the past, and he is the person that I respect the most. That's why I'm really determined to win the gold medal." Yukong F.C. is now known as Jeju United.

Before going to the Asian Games, Kim first needs to prepare for the AFC U-23 Championship in China. The 51-year-old coach said he will soon finalize his backroom staff and set up training schedules for upcoming competitions.

"I will put together a coaching staff with people who can devote themselves," he said. "I will then watch national tournaments and U League matches to find players." The U League is made up of university teams.

Kim said he wants to play "total football" with young players and create the right team atmosphere.

"For defenders, I will order them to press hard, and for attackers, I will ask them to make short and quick passes," he said. "But most of all, I will first create a team atmosphere where the players can be responsible members of the national team." (Yonhap)