The Korea Herald


Outgoing Ulsan coach acknowledges fans' anger toward his departure for national team

By Yonhap

Published : July 10, 2024 - 20:11

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Ulsan HD FC head coach Hong Myung-bo enters Munsu Football Stadium in Ulsan to prepare a match with Gwangju FC on Wednesday. (Yonhap) Ulsan HD FC head coach Hong Myung-bo enters Munsu Football Stadium in Ulsan to prepare a match with Gwangju FC on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

Ulsan HD FC head coach Hong Myung-bo said Wednesday he understands the anger Ulsan supporters feel toward him for leaving their K League 1 club for the South Korean national team.

Before Ulsan hosted Gwangju FC at Munsu Football Stadium in the southeastern city of Ulsan, Hong met with the media for the first time since being named the new head coach for the men's national team on Sunday.

Hong's hiring came as a surprise to many, because Hong had publicly rejected offers from the Korea Football Association on multiple occasions in the past -- as recently as June 30, only a week before the KFA's announcement of his appointment.

Lee Lim-saeng, the KFA's technical director who was in charge of the hiring process, traveled to Europe to interview two international candidates, Guy Poyet of Uruguay and David Wagner of Germany, last week. He returned home Friday morning and then met with Hong later the same night to persuade the South Korean tactician to change his mind.

Hong, who previously coached South Korea from 2013 to 2014, accepted the offer the following morning.

K League coaches hold media availability about an hour before each match. Considering the magnitude of the occasion, a much larger group of reporters than usual were on hand Wednesday evening. Hong declined to take questions about the national team and said he would discuss the situation after the match.

He did touch upon Ulsan fans' reaction to Hong's decision to take the national team job. The club's supporters at first directed their wrath at the KFA for poaching their coach midseason, especially with Ulsan looking to win their third straight K League 1 title. And then they expressed anger at Hong for reneging on his earlier assurance that he would stay put in Ulsan and fans didn't have to worry about his departure.

"I absolutely understand where they come from," Hong said. "Whatever emotions they may be feeling, I think they're right."

Hong's departure comes at a critical juncture for Ulsan, as they try to become only the third team in K League history to win three consecutive titles. They have a chance to overtake Gimcheon Sangmu FC for first place Wednesday night.

Gimcheon lost to Suwon FC 3-2 on Tuesday to remain at 40 points through 22 matches. With one match in hand, Ulsan came into Wednesday's match with 39 points.

After Wednesday, Ulsan will host FC Seoul on Saturday. South Korea's next match will be in September during the third round of the Asian qualification for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, and it has not been determined exactly when Hong will take the national team reins.

"I don't know how much longer I will be here. I will have to speak with the club," Hong said. "I'd love to stick around until the weekend. But the KFA hasn't given me any deadline."

Hong said he didn't give his club any special message prior to the match and added, "I just said we should give our best the way we always do."