“What Is the State of the Reds?” Some thoughts on the KNT future

One of the Tavern readers, paulykeno, left the following post in the new Tavern Forum:

Now that the dust has settled and the tears have dried over the Olympic exit- what is the state of the Reds in your opinion?

 

Son isn’t living up to his nickname of “Sonaldo”. At age 24 he is nowhere near the level of being even considered a prodigy. Lee Seung Woo has high expectations, but is still a mystery. There are a handful of marginally avg. young players in Europe. The backline at every level continues to be suspect at best. Whoever replaces Jung in the net will be a vast improvement, but a mediocre keeper at best.

 

What can Uli do? Will we ever have a “golden generation”? (Please don’t tell me that THIS is our golden generation.) Was the 2002 team of overachievers made up of blue-collar rough and tumble defenders, speedy midfielders/forwards, a iron horse goalie, and couple of prima donna hair models that never amounted to anything past 2002 our last good showing on the international stage in our lifetime?

 

I don’t want to sound all “gloom and doom”, but let’s have an honest conversation about the team. Another exit in group stage seems like the trajectory for 2018. The hopes of building from 2002 sounds like a fairytale told by hal-abeojis during Chuseok now. The further away that time grows from those achievements, the more the detractors (ie Italians) are proven right.

 

I will attempt to answer all of paulykeno’s questions in the following post:

Q: What is the state of the Reds going forward?

A: I thought the Dark Ages were over after CKR and CKH. Instead, we’ve gotten worse and worse. Truly, the “building off of 2002” phase dropped dead after the 2010 World Cup, and while we’re seeing more technically gifted players popping up, the Tuhon that characterized the KNT teams of old has disappeared. We are weaker than ever, and as BS as the FIFA rankings are, it reflects how low we’ve dropped. Even with an entire midfield – FW line that plays in Europe, inconsistent playing time, and the lack of a real leader like Park Ji Sung and Lee Young Pyo, is hurting us. In 2018, the core of the team will still be there and they will be much more experienced. But for obvious reasons we’re not going to get much farther than the RO16 if we manage to make it that far.

I’m usually ever the optimist when it comes to the KNT but since 2014 I have been hit with some hard doses of reality. The future of the KNT does NOT look very bright. I say this despite players like the Barca kids + Lee Kang In, because time and time again the K League has proven to be garbage at 1) retaining its established talents 2) retaining young talent coming out of high school and 3) taking promising players and turning them pro. Then there is military duty, but that’s another issue for another time.

We’ve said this over and over again, but if I’m a standout footballer coming out of high school with appearances for the national team, I would honestly not go to the K League Classic. With only 12 teams, massive squad sizes, and the seniority system in place, I would be lucky to get 3-5 games as a 18/1 year old. The alternative options are J League and university, and in the J League obvious prejudices come in – would a Japanese manager play promising Japanese talents or Korean talents? The trend recently has been university, and there I spend 3 years playing some pretty low-tier football, where I probably won’t be challenged very much to be competitive. I debut at 21/22 years old, and I have about a 6 year career before I have to enlist with Sangju Sangmu or Ansan Police FC.

A talented European or Japanese player, on the other hand, can lawfully sign with a professional team any time they want, whereas Korean players cannot sign pro until 18. This law by itself is an issue because think about all the best players in the WORLD right now – they’ve been training solely to become a professional soccer player since they were less than 10 years old and the really good players go pro close to 16-17, especially in the “stepping stone leagues” like in Holland/Belgium. If this handicap isn’t enough for Korea, there’s the prospect of playing time. Korean players who are not in their final year of HS / final year of Uni always end up getting super rusty, because the vast majority of starting XI’s in HS and Uni are decided by seniority. 18 year olds tend to hit the pitch over 17 year olds, and 22 year olds hit the pitch over 19 year olds. That is why our U19 team is currently so rusty – in their first year of uni, they are not getting much playing time.

In the recent Suwon JS Cup, the high school players really shined while captain Lee Dong Jun, at Soongsil University, skied an open goal net chance. Our final opponent,, the Japanese U19 team, was entirely composed of J League professionals, many of whom were getting decent playing time. The fact that we consistently beat Japan at all youth levels shows that our players have quality, but they will end up never hitting their full potential because they face so many handicaps.

Proof? Just take a look at our recent youth results. In 2009 U17 we qualified to the quarterfinals. In 2011 U20 we lost to Spain in the RO16 on PKs – that’s right, we took FREAKING SPAIN U20 (half the team played for RM Castilla or Barcelona’s La Masia) to PKs. In 2013 we got to the quarterfinals of he U20 World Cup and lost in PK’s to Iraq. More recently, in the 2015 U17 world cup we topped a group consisting of Brazil and England and only some defending mistakes and a missed PK from LSW saw us crash out to Belgium. No country has nearly as many U19 AFC Championship titles as us (seriously look at the list of winners on Wikipedia, we won like more than half of them).

My theory is that 2002 caused a huge explosion on soccer interest, and the kids who grew up with 2002 and 2006 fresh in their heads, kids who watched Park Ji Sung in his heyday, are growing up now to be some very good, technically gifted footballers.

Unfortunately, those kids who starred in those youth tournaments didn’t end up very well. I didn’t watch 2009 (this was the birth of the SHM hype btw), but from 2011, Kim Jin Su turned out well and Jang Hyun Soo turned out okay but Baek Sung Dong, Kim Kyung Joong, Jung Seung Yong, Kim Yong Hwan, Lee Ki Je and Kim Young Wook are struggling in varying degrees of mediocrity. From 2013 the players are actually doing somewhat well in the K League, as they are starting to get playing time with their teams, but only RSW moved to Europe and even he didn’t turn out too well. As for 2015 the verdict is still up in the air, but the U19 championship and the U20 world cup are fast approaching.

Until the K League problem is resolved (lack of money, lack of spectators, and lack of opportunities for young players), a golden generation that’s balanced across GK –> FW is not going to happen. That being said, there is a good chance we’ll see a “golden generation” in the attacking midfield – FW department pretty soon:

 

Q: Address SHM’s ceiling, LSW, and the marginally average young players in Europe

A: SHM unfortunately didn’t hit his full potential. He’s still a little one dimensional, loses the ball often, and his only lethal move is the incut and shoot. But he’s still a good player who can manage at Tottenham Hotspur and is currently one of our best players. He’s nowhere near Park Ji Sung yet, but perhaps he can reach that level with proper coaching.

Re: LSW, I think we can have some high expectations. LSW is the one player at Barcelona who has a decent chance of making the senior team. He is 18 years old, almost 19, while Messi and Suarez are 29, almost 30. The ideal scenario for LSW, tbh, is to go on loan after a successful season at Barca B and wait for Suarez and Messi to get old. Fortunately, his only real competition is Munir El Haddadi – the other forwards at Barca B are pretty awful, and Gerard Deulofeu doesn’t look like he’ll ever be returning to Barcelona. When LSW hits 20/21, Messi and Suarez will be starting to hit their declining years, and if one of them transfers back to Argentina/Uruguay, LSW has a golden opportunity to steal the Barcelona starting spot. Of course, all of this depends on LSW developing properly, but so far, as of preseason, it’s looking good. He still falls over pretty easily but he seems much more comfortable with Barca B than he did in his debut last season.

Realistically, Jang and Paik have a difficult chance, Paik even more so than Jang. Jang truth be told doesn’t have all that strong competition in the forward positions, but he’s going to have to really step it up with Juvenil A having been lost an extra half season compared to PSH and LSW. Jang seems to me the hardest worker of the three, so maybe he can surprise us a la Pedro. He has the fundamentals down for sure.

Paik, unfortunately, should have left a long time ago, especially now that Barcelona just purchased very young youth midfielders in Denis and Andre Gomes. He is rated highly by Lopez, but the situation just isn’t right for him. Plus, he has insane competition from Barca B in the form of Carles Alena and Wilifred Kaptoum. Paik can become a very good player for us in the future – I rate him higher than every CM prospect we have except for Hwang In Beom. If I were BSH I would go to a midtable Spanish team and get as much playing time as possible.

However, the player I’m most excited for is Lee Kang In, hands down. He’s by far the most gifted passer, dribbler, and overall player I’ve seen at 15 (almost 16) years old. Lee Seung Woo at 15 is faster, but he couldn’t dribble past ppl so easily like LKI. Think of it this way – when Neymar dribbles past people he “breezes” past people with pace. LSW is sort of like this. But Messi dribbles past people with cuts in direction and fancy footwork. LKI does just that – not that he’s anywhere as good as Messi but he is a geniune dribbler. Plus, he beasted it up in a U16 League as a 14/15 year old. Lee Kang In is going to be the future Valencia CF #10, mark my words.

Re: backline, every single youth cycle I get super pumped about the backline then I get super disappointed when none of them really pan out. Right now the prime suspects are Lee Sang Min, U17 captain, and Jung Seung Hyun, who cemented his status as the most promising youth defender after his Olympic outing. I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if neither of them ended up playing for a decent club in Europe. I would, however, love to be proven wrong.

Re: Goalkeeper, it’s quite a mystery how there are no top notch East Asian GK’s. Who will replace Jung? I personally forse the JSR – Kim Seung Kyu – Kim Jin Hyeon line going far into the future unless a really good goalkeeper pops up out of nowhere. The prime candidate, tbh, seems to be the U19 keeper Song Bum Keun. Named after Cha Bum Keun because his father was a huge fan of the star striker, Song is the type of player who gets praised by opposition coaches – as a goalkeeper. That being said, I thought Lee Chang Keun would get huge back in 2012, but it never happened. If I were Song Bum Keun, I would try to push for a move to the Bundesliga, because he has cred over there especially after his heroics in the matches against Germany U19 and Schalke U19. As we all know, Korea is in desperate need of a GK, and SBK isn’t going to get much playing time in the K League, that’s for sure.

 

Q: What can Uli do?

A: Try to push for K League / Youth system reform. He has a very limited squad, and although he makes some really puzzling callups and subsitutions, we shouldn’t expect too much from Uli. But I hope he brings elements of the German footballing structure to Korea, because surely, he realizes how bad things are over in our country.

 

Q: Will we ever have a “golden generation”? (Please don’t tell me that THIS is our golden generation.) Was the 2002 team of overachievers made up of blue-collar rough and tumble defenders, speedy midfielders/forwards, a iron horse goalie, and couple of prima donna hair models that never amounted to anything past 2002 our last good showing on the international stage in our lifetime?

I sure hope not! With so many random youth players in Europe I would like to think 2022 and 2026 will turn out really well, but we don’t know do we? For a golden generation to happen, 1) The K League must change 2) we need our Tuhon back and 3) we need the GK and defense to step up. If players like Lee Kang In and Lee Seung Woo really do get big and hit their potential, it would be a real waste to see such talents get undermined on the NT by shambolic defending and goalkeeping…

But a lack of technical skill can be overcome by some real grit and as paulykeno phrased it perfectly, “rough and tumble” style. No one in the KNT has had that physical toughness since Yoo Sang Chul and Kim Nam Il. 2002, imo, was a massive anomaly and a perfect storm. Even if we prepared for months ahead of the 2018 WC as we did in 2002, we could not get anywhere near 2002, because this was the generation where the stars aligned – a great GK, great defenders, two amazing CM’s, and Hwang Sun Hong / Ahn Jung Hwan / sniper Seol Ki Hyun in their primes. A next Hong Myung Bo.. isn’t going to happen any time soon, unfortunately. And a Yoo Sang Chul esque player has eluded us ever since he retired. Unfortunately, his style of CM/DM is EXACTLY what Korea is sorely missing, even more so than solid CBs. Instead, we have Han Kook Young…

Another issue: In 2010/2011 we sent a ton of promising young kids to Europe (to La Masia, to Valencia, etc.). Even before than we sent SMW to Portsmouth and NTH/JDW to Reading FC. Why aren;t we doing that anymore??? Have we given up on this, or are no good enough players coming out of the U12 ranks? Whatever the case, this trend needs to continue so future Lee Seung Woo’s and future Lee Kang In’s can start popping up again…

14 Comments

  1. Thanks for the write-up. You guys are really insightful and gave me a better understanding of the workings of the Korean soccer culture and the KFA. I think the future success of the Reds hinges on the development of the backline and a solid goalie- as shown by the success of Korea’s 2002 team and recently by the Germans. From what I gathered from your report, it looks like we have a long way to go. Not to keep talking about the military service that has dominated this blog for the past month, but wouldn’t it be interesting if there was a passport grab like Jurgen’s USA team? I don’t know if there are any quality players out there who could hypothetically even have dual citizenship, but I’m guessing there’s at least one 14 yr old Korean American who’s a physical freak playing American football as a wide receiver that we can teach to play goal to replace the inept Jung. HAHA. A guy can dream right?

    • 1. No one will ever passport grab to korea due to military service, and tbh I really don’t like seeing players switch nationalities (i.e. Korean hockey team)
      2. The promising players and the talent is all there, it’s just that 1) the k league can’t turn them into real players and 2) Koreans far too often make some really really bad career decisions. Case in point – Kim Bo Kyung vs. Hiroshi Kiyotake. Equally good players back when they were teammates but one went to Germany and one went to the .. English second division…
      3. Someone send song bum keun, lee sang min, and jung seung hyun to Germany please! Same with LB extraordinaire Park Myung Soo (no not that Park Myung Soo) – these four olayers, and many more, I can’t stand them wasting their talents in the U League

  2. nice, honest post.
    it was a good read Jinseok.
    Man i wish Korea could step their game up but idk if it’ll happen by the 2018 World Cup. The 2014 World Cup had me in high hopes and I tried to ignore the doubtful comments. seeing us crash out made me hope for a noticeable improvement for 2018.
    I was hoping 2014 could be a wake up call and we would be seeing progess. i guess we are seeing progress here and there so I’m not too sad. this team has a long way to go and needs fixes here and there. Korea shouldnt be a team that makes it to a world cup and just get knocked out. at least thats what i hope doesnt become the situation for korea. they have potential. making it the world cup has been a success for a while now for Korea. It’s time for them to progress. I believe that much.
    Go Reds Go!

  3. A very good summary about the youth in general, as everyone would expect from Jinseok, but the intro (first two paragraphs cca) seems overly depressive to me.

    FFS, the KNT has *just* grinded their way through to an Asian Cup final and went all year 2015 barely ever conceding, so all the talk about “suspect backlines”, “lacking leaders”, etc. appears rather lazy to me.

    Yes, it’s been true for majority of the recent past (or post-2002, if you will), but no, it’s not the Stielike blueprint, and it arguably never will be. The fact that the KNT’s manager is now a former Real Madrid defender really isn’t falling flat – it’s quietly bearing fruit (with rather underwhelming material, I concur) and I tend to think it will continue in the next WCQ stage which promises some tough challenges.

    So chin up, guys, at least in some respects!

    • I think the Asian Cup results were fool’s gold. It was definitely an improvement compared to the performance during the WC, but the competition wasn’t nearly as strong. Honestly, the amount of ball watching and lack of accountability that the defenders display is a constant problem. And let’s be serious, Jung’s play is laughable- literally laughable. Kim Jin-hyeon in goal during the Asian Cup was a big improvement. I can’t count how many times Jung is out of position, or doesn’t commit to a ball, or just fumbles around. He’s a nightmare.

      • Then thats probably why he isnt really the no.1 he used to be, eh? 🙂

        Fool’s gold… well, World Cup has a four-year cycle, the last one was pretty unique with the whole HMB experiment, there must be sth inbetween. And that is Asian Cup, where South Korea simply stood up for task.

        Everything that’s so far happened under Stielike suggests defensive improvement, so lets not automatically put this Korea in the same basket with others. Yet

        • I think Koreans just by nature expect nothing but perfection, and in general we’re a nitpicky people 🙂

          It’s right to take pride in our team’s improving defensive situation but when properly tested against Spain… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

          The ideal is to have a defensive set up that won’t crumble at the World Cup and that can hold its own, and from the two tests undergone (Spain and Czechia) the results are mixed signals. Hence the apprehension 🙂

          • Sorry, but I don’t get this at all. Asian Cup is not a proper test whereas a *friendly* with only *one* usual starter among DFs (Jang) vs an opponent in the middle of preparation for a tournament is? Doesn’t make sense to me.

          • Again, I said that can hold its own at the World Cup… I’m not doubting that the defense has improved when tested by European opposition, but the 6-1 against Spain rests fresh in the memory and the plethora of mistakes in that one is very concerning as I’m sure you’ll agree…

  4. Can someone explain to me how Park Chu-young got out of military service, like I remember he did something sneaky and the Korean media hated it but then he got his bronze in 2012 anyway.
    I’m hopeful that we will pull through, but yeah, its a bit depressing being in a mediocre stage for so long. To be honest it would be nice to see our senior players now like KJC, LCY and KSY step it up and take the leadership role. If KBK keeps going I see him really leading the charge. K-League is absolutely bs, we’ve got the talent but societal rules and laws seem to be hindering us!

    • He was granted a Monaco visa thanks to prince albert, which allowed him to defer his military service for 5 years

    • What Jinseok said re: Park Chu-Young but the Korean media and some netizens painted this false narrative that it was sneaky on PCY’s part. Some conveniently forget that monoco residency was approved by the Korean govt . It was incredibly distracting, but ultimately Arsene wenger’s poor management and over reliance/over playing RVP in 2011-2012 allowed PCY to rust in London, that was more career damaging to PCY at that time. As LYP bravely and pragmatically said at the time: it does Korea no real service to have PCY leave football now to join Korea military –he can do more for Korea by playing football (paraphrasing, I forget exact wording). A few month later – boom – Korea bronze football medal, Ki, Koo, Ji and others w/ military exemption and staying on top flight euro ball thx in part to PCY. A distracted and yagu loving nation probably has already forgotten his contribution to Korean football by now

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