The Hiddink debate has been on everyone’s mind for the past two weeks. From what I’ve observed, the public (gauged from internet comments, which reflects public sentiment quite well in Korea) generally wants Hiddink to take over for 2018, whereas the more hardcore fans (read: Tavern writers, K-football enthusiasts on Twitter, and BSK) tend to be more split on the issue. The entire Tavern crew minus one is actually opposed to Hiddink taking over right now, as much as we idolize guy, but we admit that there are very good arguments for Hiddink taking over for STY as well. Of course, this does not necessarily mean that we are siding with Kim Hogon and the KFA cronies – from the very start the KFA has been universally criticized for its short-sightedness and poor decision-making.
In this post I will try to summarize all the various arguments for/against Hiddink’s appointment (and add some of my own), and at times insert my impressions on how convincing the arguments are.
Why Hiddink SHOULD be appointed manager of the KNT for the 2018 cycle:
1. Hiddink can, most likely, do a better job than STY
Let’s talk about why this KNT team sucks. We have players like KSY and SHM who we know on paper are capable of holding their own against premier league sides, and a number of Bundesliga players who can play decently well. What’s clear is that this team SHOULD be performing much better than it has been. I’m not saying we should be world beaters, but we shouldn’t be losing to China/Qatar. We shouldn’t be grinding out scoreless draws against Uzbekistan. Most frustratingly, our passing game should not be this embarrassingly bad.
Now, this phenomenon of underperforming is most certainly multifactorial – sure, many players are out of form, most notably KSY and LCY. That being said, I think it’s also painfully clear that this team lacks:
Motivation. Tactics. Organization. Tuhon.
Guess who’s a coach who’s very good at getting these kinds of things straight? Guus Hiddink.
Hiddink has also stated that this current squad is technically more talented than the 2002 team, to the point where he stated he knows what this team needs to get back on track (debatable, but there is some credence to that claim). To me, it seems Hiddink sees a great opportunity to yet again transform an ailing team – he probably believes (as I do) that much of the team’s failures are attributable due to mental and tactical reasons, and he believes he has what it takes to fix that.
If you believe the team underperforms because we just don’t have talent period (which is a pretty fair argument when we’re talking defense, DMs, and fullbacks in particular), this argument may not be the most convincing, but I think it is unquestionable that much of the team’s failures IS attributable to things Hiddink could fix. The theoretically is why we’re having this argument in the first place (not to mention the question of whether Hiddink’s Korea can function without a HMB or a Yoo Sangchul). As Roy said, “Hiddink has lost his Midas touch” but is still, objectively speaking, a better manager than Shin TY.
Speaking of which, as much as I like STY as person his managing skill is truly questionable. Weird tactical variations ruined the U20 World Cup, what many thought should’ve been a golden generation. Weird subs keep happening too (Olympics, recent WCQ’s). And let’s be real, STY’s performance against Iran and Uzbekistan were pretty bad – Iran down to 10 men at home, Uzbek’s literally letting us play our game and not pressuring us at all. It’s wrong to blame this all on STY but with his track record, can he get even one win at the WC? STY’s got a lot to learn, and it’s obvious he’s going to be the KNT manager EVENTUALLY. For now, why not appoint someone who can right the ship for STY so he doesn’t end up like HMB (which is almost certain to happen)? Such is the argument the pro-Hiddink side makes.
2. Uniting the country / Motivating the players
I’m not exaggerating when I say this – Hiddink is revered in Korea almost as a God. We need someone who can command the respect of the locker room. Cho Kwang Rae lost the locker room and caused a rift between the K League players and the KPA. Choi Kang Hee REALLY lost the locker room with Ki SY’s twitter comments and such by favoring the opposite side that CKR favored. And Stielike quickly lost the respect of the players as well. The arrival of Hiddink, then, should be an instant morale and confidence booster. After all this current generation grew up idolizing the **** out of Hiddink.
Also, only a figure like Hiddink could bring back the fanbase, much of which has turned their backs on the KNT. The public outrage at the KFA is an all-time high and netizens openly criticize the KNT more so than ever before. Things got even worse with Kim Youngkwon’s unfortunate comments, STY’s (excuses) regarding his poor performances, and the whole celebrating-before-knowing-the-result-of-Iran-Syria issue. Hiddink is the figure who can bring the fans’ interest back, and unify the players, the KFA, and the public once more.
I like this argument as a whole but one minor detail bothers me – HMB should’ve had a similar effect, right? Now, players didn’t openly criticize HMB and apparently the players sided with HMB during the whole post-2014 fiasco, but I wonder if this “unifying the team under a leader we all idolize” may not have as big of an effect on performance as we may expect.
Perhaps it’s debatable how much the KNT would improve performance-wise, but the motivation, confidence, and unity would be much stronger under Hiddink than with HMB.
3. Save STY from the poisoned chalice.
This one’s big. HMB was the sacrificial lamb after the post-2014 WC. It wasn’t entirely his fault ofc – the KFA sort of forced him into taking charge and engineered this shitty situation. But HMB took the blame while the KFA cronies kept embezzling money … anyway. The point is, history is repeating itself. There’s an EXTREMELY high likelihood STY is going to become the sacrificial lamb this time.
STY also was reportedly suffering from insomnia with the pressure of having to qualify for the WC. Imagine the pressure he’ll feel when the actual WC happens.
This argument is one that everyone universally agrees on. Everyone’s worried STY is gonna suffer from the HMB effect after an inevitably-poor performance in 2018. There are people who say the lowered expectations might save him from the HMB effect but… the whole “expectations” argument is really contentious and can go multiple ways.
The problem with this argument, of course, is that Hiddink may also be inheriting a poison chalice (any manager who fails to produce results will) – but more on that later.
4. Hiddink genuinely cares about Korea
Hiddink specifically stated he wants his managerial swansong to be with Korea. He is willing to take a massive pay-cut to do this. He’s refused a lot of offers since he was interim manager of Chelsea (China NT, Chinese teams, England NT, etc.) but refused them all. Also, most people are probably aware of the close ties Hiddink still has with Korea – the football charities and academies in Korea, the Guuseum in the Netherlands, etc. How poetic would it be if Hiddink ended his career with the team that made him so famous? (ok he was famous before 2002 with his PSV stint but still, he’s probably best known for his Korea stint, for better or for worse). It’s even more poetic considering that Hiddink also has fairly close ties to Russia (where the 2018 WC will be held).
We’d have an amazing feel-good story-we’ll-tell-our-grandkids story if Hiddink pulled off some miracle in 2018, but anyway.
5. Let’s spite Kim Hogon, the new public enemy
Kim Hogon lied about Hiddink’s interest, sparking outrage among fans. He also straight up cursed at Hiddink, referring to him as “새끼.” Tim posted a great article about this yesterday.
There are also vague recollections (from me, Tim, and ppl online) that originally, the plan was to have an interim manager for the WCQ’s then hire a foreign manger. Until Kim Hogon intervened and got STY to stay, who was supposed to study management in Europe.
For some reason I can’t find the source for this claim, but if it’s true, Kim Hogon is REALLY a poison to the KFA and would make us fans even more angry than we already are.
Issues with the arguments above:
1. Can Hiddink Really Improve this Team?
Given that there are literally only 8 games left before squad rosters are due (which means 4 training camps tops), can the new manager do anything? It’s less than a year until the World Cup starts. Most likely, whoever the manager is Korea will play terribly. I should also add the point that back then, we had two amazing defensive midfielders and three fantastic centerbacks. Without a single good DM and a single good CB, how much can Hiddink actually do? There are managers who can get the best out of not-so-talented players, and Hiddink may be one of them – Ferguson comes to mind of course but if you think about it our NT core played so much better in 2002 than we did in 1998-2001. But we don’t know if Hiddink has enough to work with right now.
That being said, with the time argument there is a good point to be made: in the space of just over a year Lippi and van Marjiwk have made some insane progress with China and Saudi Arabia, respectively. Hell, BvM got Saudi Arabia to qualify for the WC at the expense of Australia. Considering those squads suck even more than our squad does, maybe Hiddink would have enough time to make a difference. Who knows?
Verdict: I’m uncertain about this one – I’d think that at best, Hiddink could save us from embarrassment (i.e. respectable results, maybe a win and a draw, MAYBE a RO16 berth). But I’m not sure if there’s enough time – and the improvement may be minimal.
2. Expectations (perhaps the most contentious)
There are a lot of trains of thought about expectations. We talk about how STY needs to be spared, but what if the public turns on Hiddink? Who’s safe from something akin to what happened post-2014? I’m going to tl;dr some of the claims that I’ve seen made, all of which are plausible, but mutually contradictory.
Statement #1: Expectations are at an all time low [which is objectively true], ergo there’s not much to lose by hiring Hiddink.
BSK made this point multiple times:
We need Hiddink. If STY were smart, he would step down from the poison chalice leading the KNT to a WC out of self-preservation when someone of Hiddink’s stature offers to take the job. STY can go get his UEFA coaching licenses, serve as an assistant in Europe and get back to managing a club until the next WC cycle (after he’s gained requisite experiences). For Hiddink, this is the perfect time to take over the KNT. None of the wild expectations of WC06 lacking talent. None of the pressures of a talented squad in WC10. None of the false pretenses of a soft squad in WC14.
We’ve hit rock bottom. There are no expectations for this squad. Yet there is more talent in this squad than in the WC10 and WC14 squads. Even if Hiddink manages to make us play coherently, he will exit as a hero. Imagine if we got out of the group?
His reputation wouldn’t be affected at all. He’s coming into a shit situation and everyone knows it. As someone mentioned we’ve hit rock-bottom with our tepid and under-performing displays over the past several years. There’s nowhere to go but up. Besides, his rock-star status in Korea would be hard to dent no matter what. It’s like the established comedian rolling out weak material and still making people laugh because ‘that dude is hilarious.’ And when he does bring his A-game you know he’s bringing the house down.
But there’s a problem with Statement #1, because there’s an equally plausible Statement #2:
Statement #2: By hiring Hiddink would expectations skyrocket, and an inevitable poor performance at the WC would see Hiddink ruin his image – and no fan wants that.
In Korea, a national hero can turn into public enemy number one in a blink of an eye, so there’s a point to this. With the above two statements, I really don’t know which one is more accurate.
Let’s make things more confusing:
Statement #3: Because everyone knows this team sucks, STY might be saved from the HMB effect and the poisoned chalice.
This argument rarely gets made, but if you think about it, could also be true. I think most fans agree that STY is gonna have his reputation smeared in the case of a poor WC, especially after what happened in 2014. But with expectations even lower, is there a chance we don’t have to worry about a HMB effect?
Verdict: The Korean public sentiment is so unpredictable I don’t even know what to say. We hold an interest in saving STY’s career and saving Hiddink’s reputation. And I wonder if the only way to achieve both those goals is to hire a random foreign manager who isn’t Hiddink nor STY. The reality is, however, is that STY is probably going to stay.
Why Hiddink Should Not Be Our Next Manager:
I’ll be more succinct here because many of these points were covered already.
1. Hiddink only wanted to manage us if we qualified
This one is actually convincing. Hiddink was not willing to take over right when Stielike was fired, but if we were to qualify. I think that makes sense, but there is a case that STY was the one who accepted those two extremely high pressure games so if STY wishes to continue as manager, he should be allowed to.
That being said, I think pretty much any competent manager could’ve qualified us considering we drew 0-0 twice… but I still think this argument is valid.
2. Save Hiddink from the poisoned chalice
We all love Guus Hiddink for what he did for the country back in 2002, and it would be a shame to see Hiddink’s image go down in flames. There IS, I believe, a very high chance that Hiddink’s appointment would in fact raise expectations to unreasonable levels and lead to Hiddink being cursed at by the Korean public.
3. Very little time to make a difference – again, already covered.
Though most of the Tavern writers are against appointing Hiddink for 2018, I personally believe that for every solid argument for bringing in Hiddink there’s a solid argument against it. I think we should just accept the fact that STY will in all likelihood be our next manager and cheer him on. But it is interesting to think about what could’ve happened had Hiddink made a comeback to the team, right?