A lot of what we have done on the Tavern is sort of translating/re-hashing the good bits of what Korean football portals give us — the good bits of course, because we all know how vicious/sour and/or uninformed they sometimes can be. Former Korean national team manager Hong Myung-bo knows all too well about what the Korean media can do to you. So today, I’m doing that translating/re-hashing/while-interlacing-opinion-in-between thing again. Hong Myung-bo gave an interview to FootballList Korea in his first lengthy one-on-one chat with a member of the media (I believe) since the 2014 World Cup days, so I picked out some interesting bits, notably his condemnation of the Korean media in the days and weeks after Brazil 2014.
Disclaimer – my Hangul isn’t perfect. Sometimes I’ve modified or paraphrased to add context or summarize.
Firstly, Hong addressed that infamous “yeot throwing”. To be honest, Jae summed up the controversy back in 2014 better than anyone could in two posts here and here, so certainly read those. If you’re too lazy, the skinny: the Korean national team returned to Incheon International after the lacklustre World Cup that saw them pick up only 1 point in 3 games and finish bottom of their group – some “fans” greeted them with banners saying “Korean football is dead” and threw a taffee-like candy at them called ‘yeot’ while yelling ‘yeot mokgeora” (eat yeot), which in Korean jargon means “eat shit”. Hong at the time didn’t address the event, simply apologizing for the poor performance and saying that he needed to rest. Here’s his thoughts today on the peculiar demonstration.
I was aware that this could happen, I had thought of it. I do not know who these people (who threw the yeot) were, but if these people go to the football pitch every day and cheer for teams every weekend, then I feel like we deserved what we got. I am truly sorry to these people. And to the people who simply support the national team, I am truly sorry. The national team coach is responsible for failure at the World Cup and I bear that burden. But to the people who don’t go to football matches, who have no interest in football, who play football with their fingers – I do not care about their anger whatsoever.
Fair enough. People had a right to be angry. The Tavern had numerous people in the comments section angrily expressing their discontent and frustration at Hong Myung-bo’s manager-ship, the controversial team selection, no significant improvement from previous managers, players not performing, anemic tactics, etc. It’s only a taste of that at-times ruthless world that is the comments section in Naver. Like Jae said back in 2014 – throwing things at them went too far. But Hong, like at the time, recognizes the anger in the heat of the moment.
Is it fair for him to shoulder most of the blame and accept it willingly? On that point, no. The problem was much deeper than his team selection and tactics – certainly I personally do not have fond memories of his tenure and there are certain issues which he abjectly failed at addressing, but he was the ultimate scapegoat. It’s easy to pinpoint the anger on one broken, visibly tired and frustrated man. It’s harder to say, “the best manager in the K League couldn’t solve our problems, and Guus Hiddink’s understudy couldn’t solve our problems. Maybe the problem is bigger? Maybe we should pressure the KFA into making sure that this failure never happens again?” So naturally, angry keyboard warriors did the easy thing, the cowardly thing, instead of using the influence they have at pressuring those who are really at the top, but who were happy to sort of quietly hide in the shadows, to come up with pragmatic solutions to improve Korean football in all its aspects. Though I’m beginning to repeat what has been said countless times in the past, so let’s move on.
On the media interfering in his personal life:
I think that is how our country, the Republic of Korea, works. That is how you destroy a man. What the media reported is not true. I did not go visit land to purchase during World Cup training. You see, a national team manager has overall the equivalent of 10 paid work days per month. 20 days for personal time. The fact that I went to see land for a new home during my own private time is completely natural. I was living out of an apartment, in the public eye, and it was difficult to bear. I wanted something more stable. And during World Cup training, I did not go see land to purchase it. I sent someone else to do it for me.
Some context. Another one of the “controversies” that arose post-World Cup was that Hong had been supposedly actively organizing the purchase of land for a new home for he and his family during training sessions at (from what I recall reading) during the World Cup. Hong never cleared things up at the time, so he’s doing that now. Let’s say we took Hong at his word. Is he wrong to look at land for his home during his own “rest” hours – especially when he – a well-known public figure – has been living out of an apartment complex for months? No. Could it distract him from World Cup preparation? Nah. I seriously doubt that Korea’s World Cup would have had gone better if Hong decided not to go and visit a patch of land for a couple hours. Get over it.
This “controversial” dinner happened at a restaurant in Iguaçu (training camp) and they had prepared meals for us. My parents had already been there, my children had already been there, even the journalists dined there. But the media contorted reality to make it sound like we had gone to some strange place. Again, this is how our country, the Republic of Korea, works. I had some 20-odd depressed players. So we went to have some meat and wine at a restaurant. Is it really that big of a deal? The media twisted reality to make it sound like we went to a place to play with a bunch of women. It was clever. In reality, there was one female singer that the restaurant had employed. I’m still waiting to hear from the KFA on what we did wrong.
It becomes harder and harder to discredit Hong when he mentions the media’s craving for a scapegoat. Certainly, some media (to the best of my recollection) had painted the team dinner into some sort of crazy party with alcohol and women, attempting to show how in their view Hong and the team didn’t “give a shit about the nation.” Face-saving is important in Korea, and Hong’s men “destroyed” the nation’s pride and then decided to “party” afterwards. And were they wrong to have a team dinner? No. They are players, not robots. The meaning of the team’s failure was not lost on them. Don’t tell me Son Heung-min’s tears post Belgium were not genuine.
If Korea thinks that my football was wrong and I should leave, that I should take responsibility for the performance, and that they (the media) can bring me down with false stories without hearing my perspective, then I found this unacceptable. Was this the best way to go out? No. But I had to leave. I played football, became a decent player, played for the national team and knew the importance of representing the Republic of Korea. I led this life for 23 years. But the last story that Korea gave to me was not a story of football. I looked at land, I had dinner – in that regard, I did not make a mistake. This was the wrong way to bring me down.
There’s not much more to say. Unfortunately, the ugly underbelly of Korean culture reared its ugly head, with various media as its loudspeaker, bloodthirsty for a man to break, a head to guillotine. Hong had made mistakes and he apologized for them. Look across the East Sea. Japanese fans never said such things about Zaccheroni. Their media didn’t conjure up some stories or made iffy connections and jumped to conclusions so that their manager could leave in disgrace. It speaks to the pressure that comes with being Korean national team manager and maybe even larger problem in Korean society (I can’t say for sure, so I’m not going to paint all Koreans with the same brush…).
However, I’m glad to see Hong is coming out of this with some positive takeaways:
I feel no more responsibility untoward the national team – it’s been a year that I rested from that job. I am now working for me, and I am lucky that I have developed this sentiment now instead of when I’m old and in my 60’s. I am reborn now, and am happily working for myself. The World Cup made me a very free person. There is only one me, and I have spent my life for the people of the nation. Now, I do not dare to do so anymore. I now need to spend time with the people who love me.
Hong was the face of the problem, never the source of it. He was a loyal Korean national team member, and should be remembered for the joy he gave us as 2002 World Cup captain and as 2012 Olympic manager, not of the disappointment of one failed World Cup that was the result of the system’s problems, not his own problems. I feel bad for Hong. He’s rightly had enough. This interview puts things a bit more into perspective. The ruthless Korean media painted Hong in the darkest light possible, (if we take Hong at his word) drew false conclusions without hesitation in order to create a scandal, and fanned the fires of public discontent for their own personal pleasure. I hope Hong has some success at Hangzhou – so that he can find peace and put the World Cup clusterfuck behind him.