I recently had a Twitter conversation with Yonhap News reporter Yoo Jee-Ho, and during that conversation, I began to wonder about the motivations of the KFA in sticking with Hong.
Initially I was pleased with the news, as it made it seem like the KFA was being a little forward thinking, not jumping the gun too quick, etc. But Mr. Yoo tweeted one little thing. That was that Hong Myeong-Bo had offered his resignation to the KFA right after the Belgium game (like many other managers did when eliminated from the World Cup). Hong was denied then, and after returning to Korea persuaded to stay on.
My immediate question was: did Hong offer to resign because of a sense of responsibility (failing to make it out of the group) or because he realized he was out of his league. While this is an important question, it’s not really answerable because only Hong (and maybe the KFA) knows why he offered it.
My follow up thought was on the KFA. Why did they reject his resignation? As I said earlier I thought maybe they were being calmer and more forward-thinking. But after my conversation, my thoughts turned a bit darker. And my new thought was: is the KFA sacrificing the Asian Cup and Hong Myeong-Bo’s reputation in order to cover for their past mistakes?
What past mistakes would those be? Specifically hiring an in-experienced manager for the biggest international tournament in world football. And if you want to go back a bit further, hiring a short-term coach in Choi Kang-Hee after hastily firing Cho Kwang-Rae.
My thinking is this. While the teams in the Asian Cup are a lower level than the World Cup, they are still difficult games. Teams are more athletic than ever, and because of improved technology and a more mobile population, footballing tactics and ideas are easier to spread. Small teams that we used to run over 3-0 or 4-0 are harder to break down now due to modern defensive tactics. These games lately have ended 2-1, 1-0 or in some cases with Korea losing 0-1 or drawing 0-0 or 1-1. Beyond the small teams there are the competitive Asian teams like Japan, Australia, Iran, and to a lesser extent China and Saudi Arabia.
Right now, it feels like people are expecting a berth in the finals as a minimum expectation. But, it’s worth remembering that the last time Korea made the finals of the Asian Cup was 1988. They made the semi-finals three times since then, but always fell short of the finals. Would another semi-finals appearance be sufficient? My suspicion is no. I’d also hazard a guess and say that even just making the finals might not be enough. Korea may need to win it all to save Hong’s job and redeem their pride/image.
Why win it all? Think about it. Who are the teams in Asia? There is no Brazil or Argentina or powerful footballing nation that Koreans are neutral on. The only “power” is Japan, and Korea will never accept losing to Japan, even in the finals. And if not Japan, is there an acceptable country to lose to? Maybe Australia in a pinch, but even then I’d hesitate to say Koreans would take it well. All the other teams, rightly or wrongly, are viewed as “small teams” that Korea should beat (and convincingly).
And on these premises: the KFA rejecting Hong’s resignation and the idea that Korea must win the Asian Cup, I put forward my suspicion. That the KFA is sacrificing Hong to save their own behind. The KFA knows that if they had accepted Hong’s resignation, it would be an admission that they made the wrong choice. That they should have appointed a foreign manager or not hired a short-term boss before. By asking/forcing Hong to continue in his post, they can almost be assured that after the Asian Cup they will find themselves in a win-win situation. Korea plays well and wins the cup? Well, they stuck by him when people thought he was done. Korea is eliminated or plays poorly? Well, he didn’t get the job done, so it’s time to part ways. The currently given excuse, that Hong hasn’t had enough time to form this team, will no longer be valid, as he’ll have had close to two years. Sacking a man who still has considerable standing within Korea and Korean football will be quite palatable. Just as a note, right before the KFA announced they will stick with Hong, Gallup Korea released a poll that showed 52% of Koreans wanted Hong to stay, and only 31% wanted him fired.
Of course, this may be completely false as well. It’s possible the KFA is trying to do the long-term planning thing, or realizes that if they fire Hong they probably won’t have any one ready to start planning for the Asian Cup.
But the fact that this idea is logical, or at least believable, shows how much ‘cleaning’ needs to be done in Korean football. Hopefully Korea’s FA doesn’t look to shield itself from criticism and reform in the wake of the mess that was Brazil 2014. The next year, both in terms of the coaching staff, administration, league, and players will be vital in how Korea does in 2018.
What do you think? Is the KFA playing games behind the scenes to protect themselves, or are they trying to get their act together? Should the KFA have accepted the resignation of a manager who offered it or should they stay true to their course? Share your thoughts in the comments section.