Should He Stay or Should He Go?

CHANGSHA, CHINA - MARCH 22: South Korean team manager Uli Stielike attends a press conference before the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers match against South Korea on March 22, 2017 in Changsha, Hunan Province of China. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

The ‘he’ in question is, of course, a certain German manager – one Uli Stielike. Much has been said and debated, both online among South Korea NT fans, as well as (reportedly) the KFA boardroom, with the committee supposed to meet again next week to discuss Uli’s fate. So, should he stay? Should he go? Tim and I return to have another debate on what Korea should do with their embattled boss.

*Disclaimer* Tim and I both see reasons for Uli to stay or the KFA to try a new direction. We will present the arguments for each side, but we are not necessarily hard-core committed to the side we take in this post. 

Jae makes the case for sticking with Stielike

The bottom line is the KFA made their bed, and now they have to lie in it. Stielike is far (far, far, far, far, far) from being a perfect manager, and the days when the media and fans fawned over him and the results he was bringing seem oh so long ago. But, is there any sense in changing now? Realistically, who will the KFA bring in to steady the ship? I can’t attest to the validity of the list, but one went around on social media a day or so ago saying the KFA/media was considering: Ahn Ik-soo, Choi Jin-cheol, Kim Hak-beom, and Park Sung-hwa. Really? Even if the list is complete BS, let’s just take a second and consider these “options”.

Ahn Ik-soo? While the senior side *could* benefit from some tactical discipline and better organization, Ahn is the manager who recently flamed out with the U20 national team. Ahn got the sack after the team failed to make it out of the AFC U19 Championship group stage (a group that featured Korea, Thailand, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia). Ahn, tactically, is notoriously rigid in his playing style, preferring an old school 4-4-2.

Choi Jin-cheol? Did a decent job with the U17 national team, getting the U16 side to the finals of the AFC U16 Championship before falling to North Korea. But, last season he took control of Pohang Steelers (admittedly on a downslide), and had a terrible year. Pohang ended up 9th at the end, but they were flirting with the relegation playoff spot for most of the latter part of the year.

Kim Hak-beom did well with Seongnam FC as they won the Korean FA Cup and he led them on a solid campaign in Asia the next season. But last season was a disaster as the storied club was relegated for the first time.

Park Sung-hwa is currently ‘retired’ with his last job being in 2015 with Gyeongnam FC (a season when they finished almost dead last in the Challenge). Experienced, certainly. But is lack of managerial experience the problem now?

The point is, while this list may be a joke, it is indicative of what options the KFA has if they decided to part ways with Stielike. Plan B (like Kim Shin-wook) isn’t a whole helluva lot better. Recent history would also suggest that sacking the boss midway through qualification isn’t a great idea. Remember the last World Cup cycle? Cho Kwang-rae was hooked late in round 3 because the team *might* not qualify. Who did we get? Oh yeah, Choi Kang-hee (who at least had a solid CV in terms of recent history). Then he left and we got? That’s right, Hong Myung-bo. The Olympic team coach/hero that led us to a disastrously embarrassing World Cup in Brazil. Firing Stielike now, I believe, leads to the same situation as before.

My other main reason to keep Stielike is simply one of honor, respect, and image(?). Performances have been poor, yes. Results have been mixed. But the team is still on course for their goal – World Cup qualification. The final few games are not easy (away to Qatar and Uzbekistan, home to Iran), but Korea should be able to hold onto their second-place spot. As long as Stielike is meeting his target goals (again qualification), then I don’t think you can fire him. The reason is, Korea is not an incredibly attractive job for non-Koreans. It’s far from most of their homes, very different culture, and pay is not great. Plus the KFA has some rules of their own for foreign bosses. Anyway, the point is that firing Stielike – even when he’s doing his job (albeit not very well) – makes it more difficult for the KFA to hire foreign managers in the future.

Like it or not, Korea is stuck with Stielike until we’re out.

Tim makes the case for sacking Stielike

Uli Stielike’s tenure in charge of the Korean national team peaked with an impressive Asian Cup performance. But it’s all gone downhill from there.

The Asian Cup days gave many Korean national team fans hope. Though the Asian Cup didn’t come home with the squad to Korean soil for the first time in several decades, a final appearance topped up with a convincing win against Iraq and combative quarter-final against Uzbekistan revealed that at least against Asian competition, Korea could stand their ground. World Cup qualifying should never be taken for granted, but it seemed apparent that the national team would secure yet another Finals place, and perhaps with less acrimony and controversy than last time around.

It is now evident that this is far from the case. And though blame can (and should) be roundly assigned on many of the players, Uli Stielike must now take full responsibility for the national team’s recent anemic, toothless displays.

  • The team sucks. A defense that arguably looks even more fragile than it was under Hong Myungbo. An offense that looks just as toothless as it was under Choi Kanghee. A lack of cohesion that is reminiscent of the tenures of both. At least, you could argue, we had a talent for pointlessly preserving possession. Now, we can hardly even do that.
  • Stielike hasn’t tried to forge an identity. His unwillingness to innovate or implement new systems reveals a stubborn limitation to the German’s football philosophy.
  • His “tactical IQ” is evidently very low. Obviously, I’m not saying I’d do much better, but really, when has Stielike tried something “different”? The jumbled up system against Australia in the Asian Cup finals? Didn’t really work. The asymmetrical shape against Thailand? Got us a laborious 1-0 win, but he’s never tried it out again. Ko Myungjin on the right wing to play inverted winger? Invisible display. Lee Jeonghyeop? Don’t get me started. (But he pushed up Kwak Taehwi in the end-game of the Asian Cup finals and he got a hockey assist for the game-tying goal! Yeah, that’s literally the only tactically different thing he’s done that’s worked. And let’s face it, that’s only because Kim Shinwook wasn’t around.)
  • He’s waaaaay too predictable. The Korean national team has no surprise factor under Stielike. When Kim Shinwook came on against China at the beginning of the second half, Marcelo Lippi adjusted his squad accordingly to stymie the long-ball play. Sure, the attack had a “focal point” but it didn’t get the team any goals.
  • Stielike’s let himself be surrounded poor coaching assistants. Though the KFA makes the final call on hiring assistant coaches and managers, Stielike probably has a reasonable say in the people he gets to surround himself with. Shin Taeyong and Park Kunha both had experience and brought something to the team, and though Cha Duri and Seol Kihyeon are Korean football legends, they do little to compliment Stielike’s tactical limitations. Stielike’s inability or lack of will to push for a better option means he conscientiously has left his boardroom bare.
  • Stielike’s lost the players. Do we have to go over the “Sebastian Soria” incident again?

Of course, you could acknowledge all these points and still make the case that Stielike’s departure wouldn’t ameliorate the KNT’s situation. I digress.

Leicester City’s recent decision to sack Claudio Ranieri was a highly controversial one. To send away a manager who turned a club of mediocre players to Premier League champions, especially after ensuring an away goal in a not-all-that-bad performance against Sevilla in the Champions League, was obviously a very emotional and controversial choice. However, the club as it stands is now better for it. Craig Shakespeare, though lacking the managerial pedigree of Ranieri or many other European managers, has revitalized the Foxes. Once again, Leicester fans can plausibly be allowed to have that quiet, unspoken hope that they could pull off another miracle. Their spirit has been rekindled.

One could argue that comparing Uli Stielike & random Korean manager with Claudio Ranieri & Craig Shakespeare really is a perfect example of apples and oranges. Though I acknowledge the obvious differences in circumstance, I truly believe that the principle here – changing bosses and giving a fresh start to the team – is what is important.

Some argue that national team managers shouldn’t be directly attributed to a team’s success or failure given that the players play most of their football at their clubs, a quick look at Iran’s dominance is a shining example of what a manager with an agenda and the audacity to carry it through can do. Iran under Carlos Quieroz gained an identity – first becoming a classic AFC park-the-bus side, then, after have bred dangerous youngsters like Sardar Azmoun, working on the transition – holding their ground against world greats like Argentina at the World Cup and now even integrating a tireless pressing game in the opposition half like we saw at the Azadi last October. Team Melli was able to evolve into something great, something indomitable, with players who, frankly said, play for less dazzling clubs than the Koreans. Iran now sit with no goals conceded and no defeats atop Group A.

One last thing: I recognize that Korea is not, and may never be, an international powerhouse. I do not expect them to make it to the semi-finals of the World Cup; I am not comparing them to the 2002 World Cup gold standard. But what I, as a KNT fan, desperate want, is hope. The crazy hope that maybe we can do something special again. Maybe we can bring back the flooded streets of Seoul doused in “Be The Reds” t-shirts with giant floating soccer balls. Maybe we can bring back the insanity of early morning kickoffs and Ahn Junghwan against Italy or Lee Woonjae against Spain or Park Jisung against France or Greece or Japan. The foolish hope that makes the World Cup special.

For the last few years, that hope has been slowly extinguishing. One or two lacklustre performances are to be expected and forgiven. But as soon as the absence of that hope becomes the norm, it is normal and right that a change be made.

I pray for good names to enter the KNT fold – notably former FC Seoul boss Senol Gunes. The current Besiktas manager was passed over for Hong Myungbo the last time around, and though most expect that his Korean flirtation has come to an end, he would obviously be the best possible successor to Stielike.

That being said, because of his nauseating inability to learn from his mistakes, his lack of footballing vision, his absence of solutions to the national team’s problems and the ever-shakier performances, it is clear that Uli Stielike’s departure is now in the best interest of the short and long-term success of the Korean national team. His sacking must not be end-all solution to the KNT’s problems – institutional reform is needed, now more than ever. But it certainly has the potential to do more good than harm. He must go.

About Jae Chee 310 Articles
A football fan with who got bit by the writing bug.

2 Comments

  1. good post guys
    so Tim would you want Stielike sacked before the Qatar match? or afterwards? I have a feeling we will somehow win that match though so that’s why I’m asking. And yes the team is quite poor right now. We need an identity.

    • Now is best or wait after the world cup if KNT qualifies… I think Hong Myung Bo was a decent manager and had good potential, but he didn’t have enough time with the national team. There was also an unfair controversy that cost his job. Didn’t he take over after the world cup qualifiers were over and only had a couple friendlies for practice? The more games the better for the new manager.

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