Stielike Criticizes “Impolite” Shin Taeyong, “Powerless” KFA and “Noisy” Korean Public

I’m back… Busy start of semester, needed time to set a routine. Will try not to take AWOL breaks leading up to the World Cup! We’re preparing some exciting content for you over the next few months.

Uli Stielike has given one of his first interviews to Korean media reflecting on his tenure as Korean national team manager, and it was a doozy. As we all recall, the German took over in September 2014 and was sacked after a 3-2 loss in Doha to Qatar during World Cup qualifying last June. His almost three year tenure at the head of the national team set-up was actually the longest continuous managership of the national team in history. Now, he is manager of Tianjin TEDA in the Chinese Super League and spoke to FootballList Korea yesterday in a two-part interview, pulling no punches in a tell-all about the KFA, the Korean public and some sharp words about his successor Shin Tae-yong (+ the irreplaceable Jang Hyunsoo love at the end).

As we’ve done before on other popular pieces, we’ll include translated quotes and opinion throughout the article. For those who are proficient in Korean and don’t want to read through the parsing of the words, you can read the integral version of part 1 in Hangeul here.

Stielike on the KFA:

I was the longest continuous manager in Korean football history. But the time the KFA gave to me is very long. Korea is a team that has advanced to the World Cup finals nine times in a row, but how many managers have they replaced in that period? This is abnormal. Germany has had about 5 or 6 managers in the past 30 years. Korea has had close to 25 managers take the baton in the same period. Recently the KFA had a major reorganization as if it was in a revolution. Why? The national team is going to the World Cup, isn’t it? The KFA has no authority because it listens too much to the media and to the internet. Public opinion is too influential.

Hot take: Stielike does have a point when it comes to the “poisoned chalice” and the “managerial-merry-go-round”. One goes with the other. Historically the KFA has been very trigger-happy, and Stielike’s claims about 25 managers in a 30 year-span almost checks out (it’s actually 20, when you exclude caretakers). That being said, it’s never felt abnormal or strange for this rotation to occur in Korea and many wish Stielike had been sacked earlier. Though the media and the public probably has a bit more influence on the KFA than other countries, Stielike there’s a good amount of sour grapes here. Oblivious to the fact the national team wasn’t playing well and almost missed out on the World Cup, he’s more content with blaming the public and slandering the KFA for a relatively minor personnel shuffle rather than accept accountability.

Stielike continues on a similar note:

The KFA did not support me well. I would have remained manager if the President or the Technical Committee was stronger. Though we had lost three games, we had won all four home games. If they had reflected rationally, they would have been confident we would win the last home game (against Iran) because it is at home. If I lost that game, then they could have let me go.  The public was noisy, the association never supported me. They acted like this in the past, and they will act like this in the future.

Ahh, this is the kind of Stielike we came to hate. As he’s done in the past, Uli reverts to a defense mechanism and deflects blame for his sacking onto the public and a weak KFA. He points to the 4 home wins (all 1-goal margins, two were come-from-behind) as a reason why he should have had the opportunity to play Iran again, and posits that he would have morally accepted being sacked after that match, letting a caretaker move in for the last qualifier against Uzbekistan with 3 points and help being needed. Bullsh*t – Stielike would have continued on his bottomless list of grievances before putting up his hands and saying “this one is on me”.
Moving now to the current manager of the KFA, Shin Tae-yong, and Stielike’s thoughts on his former assistant manager now taking the helm:
I am not in contact with Manager Shin. He said many inaccuracies in his first press conference about me. I was upset and uncomfortable with the way in which he spoke about me. The incoming manager should never lack respect to the last manager, no matter who they are. I have no desire to speak to Shin Tae-yong.
It’s the worst-kept secret in Korean footballing circles that Shin Tae-yong and Uli Stielike never really got along. Despite Shin and Stielike working together for over a year, during which Shin took on both the Rio Olympics and later the U20 World Cup jobs, if you listened to the grapevine you’d hear that Stielike had a rather restrictive approach, dismissing other coaches’ opinions more often than leading by committee. That’s confirmed by this quote later in the interview:
Too many coaches can cause problem. If there are five coaches, there a five different opinions. I prefer to run a low number of coaches.
That kind of approach is rumored to be why people like Cha Du-ri had very short stays in the coaching staff of the national team. In itself, it isn’t a bad one – so long as it works. And a technique of isolation from a manager with little knowledge of the player pool, domestic scene and no proficiency in the language is questionable at worst. As for the press conference Stielike points to as being an example of Shin’s disrespect, all I could honestly remember were a few criticisms about the team’s performance and a necessity for change in approach. Given that Stielike and Shin are two very different characters, it’s probably a little rich of Stielike to complain.
A reflection on Korean society:
Koreans are a very candid people. But the flaw in Koreans thinking is about college. Koreans think that you have to go to a good college to be happy or to get a good job. The young generations is suffering too much. Germans work on average 38 hours a week, but Koreans feel obliged to work over 60 hours a week. There’s no time to enjoy hobbies with the family. My children didn’t go to prestigious universities, but they are very happy, and this is crucial to me as a father. The college entry exam and work culture are both major problems. In order to be better and freer in the future, younger generations have to reject this mindset.
I generally don’t disagree with what Stielike says. It’s a little strange, given that the question was about the 2015 Asian Cup but it’s hard to find much to disagree with. How it pertains to Korean football in his view, I’m not particularly sure, but the perception of Korean society from a foreign standpoint is generally uniform. High suicide rates and depression are precisely a consequence of the pressures heaped on to young students and the importance of college success. I’ve yet to meet a Korean who won’t at least concede there is something wrong about this. Stielike ties this in to football later:
On the average possession percentage under Stielike being at 62%:
This is where the social culture comes in. When Korean national team players enter the field, their mindset is uniquely about “not losing”. I wanted to change that mindset. It’s why we had such high levels of possession no matter the result, for even if we lost, because we had an average of 62% possession, we were in a position to potentially win. It’s much easier to make adjustments when you know they can be implemented.
There’s a fairly significant theoretical difference here between myself and Stielike. Though of course, I am but a humble, unpaid blogger, and he is an accomplished player and manager, putting us on completely uncomparable levels of knowledge of football, it’s baffling to me that Stielike would be proud of the statistic. Sure, ball retention is key, and sure, the best way to “mask” a fragile defense is by hogging the ball, but it’s not just how much of the ball you have, but rather what you do with it. Korea under Stielike seldom put on sustained phases of pressure on the opposition, nor did they ever tactically set-up to do so. Even when better options were available, the side’s impulse to back-pass and back-pass to no end didn’t come from nowhere. Pointless passing is only not pointless when they eventually lead to victories. Stielike’s theory may make sense, but if it doesn’t lead to goals, it’s probably crap. That said, to be fair to Stielike, the media and fans would have complained he played boring football regardless of whether or not we were winning or losing. In the Asian Cup, we still played painfully boring, untechnical football, but it worked then.
Stielike on Jang Hyun-soo, his most-capped player:
Jang Hyun-soo is one of the best players of the national team. Considering his skill, experience and personality, he is among the few players who can never be eliminated from the national team selection. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja-cheol are other players like this. He has everything. He’s tall, and uses both feet. He’s fast and is good with license to play with the ball. He’s versatile, and can play central midfield, central defense and many other positions. Though he’s not a fullback, he deputized well in that position for a few games.
I’ll let those comments speak for themselves. Jang Hyun-soo just seems to be loved by the coaching staff, but not the fans. The only two people I’ve ever heard praise Jang in this way are Uli Stielike and Shin Tae-yong. Maybe it’s his personality, his professionalism, his work ethic. Maybe it’s what he does behind the scenes that we don’t get to see. I wouldn’t call Jang a “bad” player, but he is a replaceable one in a starting line-up. I don’t think it is wrong to say that commentators, pundits and the viewing public see a very different player on the pitch than what is said about him.

Uli Stielike is entitled to feel salty and bitter about being sacked. He dreamt of reaching the World Cup again and has failed now with two countries, and will likely not get another kick at the can. But every interview he makes and every sentence he speaks is a continuous portrait of a man who relentlessly deflects blame. His centralized managerial style and continued professed love for average players. Every good point and reasonable criticism he speaks of has always been shrouded by swathes of very disagreeable comments. Ultimately it is for those same reasons that the Korean public erupted into a racket of dismay and anger at Stielike, and nothing he’s said seems to suggest he’ll ever accept that truth.

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6 Comments

  1. Honestly, I would say he’s spot on in most of his comments, save for the cirumstances of his getting fired (other coaches have gotten sacked for MUCH less, and the KNT made the WC. If we hadn’t made the WC, he’d be in a great position to talk shit).
    Not saying he was a great coach, but the bad news for Korea is that foreign coaches in the future are gonna be a lot more willing to listen to his opinion than others. And I bet Hiddink would have said the exact same stuff if he hadn’t done so well in 2002 and gotten all the love from the Korean public. He was criticized before that WC just as much as Stielike, but people don’t care about that now.
    Tying into that, part of why he failed was his thinking that as an outsider he would automatically be able to change the players’ thinking/football culture- something that has been ingrained in them since childhood. As another humble, unaccomplished commenter of blogs, I’d say a better approach would be to accept how they have been raised and work from that. Cuz I don’t think you’re gonna be able to change much at all unless all the guys play for European clubs.
    Yeah, the KNT has a lot of issues and not sure those issues are gonna go away under Shin Tae Yong either.

  2. Blaming or putting the onus on young people to reject a suffocating system is ludicrous. Why do young people in Korea suffer through that? Because society and the powers that be in Korea have entrenched such a system. It’s a systemic issue. It’s like telling a poor Black person that all they have to do is change their mindset in order to succeed in life. Bullshit. It’s the institutionalized and systemic issues that need to change. That particular comment got under my skin, so thought I’d vent and point that out.

    • If he is trying to put the onus on them, he’s certainly wrong. But from his perspective, can he change the system? Absolutely not. The only thing he can do is work with his players. So I guess that’s what he tried to do. I agree, it’s not gonna work. But at least Stielike recognizes the problem and was trying to inspire the guys in the right direction.
      Having said all of that, again it didn’t work. Someone like Shin Tae Yong is probably more likely to “change the system” but even that is a tall order. These guys who understand that the system has to change need to be involved at the highest level, not just as coaches.
      A foreign coach really needs to accept the situation as is and just work from it because a foreigner isn’t gonna change anything.

      • Could be wrong, but I assume that’s the whole idea behind some of the Tavern writers thinking that missing the 2018 world cup would do some good for Korean football. It could take a real shock to the system to change the culture in Korea.

  3. I understand his bitterness, and I wish we hired someone else before he took reign. I remember, when we were trying to replace Hong Myung Bo, we had many accomplished managers without jobs on standby. We could’ve hired Marcelo Bielsa at one point, who is renowned for his tactical prowess. We could’ve hired Senol Günes, former FC Seoul manager, who revolutionized the K-league with his merciless attack style plays. Günes is doing extremely well with Besiktas right now, contending for the champions league. We could’ve hired former dutch manager, Bert Van Marwijk, although there were some complications in negotiations. Anyways, my point is we had better options. The issue is the KFA. I feel bad for all the managers that come and go. Hong Myung Bo is/was one of Korea’s legends. Nobody cares about him now lol, after everyone cursed him to bits. This summer, we will see Shin Tae Yong, beraded with curses that last several generations. Honestly, I wish I could offer myself to coach their stupid asses (it’s funny but I’ve tried numerous times). The revolution for the KNT’s future will come after this world cup. The board, must be replaced at the end of 2018. Sorry for spilling my cup of tea. Vexing a bit.

  4. It’s the downside of Korea going from anonymity to 4th place in the span of 4 weeks in 2002. These ajeossis catapulted from the stone age to suddenly being “better” than other countries that already have a vast footballing history with strong club system and managerial structure. These rich old pricks act like they understand how to manage but really they don’t know jack shit. They’re still stuck in the stone age and too stubborn to change. If I came from the Premier League or Bundesliga to coach in Korea I’d just be shaking my head. And the young players are the ones who suffer in the end (yet if Korea manages to do well in 2018 World Cup, guarantee the ajeossis will be patting themselves on the back).
    I’m pretty sure that’s what Stielike was trying to say, and if so I pretty much agree with him.

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