Korea’s last game in the final qualification round against Uzbekistan ended in a blank score and Korea had narrowly avoided being dropped out of the Russia World Cup. There was something about the ambience on the pitch; not many were thrilled to celebrate the nation’s ninth consecutive qualification. Players were “trying” to celebrate and knew they were still far from winning the fans’ trust and support. It has been said by Lee Dong-Guk, the most successful and experienced player in K-League called up to the national team for the final two games under coach Shin, that he himself had a hard time trying to bear the pressure from the critics. When everything seemed forlorn within the KNT society, Guus Hiddink, the legendary hero of 2002 WC, swept the media away the following day. And as a result, the year 2017 ended in a hectic, chaotic way in the KFA administration office. What happened in the Hiddink saga this past September?
Not even a day passed after securing a spot in the Russia WC. A spokesperson of Guus Hiddink Foundation announced: In June, after the dismissal of Uli Stielike, Hiddink made an offer to manage the Korean national team if citizens of Korea desired such a move. The offer made in June was revealed to the public three months later in September. With ongoing problems with the KNT, Hiddink seemed to be the answer to KNT’s current misery and to many frustrated fans. Surely, he could be the one to rescue Korean football, the fans thought.
Returning home from Uzbekistan, the KFA’s new technical director, Kim Ho-Gon, was bombarded with reporters asking to explain the truth behind Hiddink’s offer in June. Kim made it clear that such an offer was never made and stated that there wouldn’t be any activity on Guus Hiddink’s potential recruitment. Finally defending the current manager, Kim expressed his displeasure by complaining about how Hiddink was making such a statement in this point in time when KFA had already chosen Shin Tae Yong as the successor of Uli Stielike.
However, what seemed like a rumor was proved true. The GH Foundation held a press conference to clarify the interaction it had with the Technical Director. The foundation confirmed it had contacted Kim Ho-Gon about the head coach position after Stielike’s sack. This was corroborated by a text message that was sent to Kim. Hiddink respected KFA’s decision to stay with Shin Tae Yong and most importantly offered once again to help in any way possible.
After the press conference, the media focused on Kim Ho-Gon’s denial of the initial interaction. Demanding truth, fans pointed fingers at Kim for deliberately lying to the public and asked him to step down. By this, Kim admitted the interaction with Guus Hiddink and confessed he did not find the offer appropriate at that time.
When it seemed as if the situation could not get any worse in the office, KFA was hit with corruption charges exactly eight days after the Hiddink incident. Twelve officials and employees were indicted for misappropriating the organization’s funds. According to Seoul Police Agency, these officials had misused the fund in 220 occasions, spending more than $100,000 for their personal gains in flight tickets, golf outings, pubs, and hair salons.
What could have been a simple conversation dealt comfortably between KFA and Guus Hiddink turned into a mass media explosion that shook the entire Korean football industry. Kim has since left the organization for the chaos exposed to the media and fans have had enough of the misery caused within Korean football.
Endless corruption and poor management from KFA continues to negatively affect the national team, and as the 2018 WC draws near, there is no time for any more disruption. KFA needs to straighten its relationship with Guus Hiddink and put an end to more media leaks on Guus Hiddink. In addition to his offer to help, the Dutchman asserted in the press conference that something needs to be done to improve the current national team. In response to the offer, KFA needs to approach this in a professional matter by either clearly stating ‘no’ if it thinks he would deter Shin’s work in the team or ‘yes’ and create a position that best fits his contribution. This is the process KFA needs to make quickly and wisely. On top of these legal issues, it has been a busy end of year in the KFA office and we cannot allow any of the KFA corruption to slow down the national team’s rebuilding process.