Is the KFA Sacrificing Hong?

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.


About Jae Chee 339 Articles
A football fan who got bit by the writing bug.


  1. “While this is an important question, it’s not really answerable because only Hong (and maybe the KFA) knows why he offered it.”

    I don’t think this is true. If Hong offered to resign because he truly didn’t think he could do the job, then why would he be talked into coming back? He would’ve just gone ahead and resigned.

    • Perhaps they convinced him that wasn’t the case? Or perhaps they told him they would get him more assistance (either in the form of assistant coaches or the KFA’s technical committee) in the future? It’s likely it was to take responsibility for the performance, but unless Hong or the KFA specifically comes out and says why, we can’t know for sure.

    • I’ve often wondered how Hong has approached the sunbae/hoobae aspect. He’s a very old-school type guy, and it’s well-known in Korean athletics (across every sport) that the senior/junior relationship is huge. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that Hong expects the younger players to pay the “proper” respect to the senior guys off the pitch, and possibly call them “sunbaenim” on the pitch at times. But, I haven’t seen/heard anything to suggest that it went as far as the editorial writer says. The quote used in the article says “outside the pitch” (when he spoke with Hong), so it’s possible Hong lets things slide more on the pitch. The article seems bitter and angry, so I would take it with a grain of salt. If used normally, the sunbae/hoobae relationship shouldn’t negatively affect the team, but if it went to the extremes the author suggests then it is a problem.

    • no lol… I don’t really understand the criticism for hmb’s selections as he just chose the best players available to him. Really, the only debatable selections were Kim Chang Soo and Yun Suk Young rather than Cha Du Ri and Park Joo Ho, and both of the latter are older/more senior than their counterparts. Remember the whole “young squad” thing?

      • Even though I heavily favored Cha, I also realize that no player left back was going to make hill of difference on our result in Brazil. The disparity in our overstated talent is not that large, imo.

    • Oh, and it’s not really about favoring senior players or being pragmatic. It’s a question of, did Hong allow the senior players on the squad (who would be Park Chu-Young, Lee Keun-Ho, Kwak Tae-Hwi, Jung Sung-Ryong, and to a lesser extent Ki Sung-Yueng and Lee Chung-Yong) too much authority within the squad?

    • HMB worked as an assistant for Hiddink over at Anzhi, and the two have remained close since. There is no “antipathy” between them. Just because HMB doesn’t want younger players to call him by his first name doesn’t mean that he’s some stereotypical Confucian tyrant.

      SHM plays a completely different role from PJY. If think that HMB is so obsessed with seniority, then why didn’t KTH—the oldest player on the squad—see any playing time? And who played ahead of him? A couple of underproven kids in HJH and KYG.

      Let’s not forget that HMB took the youngest Korea team in WC history.

      That article is nonsense.

    • Personally, I got no prob w/ honorifics, showing proper respect to elders in social settings… but that’s it. When real-world results r on the line, niceties have 2 b thrown under a bus that’ll b ramrodded by a train. On the playing field, mofos gotta get Darwinian as fuck

      • It’s not really about honorifics. It’s not much different in terms of effort or ease for Son Heung-Min to call Park Chu-Young “Chu-Young-ah” or “sunbaenim/hyungnim”. In fact I dare say that it’s easier for him to do the latter as the former would be highly awkward for him.

        The article is implying that, say, Son Heung-Min wants to come more central and wants Park to move to the left. If Park says “no, you stay wide”, then under a strict sunbae/hoobae relationship, Son must comply. He cannot challenge or argue with him. Or say Park misses a pass because he doesn’t make the run, hoobae players could not scold him for not making the run or being more active off the ball. These are the problems the article is hinting at. That Hong is allowing these kind of situations to happen and it hurt the team’s performances.

        • What u just described…. would b disturbing, to say the least. Scariest thing is, it’s not an implausible scenario either. “Ur older, so I will never ever pt out a mistake u made; I won’t even make a suggestion bout sumthin I learned @ BAYER”

          Ugh, too pessimistic. Glass half full, glass half full O.o

        • The article is trying to find a reason for Korea’s failure. But I feel the writer is trying too hard to make scapegoats out of the older players. From what I’ve seen of his interviews and such, I doubt that PJY was like that during the WC but definitely could see the confucian system being a potential hindrance to team performance. Regardless of seniority, better players demand respect and are given respect by their quality of play. On the field, that’s the case. Group failure was because the entire team was not connecting as well as the other Group H teams. Had little if any to do with seniority.

        • That is pure speculation. In the matches, it was clear that SHM was the leader on the pitch in terms of trying to create plays.

          Furthermore, PJY was dropped for the last match.

          There is absolutely no evidence of some oppressive Confucian hierarchy holding back the Korea team. That’s just lazy stereotyping from people who don’t know anything about football.

    • Hong’s conservative approach to everything affected the team’s performance. His unwillingness to change up and reliance on the famous names made a good team on paper but a weak out of form team on the pitch. I don’t think it had much to do with seniority but the well publicized “familiarity” with the players he chose.

      • And just who were these unfairly left-behind players that you speak of? Did you not remember the disastrous run of matches that the KNT had when it was mainly K-League players? There were 0-4 and 0-2 losses to Mexico and the U.S., respectively.

    • If thats true thats F-n sad. He basically threw everything Hiddink taught him into the toilet ball. I hope thats not true. Would be mightily disappointed. Mightily.

  2. Jae, I think your points are interesting but a bit contrived and reaching. Even if Hong is set to be the scapegoat for WC/AFC failures that doesn’t necessarily mean that people are going to forget about CKR CKH/ WC Qualifying debacle. KFA will still be blamed for the failures in the past 5 years. So there’s not much reason for Hong to be set for failure. The scenarios you detailed are very much reality but not the result of ineffective hidden motive. Bottom line, Korea wins KFA is succeeds; Korea loses KFA is fails.

    • Perhaps it is a bit contrived, and I don’t fully buy into it myself to be honest. It’s just a random thought I had. But I do maintain that by doing so the KFA has put themselves in a position to lessen the blame on them from say, 50/50 down to 40/60 or 30/70. People who follow regularly will know about the KFA’s misdeeds, but the average Korean will tend to pin things on Hong.

      • You might be right on that one. It is sad that people are quick to blame. PJY and JSR were definitely excessively crucified by the laymen. If Hong fails AFC, I guess he would be as well.

  3. Jae-

    Cover what? KFA is well aware of the fiasco that originated from them ultimately. Its all right there for anyone to see. I doubt theyre using Hong as part of some elaborate scapegoat conspiracy so that he can take the blame if ultimate failure ensues.

    I think its about them being tapped financially and having very low ammunition at this point. Hong can’t be this inept right? Might as well go with him (KFA’s thinking right now).

    Like I said…its getting dire over here.

    And for the record, I didnt notice us playing complete shit ball until CKH showed up and promised qualification. He had us playing some serious frankenstein football that clearly we were not able to recover from. I blame that goofy looking idiot.

    • It’s just an ass covering. The point is that after the Asian Cup, the KFA can either part ways and say, “Look, we hired a guy who had a terrific career as a player and was successful at the youth levels. Unfortunately he just couldn’t cut it at the senior level.” At that point they cannot be accused of a hasty sacking because Hong had 2 years and two major tournaments to prove himself. Or conversely they can stick with him (if Korea wins) and say, “We always had faith in Hong’s abilities and now we’ve been proven right.”

      • Huh does not strike me as that type. I saw him celebrating like an ecstatic, clapping hedgehog during South Africa. He loves the NT more than the KFA I have to believe.

      • I agree. it’s their best choice to stick with Hong because A) it makes sense to give the guy some time B) quitting on another coach and bringing a new guy just a year before AFC would be likely end up the same lack of continuity problem as with CKH/HMB turnover C) I’ll give you the point on that they don’t want to shine any more spotlight on frequent coaching changes with yet another one.

      • It may not be something the KFA did intentionally, but the way things could happen it gives them some breathing space. Anyway, it was just a random thought/theory I had. Nothing more.

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