Midweek Listing + Monday Kickaround/ Stielike: Korean education stifles creativity?

Asian Champions League group stage gets underway midweek, Son Heung-Min & Bayer Leverkusen hosts Atletico Madrid in the Champions League round of 16, Kim Bo-Kyung & Wigan try to turn things around to escape relegation + more in today’s Tavern Kickaround…

Midweek Listings


Tuesday Wigan vs Cardiff  @2:45 pm US EST / 4:45 am Korea   No US TV

Since the #FreeKimbo campaign resulted in his sideways (or regressive) move depending on POV, Kim Bo-Kyung has been playing consistently for his new team but unable to help Wigan from losing 3 out of their last 4 games. Wigan needs more than 6 points (and consistent Millwall losses) to reach safety – and there’s only 14 games left in the season. ICYMI he did get a nifty overhead kick attempt at goal in his debut a few weeks ago:



Tuesday February 24

Jeonbuk Motors vs Kashiwa Reysol  @ 5am US EST / 7pm Korea Time [Group E ]

Burinam United vs Seongnam FC      @ 6am US EST / 8pm Korea Time [Group F]

Wednesday February 25

Suwon Bluewings vs Urawa Reds     @5:30am US EST / 7:30pm Korea Time [Group G]

Guangzhou Evergrande vs FC Seoul    @7am US EST/ 9pm Korea Time [Group H]

….good time to mention Jae has resurrected his SKS Blog! His newest post previews all four K League teams in the ACL this season and how they arrived at qualifying, including FC Seoul, who arrived without any trouble during the qualifying stage last week.

US Broadcast: One World Sports (or other creative means on the interwebs, if, like the majority of the US, you don’t have access to OWS).

Korea Broadcast: MBC Sports+ airing Jeonbuk/Kashiwa + Suwon/Uruwa + Evergrande/Seoul live (Buriram-Seongnam extended highlights on delay).

KBSN Sports airing Buriram-Seongnam and Evergrande-Seoul live.

[Note: there’s several individual Koreans on middle eastern clubs that also are in the ACL, but I’m running out of time. Here are the other ACL matchday 1 fixtures. Apologies and we’ll try to keep track via twitter].

UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE  Leg 1  round of 16 knockouts

Wednesday Bayer Leverkusen vs Atletico Madrid  @2:45pm US EST /4:45am Korea

US Broadcast: Fox Sports 2  (whaaaaaat?)   

Son Heung-Min has been sharp in Europe this year, can he keep on scoring for Leverkusen against a formidable Atletico Madrid squad? 

Speaking of Son, he was in a bizarre adidas ad in Korea. Attention to whoever Son’s agent is: Son is not Balotelli – need a bit more discretion before approving an over-the-top controversial ad. To paraphrase Andre Agassi on another ad campaign: ‘image is everything.’ Even if it isn’t…


Kickaround time starts with something light. Ki Sung-Yeung had an interesting goal celebration against Manchester United (he’s got a good habit of scoring against them, and if you remember, Ki scored the very first goal of the Premier League season in August, against Man U at Old Trafford).  Sucking his thumb like a baby, some speculated that his celebrity wife Han Hey-Jin was pregnant. Speculation correct: they announced later that day that they are expecting. Not too long after, Ki was voted as Swansea’s Man of the Match. Triple congrats!


Turning the Tavern’s attention to the youth, there’s obviously some exciting youth prospects training both in Korea and abroad in Europe, including Roan Kwon over at Hamburg II. Last week he did this:

  Meanwhile in women’s football, Chelsea Ladies’ Ji So-Yun impressed in a (preseason friendly?) against GlasgowFC last Sunday and did this:

Chelsea would go on to win 2-0. Apparently a belated birthday celebratory goal as Ji just turned 24 a day before the match. Her and teammate Eniola Aluko actually both shared a birthday and the duo celebrated with teammates at a bowling alley. Happy Birthday to both Chelsea ladies!

One more bday celebration to note quickly, Rachel Hur was on hand to celebrate Yun Suk-Young’s 25th birthday 2 weeks ago, fellow Londoner Ji So-Yun seen here delivering the cake.



We move on to Korea, Tim briefly mentioned this in his Gwanju & Daejon K-League preview about Steve Han’s piece in Koream and the KNT’s boss’ recent comments on AS titled: Uli Stielike Questions Korean Education Over Players’ Lack of Creativity. In it, Stielike is describing some players during the Asian Cup following managerial directions almost too well – Uli was in some ways frustrated with what he describes as their difficulty improvising on his instructions. 

The one time star Real Madrid player gave some critique of the preparedness of the domestic based Korean players in the AS interview, and was concerned about the limited supply of European based Korean players, who are in his words training in a more challenging environment. Sounds a bit like another German coach in the US, hmm?  On the flipside, he was appreciative of the intensity given and the discipline on display by the team as a whole. However, he indicated that the missing ingredient, overall creativity that is lacking- possibly as a result of their education.

There is some debate on what exactly he meant by education – did he mean their ‘footballing education’ or the uber rigid/draconian Korean educational system that grinds out hyper-stressed students? While those students lead the world in high test scores, they also top out indexes measuring unhappiness and lack of sleep (5.5 hours/night according to the NYT).

Regardless of whether Uli was referring to Korean football education or Korea’s overall educational system, either way it would appear he’s on the mark.  If he was talking about the educational system, a number of educational experts have described the often celebrated test scores not in glowing terms but quite possibly as something counter productive. They aren’t so sure the ‘teach to the test’ system produces the kind of creativity needed to produce innovations for the 21st century.  Korea can make smart phones, they can make cars. Can they keep ahead of the curve and really innovate to come up with something really new?  [Old Boy… maybe exception to the rule?]  Steve Jobs would argue Apple’s iphone was an original US innovation produced in a uniquely creative US environment vs Samsung’s copycat Galaxy (with the mutual problem that both are manufactured under abysmal Chinese labor conditions – but I digress…)

If most Korean kids indeed have limited amounts of time for things like physical education, that can directly impact the pool of players who could be spending time improving their skills – football skills to be more Tavern-precise.  Even if students don’t become world class players, there’s more benefits to overall heath (and sanity) with a balance of physical education into the mix.

Which segues to a front page article in the Washington Post Sunday about China’s attempts to improve their national football program, with a massive overhaul on the way. On tap, President Xi Jinping is mandating that the educational system include football training as part of the national curriculum. A preview of things to come: entrance exams for high schools, future Chinese students will have to pass a football exam!   One factor author William Wan cited that’s held back Chinese football progress may sound familiar: “…Some blame Chinese society, given how few parents in China’s competitive education system will allow their children to spend precious study hours kicking a ball.”  

Will Xi Ping’s mandate work?  Time will tell, but if his vision comes to fruition, there will be 100,000 highly abled footballers available for the Chinese National Team to qualify and over time eventually win the World Cup.  Some analysts doubt that soviet-era methods that worked for China during the Beijing Olympics will pan out with improving it’s football program; “…for all the sport’s deep-seated problems, it is still much harder to rig, train or even dope your way to a championship. [Football] is a social sport that requires both teamwork and individual creativity.”

Back to Uli, from the Koream article: “….he also expressed frustration over the passive attitude of the players as they are often reluctant to take risks and create innovative plays when attacking. Likewise, Korean players combined for just five runs into the opponent’s penalty box in three games at last year’s World Cup.”   

If Uli was simply referring to Korean football education, that still holds resonance.  The Tavern has mentioned before about Korean youth players not getting enough critical professional minutes, especially for 16-19 year olds.  The quality of coaching at the youth levels is an area I admit to having limited knowledge about, but it’s still worthy of ongoing inquiry as to the kinds of training and what’s readily available for continued education for coaches.

And yet…and yet, Korea does produce some creative players. They may be European based now, but the stars that the Tavern follows, you know, the Son Heung-Mins of the Tavern universe, they all grew up in Korea. You can argue they went abroad to train in youth programs before turning pro, but they are, in some fashion, a product of the peninsula -(an alternate Korean education system perhaps – like if you have Son’s ‘apa’ as personal trainer and handler).  Long time Tavern goers of course know of Barca youths Lee Seung-Woo, Jang Gyeol-hee, Paik Seung-ho, (and we’re hearing reports Lee Seung-Woo’s brother is coming to La Masia as well?) Lee Kang-In (Valencia), and several more (like the aforementioned Roan Kwon).  We don’t quite know if their education was/is radically different than the average Korean. But for all of Korea’s faults, they continue to produce in limited qualities those diamonds in the rough, players like the newly retired star Park Ji-Sung who seemingly came out of nowhere over a decade ago. Who knew in 2000 when Kyoto Purple Sagna, then a J-League 2 side when they signed Park, that they had in their ranks a future world class player?

Chalk Uli’s comments up as part of the ongoing conversation on the way forward for Korean football.

Interestingly, Kicker magazine’s interview of Cha Du-Ri revealed that he plans on going to Germany after he retires for FC Seoul in Nov/Dec to study and get a coaching license.  Will he try his hand at coaching in Europe or in Korea?  Stay tuned.


Last call: here’s a Korean student giving his amusing and dark take on traversing through the Korean educational grindmill:

About Roy Ghim 454 Articles
The old Tavern Owner


  1. I wonder what Japan’s training system is like. How did they produce so many creative and technically skilled players like Kagawa and Honda?

    • Good question, it’s not any one thing Japan does to produce their technically sound players. The one thing I do know, they allow thier youth to get critical pro minutes, some starting when they hit their late teens. That gives those players a leg up, they gain valuable experience, helps them mature as a player faster. Korea (like in the US unfortunately) by in large don’t give youth players a chance to break into starting XI for thier pro clubs; instead they play for affiliated university teams – which really inhibits the players in a number of ways.

    • Technically skilled != Creative

      Similar to Korea, Japan doesn’t produce creative players either. Well, to be precise, both nations struggle to produce players with individual flair & confidence. It’s the same complaint (by many foreign managers) or flaw both nations share due to overall “culture” of Asia.

      • I agree that technically skilled and creative don’t mean the same thing. I’ll take back what I said about there being “so many” of these talented players from Japan, but they do seem to have more creative players. I’m not sure why. By chance? I personally don’t think Korea has to be so focused on improving the creativity of their players. Their technical skill could be better.

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