Does anyone remember that one video of GAMST (a Korean football Youtuber) bowing down, fully on his hands, knees, and forehead, in apology to Hwang Ui Jo after the 2018 Asian Games final?
This is how I feel about Paulo Bento. His criticism early on was 100% deserved, and there’s no doubt he is a very stubborn guy, but the story of his redemption is kinda beautiful. The KFA didn’t believe in him and even after the successful 2022 campaign, rumor has it that the KFA was only willing to do a 1 year contract + 3 year extension pending Asian Cup results, while Bento wanted a full 4 years like his previous contract. Admittedly, I didn’t believe in him either. But he stuck to his guns and fought a battle against the KFA on his own, saw the value of Lee Kangin when it most mattered, and it all paid off with a first RO16 berth in 12 years. He instilled in us an identity and style that the players were 100% behind – in fact, in the 12 years I’ve been following football I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a united locker room. Remember the days of infighting, taking jabs at managers on social media, and locker room bustups between KPA and K league players? Rather, this time around every single player on the team has defended Bento in the media. The team has no doubt developed a very strong bond and chemistry not only with each other but also with the coaching staff.
Bento is undoubtedly a popular and respected figure amongst his players. There have been lots of reports that Hwang Inbeom was in tears in the mixed zone (the media area where the players HAVE to walk past to leave the locker room) after what he had already known was Bento’s last match in charge of the KNT. Kim Seunggyu was photographed in tears as well, saying his final goodbyes to Bento at the KFA. He has thanked his players and has spoken warmly of his time with Korea, saying that it has been the highlight of his career, and that he will always remember these past four years and will always be connected to Korea and his team.
I think it’s pretty clear that Bento is probably second only to Guus Hiddink in terms of top KNT managers (at least among the foreign candidates). One of my favorite moments will be when he ran onto the field insanely fast and started yelling at Anthony Taylor after his terrible refereeing vs Ghana – there’s a theory going around that he went beast mode and took one for the team because he saw that the ref was about to pull out a red card. I also like him even more because of his open dislike for the KFA:
There are rumors that Bento has lots of major lucrative offers from China but surely he’ll realize that all the issues in the KFA are compounded 100 fold when it comes to China. Personally, I would love for him to coach a top European side. He has also stated in interviews that he will bring along his Korean staff members wherever he ends up next. Ideally, he’d sign some of our players as well.
Enough about Bento – who is the KFA looking to appoint next? If you were hoping that all the positive changes Bento brought to the KNT would stick around, I wouldn’t be so optimistic. The KFA somehow thinks that the most important criterion for picking a new manager is 애국심, or patriotism. Kim Byung Ji, one of the VPs of the KFA, specifically stated that they will look for a domestic name with a salary of less than 10억원, or ~$0.75 million USD per year (for reference, Bento makes somewhere on the order of $1.5-2.5 million/year depending on the source). Yes, he literally stated that they want a cheaper domestic manager than a more expensive foreign one. Fortunately, Kim Byung Ji is getting a lot of heat for these comments, and deservedly so. There are lots of calls for him to step down, and I am firmly in that camp if this is the direction we’re going in. Because for all the patriotism they’re preaching, they’re doing quite the literal opposite.
The KFA is using the success of Hajime Moriyasu and the fact that we were the only team in the RO16 with a foreign manager to justify these claims. The real reason is money (obviously.. COVID was blamed as well *rolls eyes*) and the desire to appoint someone they can more easily control – Bento seemed to rebel against the KFA cronies at times. They’re probably also pissed that Bento proved them wrong at the World Cup, and seriously jealous of Japan pulling of the RO16 with Moriyasu, but they’re delusional if they think we could pull off that feat again with a domestic manager. We just do not have very good domestic coaches right now.
Meanwhile, Japan is looking to either keep Moriyasu or appoint Roberto Martinez, Luis Enrique, Joachim Low, or Marcelo Bielsa. If they land any of those managers that’s progress right there. If we get ANY domestic name I guarantee we will fall behind Japan even further. How many times have we at the Tavern talked about how the KFA is the #1 roadblock to Korean football’s development?
As unbelievably depressing as this post may be, let’s look into the candidates who have been reported to be on KFA’s shortlist for national team managers:
Most likely: Kim Hakbum
In September, Bento had already informed the players and the FKA that he was not going to renew his contract. Kim Hakbum, the U23 manager from 2018-2021 who led the successful 2018 AG gold squad, was in the stands during our friendly against Iceland. There are lots of rumors going around that he has already been pre-selected, and that all this media speculation is pointless as the decision was made back in September.
I’m sure many of you guys are also not super thrilled. KHB is famous for being extremely old school. He disciplines players very hard and works them to near-death. During the Tokyo Olympics after which he resigned from the U23 position, he made the team turn off the AC in the hotel and during training so they could get used to the heat (summer in Japan gets very hot). There were reports of players being so exhausted and nearing heat stroke because of his methods.
We really need to move on from the old 1980s methods. Physically and mentally breaking our players isn’t the way to go. Coaching and physical science has progressed so much recently and it’d be a shame if we were missing out on that just because of our misguided KFA cronies. Europe is way ahead of Korea in this regard, as I’d imagine most K league coaches are closer to the Kim Hakbum spectrum that the European standard. Imagine how Son and Kim Minjae must feel coming from world class trainers at Spurs and Napoli and coming to Korea to face the methods of Kim Hakbum!
Less likely: Choi Yongsoo, Hong Myungbo, Ahn Junghwan (lolwtf?), Kim Gidong
Kim Gidong of Pohang signed a contract extension just yesterday. Choi Yongsoo has denied the rumors and has stated that he wants to continue with Gangwon. I have no clue why Ahn Junghwan is getting mentioned by Korean media, because he literally has ZERO managerial experience. All three of these guys have zero international experience.
Hong Myungbo is one person who I really wish would not take up the position. He just recently returned to the job after nearly giving up on management completely, knows first hand how being a KNT manager can ruin your career, and has a lot of good things going with Ulsan. I’d be extremely mad at the KFA even more than I already am if they would start heckling HMB. Because he should be focusing on winning his second K League title and the upcoming AFC Champions League.
Some domestic managers to look into in the future? Shin Taeyong is probably the best Korean coach out there along with Park Hangseo, but both are aware of the KFA’s scumbaggery and are gathering valuable international experience abroad (although PHS did announce that 12/2022 will be his last month with Vietnam). HMB did great things at the U-23 level, but we saw how limited he was with the senior team, albeit he only managed the squad for < 1 year. He should be getting as much experience as he can at the club level first. In fact all three of the names I mentioned (STY, PHS, HMB) should stay as far away from the KNT post as they can for the time being. They have promise but maybe not just yet.
The out of our league dream manager: Mauricio Pochettino
Pochettino would be best option for Korea going forward. There were rumors going around that Poch came to watch Korea vs Portugal because he had expressed an interest in managing Korea and reuniting with Son. Would such a high profile manager like him coach us? Probably not, but I think he would be really good for us. His high pressing, counterattacking style was so cool to watch at Tottenham and would definitely suit us. How many times have we said on the Tavern that Korea has the potential to be a killer counterattacking side with the likes of Son and Hwang Heechan? And Lee Kangin for the killer through passes? Poch would be a dream.
I put Pochettino up here as our reach manager because he has connections with Son, but you could also argue for guys like Mourinho, Thomas Tuchel, and André Villas-Boas who are all out of a job at the moment. I would also put in a plug for Pochettino’s mentor Marcelo Bielsa, but he is nearing retirement at this point.
Slightly more realistic foreign managers:
Hervé Renard – Renard told a Korean reporter this World Cup that he once almost coached Korea in the past. He is a bit of an international journeyman and has had good spells with Ivory Coast, Morocco, and of course, Saudi Arabia. 4 years ago none of us would’ve guessed that the Saudis would make it to the World Cup let alone beat Argentina. Renard is a good, flexible coach that would surely be welcomed in Korea. Sadly, the KFA doesn’t have the kind of money that the Saudis do (they probably do but refuse to use it).
Marcelino – a manager who I never really liked initially because of his poor treatment of Lee Kangin during his Valencia days (I might be being a little bit harsh there but come on he deserved minutes). However, his 4-4-2 counterattacking style could be a real benefit for us. He seems to have a emphasis on fitness that would be very welcome for a team that has injuries to key players every single tournament. Not the greatest results during his most recent stint at Bilbao, but did well with Valencia when I watched him play. He also has a really cool personal website.
Roberto Martinez – he had some locker room issues with big egos back in the day, but that is definitely not a problem that he will run into with Korea. His tactics don’t quite fit us as well as Poch’s does (Martinez sure loves is 3-4-3 and we do not have good wingbacks), but he’d still be a good option. There were whispers that Spain would sign him, but they went with La Fuente instead. Perhaps he’ll end up with Japan? Now that their stock has surely gone up…
Sergio Costa – aka Portuguese Klopp. With Costa we would continue Bento’s good work. His decision to sub on HHC worked. But the odds of this happening are near-zero given Bento already refused the offer and coaching staff typically travel as a unit, but it’s not unheard of for the assistant coach to take over after the manager leaves (e.g. the transition from Dick Advocaat to Pim Verbeek).
Jurgen Klinsmann – I don’t know much about Klinsmann but he had a successful run from 2011-2014 as the USMNT manager before faltering ahead of 2018. I hate to admit this but back then in 2014 I had wished the KNT could play like USMNT did. And he has been out of a job since 2020 when he somehow stepped down from his post at Hertha Berlin after only 10 weeks, which makes me question whether he’s right for the job, and if he could weather the hell that is the KFA. I mostly put him here for only for his 2014 work and the fact that is a huge fan and colleague of Cha the elder.
Luis Enrique – not going to lie although I think he would be great for us, he might be a better fit for Japan. Bento’s style may have worked for us but I would really love a counterattacking pressing minded manager rather than a pass your opponent to death kind of opponent. All that being said I would be so happy if we got Enrique – better than any of our domestic names for sure. I am also a fan of Luis Enrique because in the past, he publicly stated that he is a fan of Paik Seungho when he was still playing for Barca B and gave him training minutes with the first team.
The ship that has long sailed: Senol Gunes
I am still very salty at the KFA for not getting Gunes, the man who was so successful with FC Seoul and directly kickstarted the careers of Lee Chungyong and Ki Sungyong. He’s openly expressed a desire to coach the KNT, yet the KFA kept up their merry go round of Cho Kwangrae–>Choi Kanghee–>Hong Myungbo etc. He actually wanted to coach us multiple times but then we chose freaking Uli Stielike over THE Senol Gunes. As an aside, Stielike has been openly criticizing the KNT in interviews, stating during the World Cup that we will only get 1 point and that we have built a style only capable of 0-0 draws.
There are certainly more names that have been thrown around recently but these are my personal highlights – let us know what you think down below in the comments!
Acknowledgements to @Seol Korea from Bigsoccer Korea for his insights on this topic, discussing it with me, and scouring Naver for updates as I do on a daily basis!