I have the slight worry of feeling like I’m beating a dead horse – the Olympics are over, and we’re ready to move on to new discussions. Nonetheless, Shin Tae-yong gave his first sit-down interview with Korean media (actually just an interviewer from the KFA) since the Olympic team exited the competition last week. His thoughts on football philosophy, Jang Hyun-soo and squad selection after the jump.
KFA’s Interview with Shin Tae-yong
Again, like the Hong Myung-bo article, it’s a rough translation… If I was doing a translation job for the KFA, it would be more literal and comprehensive.
On the 18-man roster and squad selection:
The position I was most concerned about was at fullback. Kwon Chang-hoon and Moon Chang-jin are very versatile so there was no concern in midfield or up front. If a fullback got injured, there would be no defensive resources to cover for them. That’s why I preferred versatile players who could play centreback and fullback.
On defensive instability:
I’m curious why the media made such a big deal of this before the tournament. The initial idea with regards to overrage “wildcard” call-ups was to select one attacker (Son Heung-min) and two defenders. But the plan to bring Hong Jeong-ho to the Olympics ultimately didn’t pan out. And that’s okay, I was not worried. It’s impossible to expect to not concede. In football, if you concede one goal, you score two goals. I don’t understand why the media kept on asking players about defensive instability. As a manager, I needed the players to play hard, not worry hard.
On Jang Hyun-soo:
My initial plan was only to play Jang as a defensive midfielder, unless he had to cover because of injury. Since Song Ju-hun got injured, I ended up using him as a centreback also. I never actually worked with Jang Hyun-soo, so naming him captain was a bit of a shot in the dark. But he was exceptionally better than I thought, forming the bridge between the players and the coaching staff in a very satisfactory way. He fulfilled his duties at 200%.
On why he didn’t select older over-age players:
It’s harder for older players to integrate quickly into a younger team. Isn’t that the case around the world, too? So we simply selected over-age players with solid careers and not much of an age difference.
We saw Fiji train in Spain. I consider them to be at the same level as some of our high school players. As long as we didn’t pick up an injury in this game, all would be okay. Although the players were very tense as it was the first encounter, we scored 8 goals. I had only expected 5, at most.
Why did Ryu Seung-woo not start against Germany?
Ryu’s condition was very good since the Sao Paulo training camp. His performance against Fiji continued that, but he picked up a calf injury after the game. That’s the only reason why he didn’t start against Germany. The media were criticizing me a lot but they didn’t know that — and yet I couldn’t tell (laughs).
You didn’t start a target man striker but instead Hwang Hee-chan. Why?
I don’t think you need a target man striker to play football – look at Barcelona’s tiki-taka tactics, where they had a “zero-top” (4-6-0). My team’s “colour” was first and foremost about the strengths of the team. Any tactical philosophy or convention is not important. It’s the team’s strengths. Only after this, we can look at how to beat the opposition and select a formation.
We conceded three times against Germany. Why?
Again, in football, if they score one, we have to score two. The first two German goals were to their credit, but I didn’t think there was a foul on the free kick leading to the third goal. At the same time, if Suk Hyunjun hadn’t fallen over, we would have won 4-2, so… We could have played defensive football and probably conceded less, but my football is attacking football, so that’s that.
What happened against Mexico?
I told the players to be calm and play an attacking game, but they were defending. I was going crazy! (laughs). At halftime, I asked them “when did I tell you to defend?! If we concede while only defending, we won’t recover. Go attack.” We needed to be attacking to be in control.
So Korea won, and we topped the group. What were your thoughts?
I saw that we had to make the semi-finals, having gotten this far. We wanted to play some of the world’s best, including Brazil. We had played Germany and Mexico, so we were confident we could handle Brazil.
And yet we lost against Honduras.
I knew Honduras’ style of football. It was just one of those days. If the chances don’t become goals early on, it becomes harder and harder to score later on. Their goalkeeper was also having a brilliant day, just hurling himself at everything. When those things happen, there’s nothing a manager can do. They took their one opportunity, and nobody on our team could take our opportunities. There’s nothing else to say, really.
How do you evaluate your team’s performance?
On 100? 90. I think our players did a good job. Quickly adapting to the Brazilian environment. I was very proud of them. We lost against Honduras, but we played a good game. It’s a pity we couldn’t score and continue in the Olympics. But you learn from the past.
A final thought?
In future Olympic years, the K League needs to reconsider their schedule, particularly about training. In July and August, the focus must be on the Olympics only. If you look at the J. League, they paused their schedule to allow players to go to the Toulon Cup fully prepared. But on our side, only I went to watch the Cup – we didn’t enter a team. I would like for the KFA and the Professional Football Association to look into this problem for World Cup and Olympic years.
This interview pretty much confirms that in many ways, Shin Tae-yong is Lee Gwang-jong antithesis. Whereas the latter was all about a defense-first approach, Shin is far more of free-thinking, attack-first manager. In some respects, I think Shin was the better manager for this particular group of players, given the abundance of attacking talent.
It also confirms something that we’ve only really deducted, and that is why Jang Hyun-soo keeps on being made captain. He was captain of the 2014 Asian Games side, and captain of this, the 2016 Olympics side, as an over-age player. We don’t really see his leadership skills necessarily on the pitch, but managers seem to value far more his communication behind-the-scenes… serving as the “bridge” between the staff and the players. If a couple years ago, we were wondering about his utility and strengths, and pondering why we kept on being called up despite being a fairly average player… I think the answers lies in his leadership and versatility – making him a useful player to have around the National Team for years to come.
On a more unfortunate note, it’s a bit of a shame to see how it’s a very real possibility that the team got ahead of themselves and was thinking about Brazil. Not that I blame them for it – as players, you want to be involved in those big matches. Nonetheless, it sounds like they got a bit ahead of themselves, so much so that they forgot about the day job.
Shin Tae-yong is still one of my favorite Korean managers. This was a good experience for him, I’m sure, and he’ll learn plenty. His vulnerabilities and mistakes were on full show in Brazil. This interview also provides a small window into his philosophy (though he claims his philosophy is no philosophy, he also insists upon attacking play). In the future, I think we will know what we will get from Shin.
As an aside musing, if Choi Kang-hee decides to take the cash and manage in China next season, I think we have just the attack-minded boss to work with Jeonbuk’s embarrassment of riches…