I’m back… Busy start of semester, needed time to set a routine. Will try not to take AWOL breaks leading up to the World Cup! We’re preparing some exciting content for you over the next few months.
Uli Stielike has given one of his first interviews to Korean media reflecting on his tenure as Korean national team manager, and it was a doozy. As we all recall, the German took over in September 2014 and was sacked after a 3-2 loss in Doha to Qatar during World Cup qualifying last June. His almost three year tenure at the head of the national team set-up was actually the longest continuous managership of the national team in history. Now, he is manager of Tianjin TEDA in the Chinese Super League and spoke to FootballList Korea yesterday in a two-part interview, pulling no punches in a tell-all about the KFA, the Korean public and some sharp words about his successor Shin Tae-yong (+ the irreplaceable Jang Hyunsoo love at the end).
As we’ve done before on other popular pieces, we’ll include translated quotes and opinion throughout the article. For those who are proficient in Korean and don’t want to read through the parsing of the words, you can read the integral version of part 1 in Hangeul here.
Stielike on the KFA:
I was the longest continuous manager in Korean football history. But the time the KFA gave to me is very long. Korea is a team that has advanced to the World Cup finals nine times in a row, but how many managers have they replaced in that period? This is abnormal. Germany has had about 5 or 6 managers in the past 30 years. Korea has had close to 25 managers take the baton in the same period. Recently the KFA had a major reorganization as if it was in a revolution. Why? The national team is going to the World Cup, isn’t it? The KFA has no authority because it listens too much to the media and to the internet. Public opinion is too influential.
Hot take: Stielike does have a point when it comes to the “poisoned chalice” and the “managerial-merry-go-round”. One goes with the other. Historically the KFA has been very trigger-happy, and Stielike’s claims about 25 managers in a 30 year-span almost checks out (it’s actually 20, when you exclude caretakers). That being said, it’s never felt abnormal or strange for this rotation to occur in Korea and many wish Stielike had been sacked earlier. Though the media and the public probably has a bit more influence on the KFA than other countries, Stielike there’s a good amount of sour grapes here. Oblivious to the fact the national team wasn’t playing well and almost missed out on the World Cup, he’s more content with blaming the public and slandering the KFA for a relatively minor personnel shuffle rather than accept accountability.
Stielike continues on a similar note:
The KFA did not support me well. I would have remained manager if the President or the Technical Committee was stronger. Though we had lost three games, we had won all four home games. If they had reflected rationally, they would have been confident we would win the last home game (against Iran) because it is at home. If I lost that game, then they could have let me go. The public was noisy, the association never supported me. They acted like this in the past, and they will act like this in the future.
Too many coaches can cause problem. If there are five coaches, there a five different opinions. I prefer to run a low number of coaches.
Koreans are a very candid people. But the flaw in Koreans thinking is about college. Koreans think that you have to go to a good college to be happy or to get a good job. The young generations is suffering too much. Germans work on average 38 hours a week, but Koreans feel obliged to work over 60 hours a week. There’s no time to enjoy hobbies with the family. My children didn’t go to prestigious universities, but they are very happy, and this is crucial to me as a father. The college entry exam and work culture are both major problems. In order to be better and freer in the future, younger generations have to reject this mindset.
This is where the social culture comes in. When Korean national team players enter the field, their mindset is uniquely about “not losing”. I wanted to change that mindset. It’s why we had such high levels of possession no matter the result, for even if we lost, because we had an average of 62% possession, we were in a position to potentially win. It’s much easier to make adjustments when you know they can be implemented.
Jang Hyun-soo is one of the best players of the national team. Considering his skill, experience and personality, he is among the few players who can never be eliminated from the national team selection. Ki Sung-yueng and Koo Ja-cheol are other players like this. He has everything. He’s tall, and uses both feet. He’s fast and is good with license to play with the ball. He’s versatile, and can play central midfield, central defense and many other positions. Though he’s not a fullback, he deputized well in that position for a few games.
Uli Stielike is entitled to feel salty and bitter about being sacked. He dreamt of reaching the World Cup again and has failed now with two countries, and will likely not get another kick at the can. But every interview he makes and every sentence he speaks is a continuous portrait of a man who relentlessly deflects blame. His centralized managerial style and continued professed love for average players. Every good point and reasonable criticism he speaks of has always been shrouded by swathes of very disagreeable comments. Ultimately it is for those same reasons that the Korean public erupted into a racket of dismay and anger at Stielike, and nothing he’s said seems to suggest he’ll ever accept that truth.