Tavern Guest Post – What can make Korea good at football?

Some of us on the Tavern started out on a site called Bigsoccer Korea (BSK). Things can get crazy on that site, but for every massive troll who should be ignored and for every lovable Samsung Galaxy bot obsessed with Korea’s FIFA ranking, there are members who are extremely knowledgeable about Korean football. I still learn from the posters there all the time.

This following post was written by BSK user killaorca in response to a great read by the economist titled “What makes a country good at football” (written the day before the Germany game)


This article mentions that four important factors to “winning the WC” are creativity, “stop kids from falling through the cracks”, global network and good preparation. I want to talk about the first two.



The article mentions how a lot of developed countries are more infrastructure focused (putting kids into academies and having them develop in a rigid environment). This is a double edge sword because it means kids loses their creativity. In order to manage this, I think Korean kids should play more football but in an informal setting (the “cage”, futsal, street etc). These technical and creative skills need to be developed at a very young age (elementary). Most kids in Korea don’t really do that and they are put into an academy right away. This article mentions “another study found that academy prospects who ended up with contracts had put in more hours of informal practice as children.” Many develop nations like Germany and England try to bypass this by simulating an informal setting inside a formal structure which this article gives examples of. Sadly, I don’t think Korea has the R&D to do that. So it’s better to do it in a more traditional way like in Latin America.

The problem with this approach is that Korea just doesn’t like football. We’re not a football/sports loving nation. I feel like our nation has this “indoor/desk culture” where we spend too much time in our desk. This is due too our country’s economic reliance on education. We are one of the most educated nation but at the same time there’s a limited numbers of jobs that are available. So there’s an unemployment problem. But for people with “good jobs”, they mostly work in cubicles. Both workers and students are put into competitive work environment while sitting on desks for long hours. This lifestyle carries over outside work as well. So most people spend their time playing computer games while sitting on desks.

That is why I think the most important and crucial factor to developing a better Korean National Team or whatever is to have Korean people love football. (I get that focusing on KNT is pretty shallow, but let’s just center it on KNT for now.) People say Korea didn’t do well in this world cup because people don’t watch the K-league, but they’re not thinking further. There are many countries with lower league attendances but are doing better in the WC. Also many K-league fans complain that people are too much of a Eurosnob, but European football and K-league should not be considered as competitors. People can enjoy multiple leagues. As well, European leagues are at a disadvantage in some aspects compared to the K-league namely the live atmosphere and a reasonable time to watch football. The problem that K-league has with attracting viewers is due to their failure to properly market themselves. It’s just hard for me to blame the casuals when the league has been complacent year after year. Instead, until the K-league get their acts together, I would say that more people/children viewing the Premier League/Son Heungmin might actually be a good thing for our development because more people will enjoy football and more children can be inspired by these footballers (especially Korean footballers playing in Europe). The solution is to have people love football PERIOD. Especially playing football, it needs to be our national past time instead of playing starcraft.

To do this our government needs to invest more into grassroots football, work with our sporting bodies/organizations and lax on education. Kim Pangon said that youth players have to balance their school work and football which is hard for them especially in highschool and university. But if our country/government invest more into sports, I think that it’ll give our country a good return on investment. Our sporting industry will grow thus increase of jobs. Sport industry requires many people working off the field and for many students that are inspiring to get their university degrees, they will also have employment opportunity as there will be a demand for sport science, kinesiology, business, and psychology. After all sport is a lucrative industry. Not only that, by promoting sports and sport participation, it’ll lead to healthier citizens and it can possible increase our overall well-being and happiness. As such, there’s so much to gain from promoting football and football participation but our government and our football federation (KFA), need to work hard to make this happen. Just imagine the masses of Korean children playing and enjoying football throughout the country like we see in Latin America. We’ll start to produce so many creative players down the line. I would argue that this it the most crucial and initial step of our development.


Stop Kids From Falling Through The Cracks

So hypothetically, we managed to become a footballing nation (or close to it), what’s the next step? I think that children should be scouted and go through the formal process of their development. The article mentions “The DFB (Germany) realised that many had been overlooked by club scouts, so it set up 360 extra regional centres for those who missed the cut.” Hiddink also tried to set this up in Russia while he was their manager: “When Russia bid to host this year’s tournament in 2010, Mr Hiddink implored his then-bosses to create a nationwide scouting programme, to no avail.”

The KFA can also set a nationwide scouting programme where there’s a regional centres throughout our countries scouting for children playing in an informal setting. In Germany, every scouts are highly qualified with the UEFA B licence, and there are more than 10,000 of them throughout the country (I think). We can have group of qualified coaches to oversee this program, and they would be given selected numbers of attributes that they need to look for. Once they scout these players, they can send their profile to a K-league academy where they will be given the opportunity to join a formal footballing environment. However, these representatives won’t just act like scouts, but they can also help assist children further develop children’s skills by giving them some pointers and addressing their weaknesses. With this “education”, they might try out their new acquired knowledge in the informal setting. For children that “made the cut” by entering an academy, they will then be given formal education and start to develop their tactical skills and develop better fitness that is needed to become a pro footballer (on top of all the technical and creative skills that they acquired prior to their formal training in the informal environment). However, what is important is that there are qualified coaches from the regional scouting centres to youth academies to K-league and finally to our national team. Thus, developing numerous quality coaches is another important factor to becoming a better footballing nation, but that’s for another time.



(Back to Jinseok here) – first, thank you so much killaorca for a great Korean spin on the Economist article and for sharing some fantastic ideas. I think it’s pretty clear by now that our continued success depends on improving our domestic scene. Lee Youngpyo has been saying this for years, and so have we on the Tavern. My personal hope is that this Germany outcome will re-ignite an interest in football in Korea. Korea has a very strange system where the success of the domestic league hinges on the success of the national team (for every other country it’s the reverse) (I would like to credit journalist Steve Han for explaining to me this point). After 2002, football saw a huge spike in popularity, but the K League didn’t quite leverage it very well and now we’re in the somewhat sad state we are in today. Maybe we can leverage this Germany win to boost the K League and grassroots development going forward. Even though we were awful the first two games, and even though Lee Youngpyo rued Jang Hyunsoo’s tackle saying “there are young children watching,” perhaps the excitement of this Germany win and the heroics of Kim Youngkwon/Cho Hyunwoo/the rest of our backline not named Jang Hyunsoo could inspire the youth in Korea to see defending/goalkeeping as a position just as important/desirable as the more offensive positions.

This is a very difficult topic to address of course, but the clamor for change is stronger than ever (I just hope it wasn’t diluted due to the Germany win). There was plenty of this sort of sentiment in 2014 and nothing changed, which is totally expected given the KFA being the KFA. But maybe this time, with the heroes of 2002 chewing out the KNT, the KFA, and the sorry state we are in on live television, we might see major upheaval in the Korean footballing system. Because in the words of Park Jisung, we’ve regressed to the point where “if we don’t take action now, we’ll see a repeat of this situation every four years.”

About Jinseok 259 Articles
Diehard Korean football fan. https://www.taegukwarriors.com/jinseoks-story/

1 Comment

  1. Hey friend, thanks for posting this on your site!
    I agree with your response but at the same time, I think we need to look beyond our leagues and national team as football measurements in our country (not to say watching football isn’t important). Instead, we need to ask ourselves: how many people/kids actually play football in our country? Maybe not in a rigid structural setting but during recess, after school, and after work. Playing this sport in some back alley or in the street. Do they even have time to play football? I think people should love football by playing football? Again, that has to do with social/cultural environment beyond the control of our league, our football federation and our government. But they can all work together to some how make it happen. However, I don’t have the answer to this question. But if we do, I promise you that our league and our national team will get better immensely.

    Also I agree with you that the K-league/KFA failed to continue the momentum after 2002 world cup. Sad opportunity lost.

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