Following last night’s 0-1 loss to China, I tweeted out that part of me hoped that Korea would fail to qualify for Russia 2018 in the hope that such a damaging blow to the KNT would force the KFA, K League, football fans in Korea, and possibly the general public to truly and honestly take a look at the state of the game here. I got a few responses to the tweet, couple disagreed (which is fine of course) and one agreed, but despite the changes to Twitter’s format (which allows for longer posts) it remains difficult to set out a decent argument there. So, I shall try to lay out my thinking here.
Change is needed
We have harped in posts, podcasts, tweets, Google Hangouts, and virtually every possible manner on the need for change in Korean football. From the transition from youth players to pro players, the wage structure, the ownership, stadiums, style of play, and on and on. I don’t think there is any one that would disagree that there are many fundamental, structural issues that need work. The question is, “What will be the catalyst that forces those changes?”
From the top?
Could we expect change to come from the top? From the KFA and K League? History would suggest that answer is a firm “no”. The KFA is willing to make small, largely superficial changes in the face of poor displays (like after Brazil), but we’re talking about massive changes. Changes that cost a lot of money, require an admission of failure on the part of the current leadership, and upsets the current powers that be (possibly). As such, I don’t think we should expect the higher ups to change things anytime soon.
From the bottom?
That leaves change to come from the bottom – the fans. Unfortunately, the number of fans that are willing to really go out and protest and force change are small in number. Most people that attend matches are simply looking for 2 hours of fun to pass the time on their weekend. So, how can we get more people to bring more pressure on the higher ups?
The World Cup
That brings us to the crux of this post. Why not qualifying for Russia 2018 is a good thing. The general public in Korea does care about the national team. But, they often only care about the national team when the World Cup comes around. We have already seen that the general public does not care enough about a bad performance at the World Cup. That means the next step is to see how much they care about not making it to the World Cup. Korea (and Koreans) pride themselves on the streak of World Cup qualifications and the ability to say that Korea remains one of the best teams in Asia. Failure to qualify certainly ends the ability to say the former and puts serious doubts on the latter.
I believe that as long as Korea continues to qualify, and with the planned expansion of the World Cup in the future, Korea should continue to qualify from Asia (even if we do continue to suck at our current level), the KFA will feel very little motivation to really enact change.
Would failure to qualify be enough to exact serious change and reform from the KFA and league? Maybe, maybe not, and I will fully admit that this is a dangerous gamble (of sorts) and could easily turn disastrous. But, I am tired of waiting for the KFA to change through attrition. My hope is that what the Choi Soon-shil scandal appears to be for Korean politics, failure to qualify for the World Cup can be for Korean football. The results would not be immediate, time will be needed to make the changes and to see those changes grow and develop. But, hopefully we would see a light at the end of the tunnel.
Random Other Talking Points
- Watching people single out Lee Jeong-hyeop is reminiscent of the treatment Park Chu-young received when he was called up by Hong Myung-bo. Lee was bad, yes, but so were a lot of the players yesterday. Kim Shin-wook was exactly outstanding in the second half either, and Hwang Hee-chan did little in his 25+ minutes on the pitch (other than earn himself a lot of hate from Chinese netizens).
- Ki Sung-yueng remains one of our best (when he wants to be). It was the proverbial game of two halves for Ki. Virtually anonymous in the first, forceful in the second. I’m not sure what goes on in Ki’s head, but someone needs to get him to be his second-half self more consistently.
- Without Sonny, the team looks lost. Without the attacker on the left flank, Korea really didn’t seem to know who was going to be their primary outlet of attack. That falls on Stielike in my opinion as the team seemed poorly prepared tactically.
- Speaking of our German boss, he was massively outdone by his Italian counterpart on the opposing bench. Granted Lippi had a lot more time to work with this boys, but China had a clear plan and executed it well. Many post-match were calling for blood, but that would be a poor choice. There is a lack of candidates that could do the job now that Shin Tae-yong has taken the U20 job. Unless the KFA tries to pluck a K League boss, but that didn’t go great the last time they did that….