When your best players are not your best players

“Korea, only nation in Asia, to become the sixth nation to advance to the World Cup for the 8th consecutive time”

The media is all about this record when no one, but few, dares to know. There’s really nothing valuable about this record when the team’s performance is hardly convincing.

NISI20160814_0012047959_web.jpgMore and more players picked for the national team are not playing for their respective club teams. Being called up for the national team means the squad has to prepare for the game in a short period of time. However when you have players who are short of game experience from lack of regular football, preparation is slowed down. Anyone who’s been a player will know how much not being able to play slows you down not only physically, but also mentally. The sad reality is that it’s also impossible to obtain this physical and mental aspect of the game through just hard training. A player NEEDS to get in the actual game. Coaches, speaking to the media, will confirm they will only pick players who are first-team members of their respective clubs, but they’re still partial to players who play in Europe – even if they’re struggling to break into the first team at their club. It tells you something about Korean football. The national team, for some reason, is forced to rely on these foreign-based players and has a small pool of players to pick from the domestic K-League. There’s a real dearth of quality players from Korean domestic football, which is the result of a poor coaching system and an ineffective league system, leading to less opportunity for all age groups and genders.

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Joo-ho Park struggling at Dortmund

An answer to the question of why a player isn’t getting playing time is rather simple. He’s not good enough. What’s really hard to answer, though, is why Korean players, as a bigger mass, struggle with this issue. Coach Shin Tae Yong, who led the Olympic team to Rio, is very much concerned with this issue. He describes current Korean players as all around too robotic and that they are missing something special in their style of play. Because of this undistinguished style, coaches are rather forced to prefer the veterans. It’s time to correct this stereotyped idea that age is stopping young players from playing. They are only going to get their experience over the veterans when they are set apart from the norm. Marcus Rashford of Manchester United didn’t make his surprise Premier League debut against Arsenal last season because he was young. He was given the chance because he had the abilities which in turn made his potential that much great. That’s the world we live in, asking for striking expertise and competence.

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Coach Shin Tae Yong at Rio Olympics

So the root of this problem is planted in Korea’s youth coaching system. How can coaches assist in developing a set of definite qualities into young players? Here, coach Shin stresses the importance of how coaches must learn how to help young players mature and sharpen their innate talents. There’s obviously a ton that goes into youth coaching, but coach Shin says, the primary focus should be on maturing their raw talents. Korean coaches are too focused, or rather, only focused on settling the fundamentals and executing tactics. That’s why Korean coaches prefer the veteran over the rookie. There’s not that much to compare besides the former having more experience. We need to criticize this ‘coach-centered’ coaching. And it just makes coaching that much harder. While perfecting the fundamentals and teaching them how to execute the team’s tactics, coaches are challenged to discover and implement creativeness to players’ natural talents. This is the direction of coaching Korea needs to take, differentiating players with their own unique abilities.

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U-19 coach Ahn Ik-Soo

The U-19 coach, Ahn Ik-Soo, approaches the problem of players in late teens and early twenties not getting regular football at a different perspective. He points to the entire league system. No matter how talented you are at age 19 or 20, it’s true that you are more likely to spend more time watching the game than actually playing. But, let’s go back to Marcus Rashford’s example. Before Rashford broke into the first team, he didn’t just train with the first team. He had plenty of opportunities to keep playing for the reserves in the U-21 league, which we know already, is separate from the Championship, the second division. With this subdivided league system in Europe, young players are able to maintain and raise their real game experience and even work on closing down the gap between the regular starters. That’s exactly what Korean football is missing – a subdivided league system. The league system is shallow and does not account for the young players and even the women’s teams. Many players in early twenties are just entering the professional K-League, playing for their universities, or playing in the lower divisions of K-League. In each respective situation, young players simply don’t play because they are rookies. They don’t have an alternate solution for gaining game experience. Like European football, the KFA must develop better young players by reshaping the leagues under K-League and creating more opportunities for each age group and women’s teams to participate in.

Amazingly enough, the KFA has been working on a lofty goal of expanding Korean football league. The table below shows the current league system:

Division Level
K-League (Classic) Pro
K-League (Challenge) Pro
N-League (National) Semi-Pro
K3-League Amateur

KFA, partnered with Korean Olympic Committee, is mapping out a plan to subdivide the entire league system into seven different leagues.

Division Level
K1-League (Classic) Pro
K2-League (Challenge) Pro
K3-League (Advanced) Semi-Pro
K4-League (Basic) Semi-Pro
K5-League (National Best) Amateur
K6-League (18 District Leagues) Amateur
K7-League (142 Regional Leagues) Amateur

emblem_of_korea_football_association-svgStarting next year, K7-League’s 142 regional leagues consisting of 852 teams will begin their establishment. The government is supporting about $2.6 million, so each league will be allocated with about $18,000 to furnish necessary facilities and organize management for the league opening. Going with the new system, the KFA announced earlier this month that all divisions will now be introduced to the promotion and relegation battle just like the European league system. Now, any team from any league can move up and down in the system. Currently this system is only applied to two pro leagues – Classic and Challenge.

In all respects, this is exciting news to hear. The KFA is surely making a great first step in raising competition and widening the pool of players to pick for the national team by merging all the leagues and implementing the promotion/ relegation battle for both professionals and amateurs. This is also a great way to invite more amateurs to play, especially to those who couldn’t play up to the standard of pro or given up because of conditions of football environment in Korea. They can start enjoying football again and who knows, we might just see a Korean Jamie Vardy some day. It’s an open game to all.

It’s time for all of us to accept the current situation with Korean football and embrace the fact that Korean football has been poor in producing quality players which in return, worsened the competition in the national team. Coach Shin associates this poor line of production players with weak coaching system and asked for a shift from ‘coach-centered’ coaching to ‘player-centered’ coaching. On top of this problem, this overall problem of players lacking regular football is situated far more deeply than just the national team. Coaches of men’s U-23, men’s U-19, National Women’s team, women’s U-20 are all facing dilemmas with players lacking real game experience. The best players of Korea are coming to play for their country, but they are struggling to play regularly for their club teams. There’s more than just substandard coaching, Korea doesn’t acquire a robust environment for both genders of young players to simply play at their level. However, we’ve seen reports made by the KFA that changes ARE happening. Leagues are merging. Even though there’s still long ways to go to provide more opportunities for young players and even the women’s teams, these long-term changes on youth coaching and overall football environment should have gradual effects on Korean football in all levels and one day bring better performance from the national team.

Update!

It has been way too long since I wrote my last blog post on the ‘Transfer Market Mystery series.’ So… There’s a lot to share! Here’s a quick summary of what has been on my mind this semester.

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First, I would like to share briefly on Calvin Men’s soccer. It was 2011 last time Calvin was in the Final Four, eventually lost in the final. This is a huge moment for the team, players, coaches, and for the program.

“It has been my observation that most people get ahead during the time that others waste.” Henry Ford

It’s no miracle that they are in the Final Four. After crashing out in the second round against Ohio Wesleyan last year, the team was already on sight for next season. The amount of dedication the team put in to be where they are now is unbelievable. Through competition, there was teamwork. In free time, there was discipline.

I have several topics in mind to dive deeper into and I hope to unpack some of these big topics after I finish up school in next two weeks! 

  • Football league system in Korea and England

What’s the common denominator from the following players?

Jaime Vardy of Leicester, Chris Smalling of Manchester United, Charlie Austic of QPR, Gary Hooper of Norwich, and Rickie Lambert of West Brom

They are just a few of many players who came from non-league to the Premier League. There are more than 7000 teams of nearly 5300 clubs in the English men’s football league system (Wikipedia). The vast structure of the league really teaches the importance of developing amateur football leagues to intensify and improve the football culture. My plan is to compare and contrast with the football league system in Korea and stress the need for development in amateur football.

  • Abusive coaches

I always have a negative view of coaches in Korea for their abusive attitudes towards the players. Considering the Asian culture of respecting the senior coaches/players, I thought the negative behaviors from the older coaches/players were inevitable. My perspective changed after watching several documentaries on English football and reading up on the history of abusive coaches in the U.S. First, abusive coaches are everywhere. Second, there is a difference in abusive coaches and demanding coaches.

  • Tainting the beautiful game: Match fixing (Ethics in Sports)

While taking a class in business ethics, I have been challenged to apply some of the big concepts into the football world. FIFA scandal is still making headlines and mach fixing is whole another issue. Unethical behaviors from the football leaders/organizations should not be tolerated. Hope to touch on some of the big issues in the game.

Lastly, a couple of thoughts on the EPL and the Korea national team.

As an EPL fan, this season has been far the worst. The quality of the games are well under par. Inconsistent run of results from the top-tier teams have been frustrating as well. Nick Miller of ESPN thinks this brings more excitement to the league.

I’m really excited to see how Korean national team will progress through the qualifications. The team is cruising in current round 2 qualification for 2018 WC and Uli Stielike is working on picking the best of best players to represent Korea. At this moment, the forward position is worth eyeing on.

More to come from me next this month!

 

Myanmar VS. S. KOREA Analysis

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Three points! But Korea has some work to do.

Against a weak team, I expected must higher standard of performance. Despite the win, it was disappointing to see no goals scored from an open-play.

Myanmar, unsurprisingly, sat back and packed everyone in defense. Did they defend well?

myanmar defense 6

They were all over the place, disorganized in shape, and looked clueless when they had the ball. For the first 15 minutes, Korea moved the ball well and really used the space that Myanmar players gave. I gathered some clips in first 15 minutes that were good moments for Korea. I also gathered how Korea completely loses what they were doing after that first 15 minutes. (See the video below and please feel free to comment on my analysis.)

Playing defense for 90 minutes is a very difficult task both mentally and physically. That being said, Korea needed to stay patient for the other team to make the mistake and keep the ball moving to open up space. In all, with urgency to go to goal and stay on guard to penalize Myanmar whenever they make the mistake.

There was no sense of urgency: rushing movements, forcing passes, eating up teammates’ space, taking too long to pass, and even walking…Instead of forcing mistakes, players over-committed in defense and created space for the opponent players. 

Myanmar, despite being indiscipline in defense and harmless in attack, somehow managed to stay in the game for a long period of time.

In all of this, Ki Sung Yueng was missed as he has been the one keeping the ball moving and distributing to open space behind defenders. (Ki missed the game due to a minor surgery on his knee last May.)

As game went on, Son Heung Min had to fill in that role. However Son is a type of player who’s much more preferred to be on the end of attack, firing goals.

Korea plays the 4-2-3-1 system, but it ends up being the 4-4-2 with two center midfielders’ playing holding. Time to time, I would see so much gap in between the striker and the center midfielders. I’ve seen this problem before in different games.

Korea should consider placing Ki in that attacking center midfielder position behind the striker as he has developed his game to whole another level with Swansea last season. He will fill in that space and bring in more creativity in attack.

I hope to watch as many as Korean games I can and update you how the Korean team is evolving and developing for the 2018 Russia World Cup.

Again, feel free to comment on things you agree/disagree.

On the Road to the 2018 Russia World Cup

South Korea's German football coach Ulrich Stielike (C) speaks during a press conference to announce a South Korean squad for the AFC Asian Cup in Seoul on December 22, 2014. South Korea named a final 23-man squad for the AFC Asian Cup next month in Australia that is heavy with 17 players from overseas leagues. AFP PHOTO / JUNG YEON-JE        (Photo credit should read JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images)

After the humiliating performances from the Korean team in the 2014 Brazil World Cup, there has been a growing concern over the future of Korean football. Indeed, there was an urgent need for a change.

Today I want to write about Korea’s preparation for the 2018 Russia World Cup as Korea has been displaying positive signs since Uli Stielike took over after the Brazil WC.

One aspect that I love about football is that it requires very important qualities of ‘strategic planning’ and ‘discipline’ when it comes down to achieving your goals and getting to the place you really want to be in. However, many football associations and organizations seem to become very impatient with the fact that the process takes time and support.

Korean football needed to react to their mistake and accept all forms of criticism as it was clear that its 4-year preparation for the 2014 World Cup was lacking in many areas. It’s easy and fair to criticize the manager and the players, but I was particularly angry at the KFA (Korea Football Association) who also needs to take responsibility in Korea’s poor run of results throughout the preparation for the Brazil’s WC.

KFA made a huge mistake of hiring someone who was never interested in taking the role. The manager KFA hired even spoke clearly after the appointment that he’ll step down after qualifying to the WC. Here’s a manager who was forced to the job and who’s ultimate goal is qualifying for the World Cup. The team underperformed in the qualifications and narrowly saved a spot in Brazil with goal difference. As promised, he stepped down and a young manager was appointed with not even a year left to the first kickoff in the group stage. Although the new manager had great motives to change things around, he simply had not enough time to fully develop his management style, execute his philosophy, and build his team.

As disappointing as the 2014 WC was, KFA responded well and Uli Stielike has so far done a great job of restructuring the Korean team. I am very much thrilled to see how his team will execute its ‘strategic plan’ in order to achieve its ultimate goal in 2018. I also hope the KFA won’t have to find another manager. Having a manager who can commit for four years would foster the team’s motivation, ‘discipline’, and team spirit.