Kim Eun-jung-ho, a man with a sense of challenge, says sustainable growth is key

The feast is over. Now it’s time to think about how to nurture them and ensure they are the future of Korean soccer.

Kim Eun-joong’s U-20 team finished fourth at the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2023. Despite falling just short of the final and losing to Israel in the third and fourth place matches, the team gave everything they had and finished with a beautiful finish.

Each player showed off their potential. Unleashing that potential was done by head coach Kim Eun-joong, assistant coaches Kim Tae-min, Lee 토토사이트 Chang-hyun, and goalkeeping coach Cha Sang-kwang. All of them have a lot of experience in the K League and have worked their way up through the age group national teams.

Kim Eun-joong and his coaching staff have learned from their mistakes to achieve success

Kim assisted head coach Kim Hak-bum at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The team lost 3-6 in the quarterfinals to a late Mexican comeback. After Lee Dong-kyung scored to tie the game at 1-1, the team tried to attack more aggressively, only to lose the initiative to Mexico’s quick passing and space penetration.

Kim, who was the head coach at the time, learned the hard way how to compete in the group and knockout stages of international tournaments. Kim Hak-bum is said to have passed on this game management know-how to Kim, telling him to be cautious and adapt his strategy to the opponent.

A footballer who knows Kim well said on condition of anonymity, “I’m cautious about evaluating Kim’s football,” but added, “He’s always been in control of himself, and I think that’s transmitted to the players. The atmosphere of playing for the leader and for a teammate who was injured and left the team was created on its own, and I thought the organization was good.”

“Coach Kim has also studied past national team cases thoroughly. He clearly shared all kinds of scenarios with the coaching staff on how to react depending on the opponent and the situation. This was evident in our 3-2 win over Ecuador in the Round of 16. When Ecuador scored a goal in the last minute and pulled away, he held the defense together. When he was calm, the players on the field were more focused.”

From the second half of last year to the beginning of this year, the team traveled to various national tournaments such as the U-League and the K League to check the performance of the players and accumulate records. He went out of his way to check all variables, including personal information and changes in performance. He also gave advice to the players so that they wouldn’t be psychologically shaken if they didn’t perform well.

Kim has grown as a coach himself. He says he learned a lot by trying to think of all kinds of ways to bring out the best in his players. He fought so hard and learned so much that he will never be able to coach an age group team again. “Most of the players didn’t realize how much potential they had,” Kim said. This tournament helped them realize their potential,” Kim said, emphasizing that it was an accomplishment.

Kim’s contract as a full-time coach ended at the end of the tournament. It is unlikely that Kim will take charge of an age group team again. The U-17 team is already being led by Byun Sung-hwan. The U-24 team will be led by Hwang Sun-hong as they prepare for the Hangzhou Asian Games and next year’s Summer Olympics in Paris.

Apart from Kim’s departure, improving the treatment of former coaches remains a challenge. The KFA claims to be developing full-time coaches, but the process of identifying and selecting players tends to be left entirely to the coaches. They also struggle to make recommendations. We need to create conditions for greater independence, based on scientific analysis and free from outside influence.

The potential is there…it’s just a matter of showing the right level of growth to challenge for the A team – Europe

Shifting the focus from coaches to players, the process of turning raw stones into jewelry is now about getting the most out of each individual. Of the 2019 Poland runners-up, only Lee Kang-in (Mallorca) has made it to the A team.

Of course, the newly promoted Kim Joo-sung (FC Seoul) is slowly establishing himself, and Uhm Won-sang (Ulsan Hyundai), who was transferred to the U-24 national team, is spreading his wings, but he needs to establish himself with consistent appearances and a solid starting lineup to show that he is a resource that can challenge not only the K League but also Europe.

A football insider who has watched and nurtured many players said, “Korean football on the international stage usually puts organization first. In this case, it’s hard to go to Europe unless your individual skills are outstanding. Look at the 2019 runners-up, who went to Europe except Lee Kang-in.”

Naturally, Kim has a counterargument. “For the organization to be good, the individual ability of the players must be good,” he said, emphasizing that all the players on this team, as well as the previous ones, have enough football intelligence. Even if the individual ability is outstanding among their peers, they have to struggle to reach the level of the A team or Europe in an all-age club, and the time to build the organization was very short, so the achievement of reaching the quarterfinals means that the players’ skills are good enough.

Kim Yong-hak (Portimonense), who is getting first-hand experience of the Portuguese Primeira Liga with this squad, hasn’t even made his senior debut yet. He only plays for the U-23 team. Of the remaining players, Bae Jun-ho (Daejeon Hana Citizen) has secured a full-time starting role this year. Kim Ji-soo (Seongnam FC) was a starter last year, but has been relegated to the bench this year. The likes of Kang Sung-jin (FC Seoul) and Kang Sang-yoon (Jeonbuk Hyundai) have been utilized on the bench due to the U-22 mandatory participation rule.

It’s up to their managers to decide how much to use them. They have yet to experience either failure or success, so it’s all about experience. “I’ve been contacted by scouts and agents from teams in the German, Portuguese, and Belgian leagues. They were very curious about Bae Joon-ho and Lee Seung-won.” However, he added, “However, you have to judge whether it will lead to an actual signing. If you have a clear intention to challenge Europe, you need to be prepared. If you go out just to show interest, there is a possibility of failure.”

Jürgen Klinsmann, head coach of the A team, added: “It’s important that the players come back and play consistently and maintain their performance. It doesn’t matter if they’re playing in K League 1 or 2. Even at the last U-20 World Cup, Lee Kang-in was the only player who made it to the A team,” he said.

Some have argued that the U-22 mandate needs to be abolished in order for younger players to get a chance to play. The U-22 rule forces teams to keep players in that age group to use up time. Otherwise, they could easily send them out on loan to the K League 2 to gain experience. Of course, teams that have strategically developed young players may disagree, but there is at least a consensus that players should not be forced to utilize time and lose their rhythm.

The challenge for Korean soccer is how to effectively develop players who have proven their international competitiveness so that they can further close the gap with the rest of the world in the adult stage.

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