The Korea Herald


Under bright spotlight, Klinsmann sets out on mission to silence critics

By Yonhap

Published : March 22, 2023 - 09:25

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South Korea head coach Jurgen Klinsmann (at the center) watches his players during a training session at the National Football Center in Paju, some 30 kilometers northwest of Seoul, on Tuesday. (Yonhap) South Korea head coach Jurgen Klinsmann (at the center) watches his players during a training session at the National Football Center in Paju, some 30 kilometers northwest of Seoul, on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

PAJU -- South Korea's football friendly match against Colombia on Friday will be a rare occasion where one man on the bench will be under a brighter spotlight than any player on the pitch.

It will be the South Korea coaching debut for Jurgen Klinsmann, a German football icon with an impeccable playing resume but a coaching CV with a few question marks. Klinsmann will also take the first step toward putting his fingerprints on a team that played for one head coach for the past 4 1/2 years.

The highly anticipated match kicks off at 8 p.m. at Munsu Football Stadium in Ulsan, some 310 kilometers southeast of Seoul.

Klinsmann has succeeded Paulo Bento, who led South Korea to the round of 16 at last year's FIFA World Cup to cap off his record-long tenure. Even before he was officially appointed -- while his name was circulating around the rumor mill -- Klinsmann faced criticism for his lack of tactical acumen, perceived or otherwise.

It stems from claims made in 2011 by former Bayern Munich captain Philipp Lahm, who wrote in his autobiography that Klinsmann, while coaching the prestigious Bundesliga club from 2008 to 2009, offered very little technical instruction and overemphasized fitness instead. Lahm also wrote that the players had to hold their own meetings prior to matches to discuss strategies, in lieu of guidance from Klinsmann.

Klinsmann brushed off those allegations at his introductory press conference here March 9, saying it was "very normal" for players to want different things from training sessions.

Though Klinsmann might have taken the high road there, he didn't necessarily answer lingering questions about what he can bring to the table as a tactician. This may seem unfair to the man who coached Germany to third place at the 2006 World Cup and then led the United States to the round of 16 eight years later.

On the other hand, Klinsmann does have much to prove. Before taking over South Korea, Klinsmann hadn't coached a national team since November 2016, when he got fired by the U.S. with the Americans stuck at the bottom of the regional World Cup qualification table. His next coaching gig, with the German club Hertha BSC, lasted just 10 weeks, from late 2019 to early 2020. He announced his resignation on social media, an act he later said he regrets.

Bento's coaching stint here was largely defined by stability and structure. Klinsmann's recent coaching history suggests anything but.

Klinsmann will now try to silence his detractors, with essentially the same squad that Bento last coached in Qatar in December.

With little time to scout players since arriving here on March 8, Klinsmann elected to keep the World Cup roster mostly intact. Missing are three injured players: defenders Hong Chul and Yoon Jong-gyu, and winger Hwang Hee-chan, who was originally selected but was dropped Sunday due to an unspecified injury he picked up playing for Wolverhampton Wanderers. Klinsmann didn't name a replacement for Hwang.

It will be interesting to see what Klinsmann does tactically with players accustomed to playing a patient, possession-based buildup football under Bento. Klinsmann, a legendary striker in his playing days, has said he would "rather win a game 4-3 than 1-0," such is his penchant for attacking football.

Before running his first training session Monday, Klinsmann said he will take his time before molding South Korea into his own team.

"I hope both that you see a little bit of my approach and obviously you build on how they played already in Qatar," Klinsmann said. "You cannot change too much in the first get-together with a team. Step by step, I would like to put a little bit more of my influence on the team and hopefully it's in a very, very positive way."

In Klinsmann's aggressive schemes, it is not difficult to imagine RCD Mallorca midfielder Lee Kang-in, one of South Korea's most creative playmakers, having a more prominent role than he had under Bento. Oh Hyeon-gyu, the 21-year-old forward with Celtic, may also get a long look up front after scoring three times in his first 10 matches with the Scottish club. The national team's two mainstays at forward, Hwang Ui-jo of FC Seoul and Cho Gue-sung of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, have a combined one goal in eight matches so far this K League 1 season.

This will be the eighth meeting between South Korea, ranked 25th, and Colombia, world No. 17. South Korea hold the edge with four wins, two draws and one loss. Most recently, South Korea came out on top 2-1 in March 2019, thanks to a goal each by Son Heung-min and Lee Jae-sung. (Yonhap)