Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Kim Hak-Bom: Coach Of Korea's Winning Machine

Kim Hak-bom
In Korean, ‘Chunma’ is a Pegasus - the creature that in Greek legend had the ability to fly above the rest of the herd. Seongnam Ilwha Chunma has been doing just that in the K-League since 1993 when the team won the first of, to date, six titles.

The air may be thinner at the top, but the pressure to maintain high standards is intense and unyielding.

"There's a lot of pressure," Head Coach Kim Hak-bom told Soccerphile. "Our goal is always to win the championship and other competitions too. Just maintaining our position as one of the top teams is tough by itself."

It may be tough at the top, but that is where Seongnam is and plans to stay. The last league trophy resided in the trophy cabinet just to the south of Seoul in 2003. Kim took over at the beginning of 2005 and in the first half of 2006 he steered the team to the K-League first stage title -- by a margin of ten points -- earning a place in the end of season championship playoffs.

Even after such a statement of superiority, Seongnam was busy in the summer. US$1 million was enough to tempt ex-Romanian international striker Adrian Naega from Chunnam Dragons to link up with a strike force that is already one of the strongest among the league's 14 teams.

An added bonus to Naega's undoubted predatory skills was the fact, apart from his European experience, that he had already spent a year in Korea. According to Kim, buying players is a lottery.

"The chance of success is 50-50," the 46 year-old says. "Brazilians have mild characters and are good buys. They are technically very good. On the whole, good European players won't come to Korea but in Brazil they have two groups of players -- one goes to Europe, the others go to other countries."

"Sometimes I can find players in China or Southeast Asia but their level is not so high; we can find these types of players in Korea too. In China and Southeast Asia the players are a little expensive and they are a little lazy."

In this increasing age of globalization, coaches across the world are faced with the problem of blending players of different nationalities into a coherent and hard-working team. Kim has an advantage in the particularly potent brand of firewater that all Koreans know and not a few love.

"Soju is one way!" He laughs and adds, "With Soju they can talk heart to heart."

Perhaps the rice-based spirit could be made freely available in the stadium to tempt fans to the small stadium near Bundang station. Seongnam may be the country's most successful team, but they also attract the lowest crowds.

The team, Ilhwa Chunma, moved to Seongnam from Chonan in 2000 and it wasn't warmly welcomed by the sizeable Christian population in the city. The protestors objected to the fact that the club is owned by the controversial Unification Church. The church was founded by Reverend Moon Sung-myong, a name that gave rise to the nickname, widely used in the Western press, of "The Moonies".

Kim cares only about his team but is at a loss to explain why Seongnam have few followers.

"I just don't know," he says as he lights a cigarette. "As a coach, I am not happy with the situation. We do well but the fans don't come. It could be religious reasons or regional reasons, In the K-League, the regional feeling is weak. Seongnam people have no feeling for their city team.

"All we can do is play and perform well and then the supporters will know that and hopefully come back. The club officials are always trying to think of ways to attract fans. I hope to be like Manchester United where the tickets are already sold out."

Kim has been in the job around 18 months but before he answered Seongnam's call, he spent two years sitting on the Korean Football Association's Technical Committee, the body that is responsible for the national team.

The coach believes that the team over-achieved in 2002 and its natural level is just between the first and second rounds.

"It wasn't bad," he says "but we could have done better. The formation of the team was too defensive. Everyone agrees with this, including professional analysts, the media and the fans. Against Togo ... we should have been more attacking; they were a man down. If we have one more goal then we have a much better chance of reaching the second round."

"Look at Hiddink; did you think that Korea would beat Italy? But he said that 'this is Korea so we have no problem.' Advocaat is a top-class coach but he needed a big goal and then needed to develop a plan towards that. Hiddink did so and gave the players leadership and confidence to do so. Advocaat didn't."

Despite his criticisms of Advocaat, Kim holds the Dutchman in high regard, unlike his two predecessors Humberto Coelho and Jo Bonfrere. He urged the new coach, Pim Verbeek, to watch as many Korean games as possible in a bid to find the stars of the future.

"I was a member of the KFA technical committee with Coelho and Bonfrere. They used to say that there are no players in Korea. We said 'Hey, you are supposed to be high-level coaches. You say there are no players?' At the time we said to them 'we pay you lots of money to find players, you have to look.'"

With his national team experience, if Kim can achieve consistent success with Seongnam, then he could become a prime candidate for the national coaching job.

"It's good to learn from skilful foreign coaches. Someday Korean coaches have to take a role in the national team. It's hard to say if I will do but if a Korean person has experience and skill then they should have the opportunity."


Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.com

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