Sunday, June 10, 2007

Pim Verbeek Interview - Pre-Asian Cup Problems

Pim Verbeek
For nations like Japan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Korea and now Australia, the Asian Cup is second only to the World Cup in importance and not only that, it is the one major competition that is, at present, winnable for such teams.

The Taeguk Warriors haven’t done so for 47 years – and, ten months after taking his place in the hotseat in Seoul, South Korean coach Pim Verbeek is determined to end that drought. However, the Dutchman feels that the people involved in Korean football are not all pulling in the same direction.

With less than four weeks until the Asian Cup begins, the K-League is still going at full pelt. Korea’s 14 clubs will play their last games before the summer break on June 23 and the midweek Hauzen Cup will come to an end four days later – just nine days before the national team leaves for Indonesia and Group D matches with the co-hosts, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

Verbeek believes the late finish as well as the hectic domestic schedule with games every weekend and Wednesday since the season began in March will harm Korea’s chances in Indonesia.

“As far as I can see, in less than three months time there have been 22 games - which is impossible. Players are tired, the coaches can’t train and have no time to improve the team and because of that. I have no preparation,” Verbeek told Soccerphile.

A congested fixture list is not unique to Korea. England is well-known for the amount of games played – the English season has already accounted for Park Ji-sung, Lee Young-pyo and Seol Ki-hyeon, all three of which are likely to miss the Asian Cup through injury but according to Verbeek, the situation is not the same.

“In England most of the players are a very high standard and in Korea we have so many young players. To improve young players you have to train. You have to do tactical training, you have to let them rest and let them develop. I see here 20 year-old players play 20 games in less than three months. What can we expect? You have to learn from your mistakes but if there’s no training…”

Occasionally there can be too much training. When asked if it would be possible to contact the K-league coaches to request that one or two players be rested occasionally, Verbeek smiled, shook his head and gave an example regarding Jeolla Province club Chunnam Dragons.

“When we went to Yemen recently for the Olympic game, we flew from Korea on Sunday evening. Most of the players played at the weekend for their K-League clubs. One of the teams lost on Saturday and the coach thought it was a good idea to give the players extra training at 6.30 on Sunday morning.

“I think that’s disrespectful for the players. Whether the Olympic team players play well or not, at least they need some rest before they go on a 20-hour trip.

“So, after those players played a game on Saturday, they had to train at 6.30 on Sunday morning, then travel to Incheon and then fly on Sunday evening to Yemen and then they are expected to perform on Wednesday.

“I have never heard of a coach who is training at 6.30 on Sunday morning after losing a game. I think if you do that in Europe then nobody will believe it. Physically and football-wise that is not the way we treat our players in Europe even if they lost a game.

“But it’s a different culture. It's his (Chunnam coach and ex-PSV player Huh Jung-moo) idea to punish his players like this but the point is I needed those players for a qualification game for the Olympic team. At least I would have expected that those players be given a rest because the next evening they have to sleep on the airplane which is not the best preparation.”

Preparation. That is what Verbeek is at pains to emphasize as he looks to the team’s first game in the Asian Cup.

“Preparation for the Asian Cup is only two weeks; less than four weeks for the last World Cup and five months for 2002 but it is a challenge. The good part is that the players know what to do because we always play the same system. They know exactly what position they have to play.”

That will come in useful on July 11 when South Korea kicks off its campaign against Asian powerhouse Saudi Arabia.

“Saudi Arabia is one of the favourites,” said Verbeek, “so it’s good that we have them in the first round and as long as we progress then we can’t meet again before the final.”

According to the coach, there are a number of other rivals that Korea must watch out for in south-east Asia.

“Iran is always a difficult opponent, China I have no idea how far they are but they probably have good preparation. Japan always has a good selection of players to choose from.

“Australia? Most of their players play in England and I am very curious to know how they will handle that. The English season has finished so they also have to find a solution for players not playing from May 13 to July 8 or 9 – that’s a big challenge.

Korea are in the opposite situation.

“The good part of our preparations is that our players are match-fit,” says Verbeek and then laughs, “too much so!”

A sense of humour could come in handy over the next few weeks.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile.

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