Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Interview: FC Seoul's Senol Gunes

Senol Gunes in his office

Senol Gunes arrived in South Korea to take over FC Seoul at the start of 2007. It wasn't his first time in the Land of the Morning Calm as five years earlier, he guided Turkey to the semi-finals of the World Cup. The talkative 55 year-old from Trabzon found time to chat about his first year in the K-League.

Why come to Korea?

At the end of 2004 I had offers from the Korean national team and FC Seoul, I had two offers. My plan was to come to Korea because I liked Korea from the 2002 World Cup but my team in Turkey, Trabzonspor wanted me to stay.

I liked Korea, the systems and the infrastructure. I had two choices. The first was to go to a European country like Germany or Spain and the second one was to come to Korea. If I had gone to the European countries, they have a professional mentality and they at a are high level.

In Asian countries, the level is not so high. If I come here I can learn many things and it is a good country. In Europe, there is lots of competition, Korea has that too and you can teach something to the Koreans. When I was in Turkey, FC Seoul told me that they had lots of young players. I was happy to hear this as I love working with young players. I came here and was happy to meet them. They are 18 or so, and that makes me a teacher.

In Asia, there are not many countries that have good conditions, China is one and Korea is another. In Korea, it is well-organised, they made a great World Cup, the fans are good and the stadiums are great. There is a small problem with mentality.

The players?

Yes, the players. The clubs are OK because there are big companies behind them. In training, sometimes I get angry with the players but sometimes I really like them because they are so cute, they have good minds. For these reasons, I chose Korea. I like it, the training facilities, the players, everything is good. I have been here only eight months and it is a good experience. Just now, results are not good but I am sure they will get better. I don’t have small plans, I have long-term plans.

Looking back, do you think winning the first three games was not the best way to start as it raised expectations?

I met the team in January and we had a training camp in Turkey. In March the season started and we had our best eleven. The first month was wonderful for us as we had our best team but unfortunately, April was not so good as we had injuries.

The first games we had good results and our fans expectations grew but we had a lot of young players. We had problems in midfield and forwards. We have five injured players. We won the first five games and the players were not ready for these kinds of expectations and the fans were expecting us to win every game and it is not that easy.

If we have enough experienced players then it is no problem but as we have many young players it was difficult for them.

 Senol Gunes in his office


As a coach when you have eight or nine games when you don’t score or don’t win like FC Seoul did, what practical things can you do in training and what do you tell the players?

The training sessions were not so hard as it was in the middle of the season. Pre-season we were training twice a day but in the season we were playing twice a week so we had no time to train. It is difficult to do too much.

Training is very important, it should prepare the players for the game. If you train hard then the game will be easy for you. I told the players to change their mentality and to look at English games. If you look at the Premier League, the tempo is so fast. I told our players: ‘no-one dies in training, don’t worry, you can work hard.’ At the beginning they didn’t know this mentality but now they are changing.

The young players are not ready to communicate on the pitch. I have to make extra training for them –an extra 15-20 minutes more. Unfortunately, they don’t know the reason why the coach gives them more and they are not happy.

Sometimes we have problems because of the different culture. We have hired psychologist from a university who comes once a month to teach the players about mentality. We need more time of course, eight months is not long. Training is not only running.

Can you give examples of cultural problems?


The big problem in Korea is the age problem. Everybody should be the same level- we are eleven players. Unfortunately, sometimes the senior players get angry and shout at the younger players. All the players are my players, the team.

The second problem is that Korean players don’t have an open mind towards their head coach. If I ask them, ‘do you have any injuries?’, they always say, ‘I am OK.’ In our football mentality, we are all friends but for Koreans, the coach is a teacher, almost like a god. I say to them, ‘I am your friend, you can tell me anything, any problems with your family, private life, training, if something is hard –talk to me. Tell me you want a rest.’ But we don’t have enough dialogue. The players are just waiting for orders from the coach.

I don’t always like to order. Sometimes they have to create something themselves.

Hiddink said similar things…

Yes. They have many things – facilities, and good players but the results aren’t good. We have some good players but after time, the players should improve but there is often no change. The answer is not always on the field. Social life is important –sleeping, eating, relationships, girlfriends –everything.

As a foreign coach, do you think it is possible to change this?


It is not easy but not impossible. We can wait and say ‘if you don’t change, then you go.’ Or we can wait and teach them everything we know and slowly it will change. The second way is the best way.

What did you learn about your players when the team wasn’t winning?

Compared to other countries, Korean players are eager and clean. When you say something, they listen and want to practice. I learned that I am an important person as head coach but I am not a god. I learned that the players have to open their minds. We say ‘give your bodies to us, and we will take care of you but they don’t open their minds.

Perhaps it would help if you brought players in from Turkey to show the kind of thing you want, why haven’t you done that?


This is a good idea, we can give the players a sample. I have a plan to bring a player called Shota Arveladze from Trabzonspor, he is not Turkish but played for Ajax.

He will come to Seoul?

We hope so but at the moment he can’t come, he went to Spain.

In the past you mentioned Tumir Matin…

We have plans to bring in some Turkish players. It is the best way to show the players what we want from them. Some of them have been playing for 25 years so eight months is not a long time. Next season we will bring in some players. This season is the last chance for the players here, if they use this chance, they can perhaps play next season.

The foreign players?

Yes. In Korea, the foreign players should change many things in Korean football, they should help the head coach.

What about (Portuguese midfielder) Ricardo? Quite suddenly, you dropped him and said negative things about him, what happened?

The problem was that he joined the training camp late. He wanted to go to Portugal but maybe he couldn’t join a team there and he came back late. He is a good player but just joined the camp late. He was not ready to play. He had some problems in March and April. A team is like a family, if there is a problem in your team, you need to choose the player or the team.

I then said to him, ‘can I give you one more chance. If you do your best, I can forgive you.’ He said “Ok, I will do my best’ and now he is doing well.

Seoul lacked creativity in the first half of the season but you didn't select your most creative player...

As last season finished, the club called me and asked me if I wanted Ricardo for this season. I saw some videos and thought he was I good player and I wanted to use him. He had a small problem with the other players. I talked to him many times but he didn’t change.

At that time he told me he had some problems with the Korean culture and players. Of course, we can’t change the Korean people, you have to change.

What kind of problems?

When he joined the camp, he was not happy, his family was not here. In training, he didn’t do well. When I asked him to do something, he said ‘I don’t want to do that.’ It was a bad example for the younger players.

You have had a problem scoring goals but during the summer you had a first chance to bring in some new players yet you brought in a defender. Why?

That’s a good question. We have three foreign players. Dudu had an operation and wasn’t ready. At first we had a plan to bring some foreign players, if Ricardo goes, one can come. Ricardo stayed so we had no chance to sign any foreign players. Dudu is contracted until the end of the season.

How about Korean players?

We have many forwards here, six or seven players. Unfortunately we couldn’t get them into the team – only two players can play. It is hard to bring new guys because I have many strikers. During the first stage, the strikers were injured but I knew they would come back for the second stage so I didn’t need any more players. It is the same in midfield.

Next season we can make more preparations. Also, the summer break is very short, only one month, at the end of the season we will have two or three months, it is much more time. This season is the time for the players to take their chances and next season we will decide about the foreign players and Korean players.

Is there money available for new players?

Yes, of course. We have plans. We will decide in a few months. I will use the players until the end of the season and then if I need more, I will decide.

At least with the injuries, it has given you a chance to look at many players…

Yes. From the first game of the season in March, to the last game of the first half in the Hauzen Cup, eight players were different. Not only injured but we have many players called to the different national teams. The Ulsan team, only one or two players have changed. It makes things difficult for us.

We have two targets for this season. The first is the FA Cup (Seoul have since been eliminated) and the second is the play-offs. We have problems but we will not give up. We reached the Hauzen Cup final but we lost. In the K-League we lost many points, we drew ten games – maybe a new record in Korea.

You have talked about needing more creativity in the national team and that is something necessary in the K-League too, what kind of things can you do to bring more creativity and more goalscorers?

Goals make games. I want to play exciting football but we have been missing players. Park Chu-young is our star player but is still injured. Jung Jo-gook and Dudu have been injured. If we had these good players together with Ricardo who can provide good passes then we can score more.

Even with all the players available, what kind of practical things can you do?


The first is that all players should think ‘attack’. When defenders get the ball, their minds must be thinking of attack. Unfortunately in Korea when defenders get the ball, they don’t about attack, they just move backwards and wait there and don’t move forward.

The second point is that attackers don’t have enough ability. In our training we have extra time regarding attacking and crossing, dribbling and shooting. We haven’t been able to have all the players together yet. Rooney is a good player but now he is injured and can’t play for Manchester United. All the players in that team are good players but since Rooney was absent, they are having problems to score goals.

When we played with Kim Eun-jung, Dudu and Jung Jo-gook, we were really comfortable but then they were all injured. Now I feel like I am not the coach, because there is often only one player I can select for a position!

Do you feel that Suwon are your main rivals?

We played well against Suwon but that level is not our level, we have to reach a higher level. Suwon have lots of experienced players who can control the game. It is not easy for our young players in such a game. Their players are Korean national team players, they know how to manage the game. I check the Ulsan team and it is similar, only one player is 21.

We have conceded too many goals and have dropped four points in the games against Jeju and Gwangju. From now we aim to win all the games, the play-offs are important for us. We have a bad situation but we still have to aim for the championship and the play-offs.

What do you think of the play-off system?

I think that it is not a good system. For example our team could finish sixth and then could win the championship. The championship should be for the full season. All season we have had injuries but if we finish sixth we will reach the play-offs. If our injured players come back we can reach the final and for that game if Seongnam’s players are not in good condition and they have injuries, they can lose even though they have been leading the table all season.

The Hauzen Cup system is not good, we don’t get anything from that. For example, Gyeongnam lost two games in the cup and then they gave up, we have to change the system in Korea, including the play-offs. The team that finishes first should be champions. It is not fair for the team that finishes first.

What lessons have you learned from this season that you can use next season?

I have learned about my players, the K-League, referees, our fans etc, many things. I learned many things about the Hauzen Cup for next season. I give the young players chances to play but they went to the national team. I want my players to play for the national team but many times they couldn’t play with us. For the Hauzen Cup final and the FA Cup second round, four players had to go to the youth national team and we have many players in the Olympic team and national team.

I learned in Korea that if there is a national team game and the next day a league game, we can’t use your players.

As coach of Turkey surely you did the same?

In Turkey, if one team has many national team players then the club’s game is cancelled. If you have a NT game on Wednesday for example, all players play on Sunday and then on Monday they can go. For example, on the 31st the Olympic team camp starts and they have called the players, the next day we have a game at Gyeongnam. They have called five players. The game is on September 8. Why don’t they take the players after the Gyeongnam game? We are being punished for having good young players. They should give us a bonus.

Next season will FC Seoul try to win the Hauzen Cup?

We played ten games in the cup and we won the most points. In the final game, we couldn’t play many players. If it is the same system next season, I will make the cup less important. As a coach, of course I want to win trophies but other competitions are more important.

Copyright: John Duerden & Soccerphile

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