Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Interview: Busan's Swiss Coach Andy Egli

Andy Egli
With a very un-Swiss like sense of timing, Andy Egli arrived in South Korea in July, just a month after bomb threats had been made against the Switzerland embassy in Seoul.

It was the red-shirted Swiss that broke Red Devil hearts on a June night in Hanover with a 2-0 win that sent the Asians home from the World Cup. The second goal was a controversial affair with many feeling that it was offside. The referee didn’t agree, over-ruled his linesman who had flagged for offside, and allowed the goal to stand, to the anger of the Korean players and then the nation.

It is certainly not the first time that the jovial 48 year-old has been asked about the incident since arriving in the Land of the Morning Calm in July to take over K-League team Busan I'Park.

“I can understand the referee and I can also understand the linesman,’ Egli said diplomatically.

“The referee was very well-positioned and he corrected the linesman. It was not a wrong decision but I can understand what the Korean people think. There is a lot of emotion in that kind of game… I have to be careful what I say,” he laughed.

Many Koreans claim to have a natural affinity for Switzerland and its mountains but, the World Cup apart, there hasn’t been a great deal of contact between the two nations in a football sense. The multi-lingual coach could be about to change all that but don’t expect a sudden demand for cuckoo clocks and fondue in Korea’s second city just yet.

“Switzerland will not be a market for players to move to Korea,” explained Egli. “The players that would be good enough for Korea go to more important football countries like Italy, Germany, Spain, France and England. Korea has quite good money to offer but never like the amounts that those nations offer.”

The 48 year-old is no stranger to silverware after winning five Swiss titles with Zurich club Grasshoppers. He has yet to taste the same success as a coach after being at the helm of the three Swiss and one German club since he hung up his boots and moved to the other side of the white line in 1995.

It was during the World Cup that Egli first made contact with Busan I’Park - the K-League club that won four titles between 1983-97 but has done little since. The south coast outfit realizes that a return to the glory days may not be imminent but it does have long term plans to make it back to the top.

“They want to win the K-League again,” admits the new boss, “but after a difficult period it’s impossible to have the ambition to immediately regain the title. They told me that the first and most important development was to win more games than we lose.”

He has done just that in his first six games in charge. Three wins and two draws have sent I’Park to second in the second stage and there is a real chance that Egli could take the team into the end of season championship play-offs.

“That is one of the qualities of the league, the fact that the teams are very similar. This gives us motivation and encouragement that if we continue to do well then anything can happen. Our objective is to win more than we lose and we have done that and you can see from the rankings that we are very close to the top.”

Fellow European Ian Porterfield left Busan in April after a disastrous run of 21 winless games, he pointed to the fact that the club sold its best players and brought in cheap replacements as one of the reasons. The new coach isn’t expecting massive investment.

“I’m used to working for clubs that can’t spend a lot of money. It is an important question, it is all about comparisons but in this league Busan I’Park is one of the clubs that doesn’t spend big money. I hope that money will not obstruct development and construction of the quality of the team. I hope that we will be able to spend money on quality players but not much more than in the past.”

If there isn’t much money available then the former defender will need to work with what he has got and he isn’t the first foreign coach to remark that Korean players are a joy to work with on the training pitch. “They have a very good attitude, are very respectful and work very, very hard.”

There is a flip side to that coin and as the national coach Pim Verbeek has been talking of the need for intelligent and tactically aware football players, his views are being echoed at the opposite side of the country.

“They are running almost too fast. They do everything too quickly. Koreans in general and our team in particular can learn a lot. They lack tactical awareness compared to clubs in Europe.”

Also one thing lacking compared to many clubs in Europe is fans. I first met Andy Egli at Seoul World Cup Stadium during the recent South Korean national team game with Iran in front of 63,000 screaming fans. Anybody who witnessed the Red Devils in the World Cup would have been excited about working in the K-league and then disappointed at the small attendances at most games.

“I was very surprised at the difference between the passion that the fans show for the national team to what happens with the K-league,” remarked Egli.

“The basis of Korean football will always be the clubs. It is quite strange that people do not understand this. They should support the clubs because without them, one day there will be no national team here any more.”

Andy Egli won’t be here for ever with his 18-month contract, one that has an option for an extra year, but after spending much of his career landlocked, he is settling well into life by the sea, is learning the language, loving the food and winning more than he loses.

Copyright © John Duerden & Soccerphile.com

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