SOUTH KOREA, 2024, JULY 07 – Hong Myung-bo, who recently led Ulsan HD FC to consecutive K League 1 titles, has been appointed as the new head coach of the South Korea men’s national football team, the Korea Football Association (KFA) announced on Sunday. KFA technical director Lee Lim-saeng will provide more details on the appointment in a press conference on Monday.

Hong, 55, previously managed the Taegeuk Warriors from 2013 to 2014, a tenure that ended with a group stage exit at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. The KFA’s search for a new head coach had been a prolonged and frustrating process lasting nearly five months, following the dismissal of Jürgen Klinsmann on 16 February after South Korea’s semi-final loss in the AFC Asian Cup. During this time, the team was led by two interim coaches for four World Cup qualifying matches in March and June.

Initially, the KFA aimed to name Klinsmann’s replacement by mid-May, but leading candidates either accepted other positions or remained with their current employers. The search was further complicated when Chung Hae-sung stepped down as head of the National Teams Committee on 28 June, leaving Lee Lim-saeng to lead the effort. Lee travelled to Europe to interview several foreign candidates, including former Premier League managers David Wagner and Gustavo Poyet. However, upon returning to South Korea, Lee met with Hong on Friday, who accepted the offer by Saturday evening.

Hong is celebrated as one of the greatest players in South Korean football history. He captained the national team to the semi-finals of the 2002 FIFA World Cup, scoring the decisive penalty in the quarter-final shootout against Spain. With 136 caps, Hong is tied for the most appearances in South Korean football history.

After his playing career, Hong built a successful coaching resume. He led the South Korea U-23 team to a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympics, the country’s only Olympic football medal. He then managed the senior national team leading up to the 2014 World Cup, though his tenure ended after South Korea’s early exit.

From 2017 to 2020, Hong served as an executive director for the KFA before returning to coaching in 2021. Tasked with ending Ulsan’s long championship drought, he led the team to second place in his first season and then to their first title in 17 years in 2022. Ulsan defended their title in 2023 and currently sit in second place, one point behind Gimcheon Sangmu FC with 17 matches remaining this season.

Interestingly, Hong initially appeared to reject the KFA’s offer last Sunday, criticising the organisation’s prolonged search and reassuring Ulsan supporters of his commitment. However, Lee Lim-saeng successfully persuaded him to accept the national team role, despite potential backlash from K League fans for poaching an active club coach midseason.

The KFA’s coaching search had been hampered by financial constraints. The organisation is constructing a new headquarters in Cheonan and has taken out substantial loans to cover rising construction costs. Additionally, the KFA owes significant sums to Klinsmann and his former staff. Financial issues also caused talks with other candidates, such as ex-Leeds United head coach Jesse Marsch, to fall through.

Chung Hae-sung resigned due to apparent differences with KFA upper management, particularly with its president, Chung Mong-gyu, who favoured a foreign head coach. Despite these challenges, Lee’s recent trip to Europe seemed to indicate the likely appointment of a foreign coach. However, Lee ultimately turned to Hong, successfully convincing him to leave Ulsan’s bid for a “three-peat” and take on the national team role.

Hong will now have about two years to prepare for South Korea’s World Cup campaign. The third round of the World Cup’s Asian Qualifiers begins in September, with South Korea facing Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, Oman, and Kuwait in Group B. The top two teams from each group will qualify for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, co-hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico.


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