All together now… Happy Birthday to you! The Korea Football Association is officially 75 years old, and unlike many 75 year olds, they are just getting going in making Korean football a worldwide force to be recognised as one of the premiere football forces in Asia. It’s been a long time coming for Korean football, which boasts a prestigious history and the most successful record of any other Asian footballing nation. Here’s to another 75 more! To commemorate this occasion, I have compiled two lists for the ages. The first one being a list of the top 5 most important people in Korean football history, and the second a list of the top 5 most successful moments. Here we are just going to discuss the top 5 people, the people who have changed Korean football and affected it on all levels. So here goes the countdown…
Top 5 People:
5. Hong Myung Bo and Hwang Sun Hong – Although this may be a bit cheeky to put two people in one position, Hong and Hwang’s name could not be separated during the late 80s and early 90s. Hwang was seen as the goal scoring successor to Cha Bum Kun, and Hong is arguably the greatest defender that the Asian continent has ever seen. These two, along with Yoo Sang Chul made up the spine of the Korean team for almost a decade and carried the team’s experience factor through the 2002 World Cup. We salute these two legends of the game!
4. Chung Mong Joon – Politics and sports should be kept separate at all costs, but let’s face it, they’re not. And in the case of Korean football it has been a very very rare occasion in which the corporate suit upstairs has actually done some good for the game. He is currently Vice President of FIFA and the current President of the KFA. He has had a very successful life so far, a very educated man and was very nearly President of South Korea, if not for a very controversial last minute pull out. Politics aside, possibly the best thing that Chung did was not so much appoint Guus Hiddink as national manager, but allow him to have total control. Hiddink himself has described Chung as the perfect boss, the reason being that he admitted that Korea had never won a World Cup match in their history, so the man with the football brain should be the one to pull the strings. Amongst the many things he has changed in Korean football, the mentality that held the game in the dark ages was erased in favour of a young, enterprising way of thought where prejudices like age and regionalism were obliterated. Many Citizen Kane-like maniac football owner could learn a thing or two from Mr Chung.
3. Guus Hiddink – The gaffer fantastic will forever go down in history as the Godfather of South Korean football. Hiddink lead an entire nation to jubilation and belief and created an entire legacy of players, of which we are still feeling the effects. He took on the job after taking Holland to the semi-finals of World Cup 98, ironically thrashing Korea 5-0 along the way. His managerial genius consisted of scouring the globe for new Korean talent, and discovering the likes of Park Ji Sung. He was also a master tactician of formation and used a 3-4-3 formation, exploiting the abundance of attacking talent Korea had, in the shape of Park Ji Sung, Lee Chun Soo, Seol Ki Hyeon and Ahn Jung Hwan. He also infamously switched to 4 or sometimes 5 strikers, which effectively won them the game against Italy. He has proved time and time again that he becomes a messiah wherever he goes, and never more fanatically than with his time in Korea. Hiddink was so popular with the people that he was given honorary South Korean citizenship. He is still probably the most popular man in South Korea and in this writer’s humble opinion, the greatest manager of our generation. All hail the king!
2. Park Ji Sung – Many of you may be wondering why a player as young as Park is one the list of most important people in Korean football history, let along number 2. The reason for this is because he is the symbol of the ‘Korean dream’. He came from a very humble background, was picked out of obscurity in Japanese football to become the discovery of the 2002 World Cup. He then followed Guus Hiddink to PSV Eindhoven where he became a key man, and eventually made the move to Manchester United. Park is one of the most versatile players in the world, playing either as a winger, central midfielder, wide forward or second striker, on either the right or left wing. He can make skillful runs with his searing pace and can even scrap defensively with the best of them. His past few seasons have put to rest the notion that he was brought to Old Trafford to sell shirts. Perhaps the only blemish for him so far was that he was denied even a place on the bench in the Champions League final, but like Paul Scholes, he will hopefully get another chance. He recently became the South Korean National captain and will probably lead the team out at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa should Korea get there. More importantly, in an era when footballers have become narcissistic egomaniacs, he maintains a humility which should be a shining example for all young players. Also, in a day and age where global communication and celebrity profile is at an all time high, he is probably the most famous South Korean son on the planet. Here’s hoping the crown Prince of Korea has a good future ahead.
1. Cha Bum Kun – There will be many Kings, but only one God. And Cha Bum Kun spells God in South Korean football. The most successful player in Korean football history was not only a prolific goal scorer and striker in his own home country, but was the first global Korean star with his club Eintracht Frankfurt and Bayer Leverkusen. Germany became his surrogate home and he accomplished the incredible feat of winning the UEFA Cup with both clubs. The UEFA Cup victory with Bayer Leverkusen was particularly famous as he scored the equaliser in a 3-3 draw and eventually went on to win on penalties. In World Cup 86 Korea faced Bulgaria, Italy and eventual winners Argentina, who all targeted Cha by man marking him with two defenders at all times. Korea were knocked out at the group stage, but earned a draw against Bulgaria and spirited performances against both Italy and Argentina. Many people say this was down to the inspiring presence of Cha. After his retirement he tried his hand at management, but things did not go well. He led the National Team at the 1998 World Cup in France, who were thrashed 5-0 by Guus Hiddink’s Holland. After his sacking he placed the blame on the KFA and even made allegations of match fixing in the K-League. This forced him out of the country for a while and into obscurity. He later returned to management with Suwon Samsung Bluewings, and led them to the K-League title in 2004. He still manages them today. Cha retired from playing football with many records in the Bundesliga, and is still Korea’s all time highest goal scorer with 55 goals. Amongst these goals, his career highlight came against Malaysia, when his hat-trick sealed a 4-4 draw when Korea looked down and out. He has also had a huge impact on the modern game, with Michael Owen and Michael Ballack both citing him as a huge inspiration. More importantly, you can’t get much more greater than being named ‘Asia’s Player of the Century’ by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics. Cha Bum Kun – The greatest. Ever.
- KFA official website
- The 75th Anniversary of Korea Football Association (18 Sept 2008), KFA website
- The top 5 moments in Korean football history, Aashish Gadhvi, LKL, 8 December 2008