THE Korean version of FourFourTwo speaks to Korea Republic coach Cho Kwang-Rae about winning the Asian Cup and taking on Australia in the group stages.
It's been five months since taking charge. Does it seem the position of head coach is different when looking from the outside in?
Before I became the coach of the national team, I thought that our players could play well. I thought we could have a good understanding of each other, which would allow them to adapt to my view of football and management in a very short period of time. However, in reality, we met two days before my first internationals and I found out that even if they had good qualities, they lacked the understanding of the tactics and game style that I tried to bring in. It seems that they can't easily overcome their old playing habits from club football. I might have to change the players so they might be able to quickly adapt.
Are you saying that you plan to lead a team with players that don't follow your style?
I think it's important to play football focused on the basics. It doesn't mean that we will play football with a boring style. Most of the players are stuck in their club's way of thinking and playing. At first I was curious about it, but I realised that habits can't be fixed easily. However, our players should have the ability to play with various styles since they aim to be in the big leagues. If the manager in a foreign club asks to play in the particular style and the Korean player cannot do this, then they will fall out of favour. Other foreign players will be selected instead. For example, forward players should have the ability to understand the play style in the right, left and centre, at the same time.
The Asian Cup is a competition that South Korea hasn't won in over half a century. Do you see a possibility in winning this time?
I have a great fascination with the Asian Cup. It's a competition that we haven't been able to win for 51 years, so I think it's important for not only me, but for the players that we win it. Ji-Sung Park (Manchester United), Young-Pyo Lee (formerly of Tottenham) and other veteran players have great expectations of winning this competition so I believe we will have some good results. The players that are in Europe have fully recovered and are playing well. The domestic players will have to train hard in Jeju so we can match the pace of the players from Europe.
Which countries do you expect to contend for the Asian Cup apart from Korea?
As everyone could see from the World Cup, Japan has recently begun to work well together. There are many Japanese players in Europe at the moment. Even though they don't play in big clubs like Ji-Sung Park in Manchester United, Japanese players are regularly playing in small clubs. This has contributed and improved the strength of the team. It's very hard to predict from the Middle-East, but Kuwait has recently shown quite impressive play. Iran basically plays based on their strong physical strength for which I pay close attention. In the case of Australia, all their players are playing in Europe. So, if they blend their team well, they may very well be the next team to win the cup.
You had a few matches after being appointed. After having played Nigeria (2-0 win), Iran (0-1 loss) and Japan (0-0 draw), what were you able to confirm and what do you think you need to improve?
In the game with Iran, Chung-Yong Lee (Bolton) was fit, so we tried a strategic change and used the wings in our attack. However, there were some good aspects but overall it didn't go according to plan. We needed time to overwhelm them through passes in the midfield but the condition of the field was bad. The opponents pushed the front line. Therefore the players found it was hard to adapt to the changes in tactics. In this situation, instead of asking the players for an immediate change, I thought it would be better to let them learn through their bodies. Preparing for the game with Japan, we focused on a midfield battle by pulling Ji-Sung Park to the midfield. Unfortunately, the day before the match, his knees welled up and he was unable to play. Since this game will not be the last, I told them to rest. The next morning, Sung-Yong Ki (Celtic) had hip problems and couldn't play in the game. We lost two key players in midfield so we couldn't play the way we planned. I know the importance of the Korea-Japan game more than anyone else. Since we must not lose during the first half, we decided to pressure them with a midfield battle and prevent them from making plays. We planned to play the first half with strong defensive players and come back in the second half and attack with Sung-Yong Ki. However, it's certain that the team with a strong midfield has the initiative.
Chung-Yong Lee once said that your style of football was like a cartoon. "We constantly change positions so it's not easy. It was okay during practice but ultimately, it's not easy to do this during a match." After this story came out, some people began to think that while your football style could work at a club, it wouldn't at national level because you didn't have as much time.
As I have mentioned before, to change the habit of players to adapt to these changes is hard. Even foreign coaches come and point that out. Even if they do follow the training well, once they step out into the match, they lack the adaptive skills to keep these changes going. Therefore, it is necessary for me to change them to adapt rapidly. In the case of Chung-Yong Lee, he is doing very well but even in Bolton if he was more midfield orientated he would be better. Of course, Bolton's unique tactics prevents him making the shift to midfield. I understand Chung-Yong's position in that he has to learn the club and national team's tactics but if you see the best teams in Europe, the forward players do well in any position and situation. I have been able to grasp the advantages and disadvantages, the habits and the playing styles. There will be no further problems with future developments. Our offensive and defensive styles have been organised and we'll stick with this.
Your passing football is ineffective against players with a strong structure and they say that it falls apart. What do you think about this?
This is because our players are not used to the strong pressure from opponents. That's why, in training we are concentrating on fast passing that can counter a strong pressure. We will combine this with physical training and things that will allow the players to overcome the problem. European players are fine since they experience this strong pressure in many games, but K-League players are not used to that rhythm or tempo. We greatly endeavour to match the European players with the domestic players when we train.
After the warm-up match with Iran you revealed your frustration about the absence of strikers. What type of striker do you desire to partner Ju-Young Park?
After carrying out three international games, I could tell that it was considerably difficult for him to score a goal when he was at the front line by himself. I am considering the two striker system by adding another striker to be with Ju-Young Park (AS Monaco) or put a striker right below him so that he can move more freely. It is not a case in which we are being pressured by the defense so I think that Ju Young's strengths and advantages will show and therefore be able to score more easily.
Do you have a back-up plan if Ji-Sung Park is injured and can't participate?
It's not going to be like the Japan match; even if Ji-Sung is injured we can handle it. Back then it was so abrupt and we were not prepared; we couldn't deal with it. Now looking at our midfielders or forwards, there are players who can easily step up. Of course, if we have Ji-Sung he would add to the power of the team, but if there is an unexpected case then we have a back-up plan.
Not that we don't agree with "generation shifting" in the national team; we don't necessarily think that it is always good that players that are as young as Heung-Min Son (Hamburg SV) and Hyun-Joon Suk (Ajax) in the squad.
Of course, but we view those players as youthful. As I see those players grow, I see a difference from the players back in the day. If those players don't join the national team then we cannot make a new team. We have to prepare for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. In case of foreign teams, after the World Cup is over and they don't have a generation shift their teams do not show such good results. If we are not able to develop these young players and prepare them during two years then we won't be able to have good results in the World Cup. Besides, these players are playing first-team football in Europe - we cannot see them as being childlike. In the case of Son, it is true that his approach is still a little unskilled and that he is inexperienced but he will still grow. His body movements and his ability to take his chances are better than the older players. When he is in front of the goal he shows some very powerful movements. Son is constantly playing 90 minutes in the Bundesliga so saying that he is young and that he lacks stamina just isn't true. It would definitely be hard for a player from K-League to go immediately to the Bundesliga and run 90 minutes because their tempo is so much faster and than ours. From what I've heard, he is playing brilliantly at Hamburg. If Heung-Min Son is good enough, he is old enough.
How will we go in the Asian Cup? We only managed four points in 2007, can we do better?
When I announced the squad for the Asian Cup, I said "Since we are going to the Asian Cup I will emphasise the psychological side." The physical training that will take place at our training camp will not be done like a winter training, but I am planning on making them do very intense training in a small space. By having this intense training, they will be better prepared when it comes to playing the real matches thanks to the psychological training that comes with it. Honestly this matter is one of the things that I'm concerned about, all we can do is try prepare.
We think that Australia will be the biggest challenge in our group. Coach Holger Osieck has a wide knowledge when it comes to Asian football. Do you have a plan for the Australian team?
I saw an Egypt- Australia match and I noticed that they can connect the ball very well until the midfield. When they push it to the flanks, they just hit it long to the lone striker. They tried this for the whole 90 minutes. If it comes to the point where we have to fight them in this style, then it would be very tough for our team. When it comes to that, I see our back three as very capable. That day Egypt used their back three, but it wasn't that Australia didn't play well; Egypt were just better. Three defensive players from the Egypt team blocked off two attacking players from Australia, one tried to get the midair balls while the other one tried to get the falling ball. Because of this Australia's attack was constantly blocked.
On the other hand what do you think about India and Bahrain who are considered the weaker teams?
We shouldn't disregard Bahrain. Despite coming from the Middle East, their game tempo is unexpectedly very quick. I think it is important that we strongly pressure the opposing team. I am gathering more information about Bahrain in order to be more prepared and have a solid plan. Honestly, I am not sure about India because I haven't seen them play. Fortunately we play them last so we would have seen two prior games. I plan to analyse and prepare for it, but nowadays it is hard to disregard the teams from Southeast Asia because they are not as weak as they used to be.
Korean football has been constantly blocked by the Middle Eastern football. What do you think the reason is?
Middle Eastern football has become very technical. On top of that, the footballers are brilliant physically. They are very tall and flexible and I think that this is the reason why our players were not able to keep up to their tempo. In order to get past this, it would be good to pressure the opposing team and make a difference. We have to make sure that we do not get caught up in playing the way they want us.
Four years ago Coach Pim Verbeek said "trust me" to FourFourTwo before going to the Asian Cup. What would you like to comment to FourFourTwo this year?
I believe in our players. I wish for our fans to do the same and believe in our players. We will return the favour when we go to the Asian Cup.