Football federation to interview foreign candidates for top men’s job this week

July 1, 2024

A South Korean football official newly put in charge of the men’s national team coaching search will depart for Europe this week to interview foreign-born candidates for the vacant position, officials said Monday.

Lee Lim-saeng, technical director at the Korea Football Association (KFA), is scheduled to meet with about a handful of candidates once he travels to Europe, KFA officials said.

Previously, Chung Hae-sung, as head of the KFA’s National Teams Committee, had been leading the effort to hire the new bench boss for the men’s national team. However, Chung abruptly resigned Friday, citing health-related reasons, though his apparent clashes with KFA President Chung Mong-gyu might have been the real reason behind his sudden departure.

Chung Hae-sung had been responsible for narrowing down and interviewing candidates, and he and his committee members had been leaning toward hiring a South Korean coach. But the final say still belonged to Chung Mong-gyu, who is believed to have been in favor of hiring a foreign-born tactician.

The top men’s coaching job has remained unoccupied since the KFA dismissed Jurgen Klinsmann on Feb. 16, in light of South Korea’s elimination in the semifinals of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup — a tournament that the country had tried to win for the first time since 1960.

South Korea played two World Cup qualifying matches in March under caretaker manager Hwang Sun-hong, who was head coach of the men’s under-23 national team at the time.

Chung Hae-sung then set out to find the new permanent replacement for Klinsmann by the middle of May at the latest. But the KFA was not able to come to an agreement with its leading candidate, former Leeds United coach Jesse Marsch. The American tactician signed with the Canadian men’s national team instead.

The KFA was forced to name another caretaker coach for South Korea’s two World Cup qualifying matches in June, with former K League head coach Kim Do-hoon brought in on a temporary basis.

Kim and Ulsan HD FC head coach Hong Myung-bo, who was at the helm for the national team at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, were seen as the two leading South Korean candidates, but both have rejected the KFA’s offers.

Kim told the local broadcaster KBS on Friday that he spurned the offer for the full-time national team position because he wanted to take some time off and felt he was more suited for a club coaching position.

Hiring Kim, who has been without a job since last coaching the Lion City Sailors in Singapore in the summer of 2022, would have been a smoother move for the KFA than plucking Hong off Ulsan HD FC midseason.

When Hong’s name was brought up in the immediate aftermath of Klinsmann’s firing in February, Ulsan fans went up in arms over the KFA’s apparent attempt to poach their coach just before the start of the new K League 1 campaign.

Then prior to Ulsan’s K League 1 match Sunday, Hong told reporters: “If the KFA finds candidates with more experience and more accomplishments, then my name won’t be mentioned. My stance has remained the same, and our fans won’t have to worry so much (about my possible departure).”

After playing the final four matches of the second round in the Asian qualification for the 2026 World Cup under two temporary coaches, South Korea will begin the third round on Sept. 5 against Palestine in Group B.

South Korea’s other opponents are Iraq, Jordan, Oman and Kuwait.