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Hong Myung-bo says he is ‘at peace’ away from spotlight

December 9, 2014
(Yonhap)

Hong Myung-bo held a press conference at a Seoul hotel ahead of his annual charity football match for sick children and faced the media for the first time since his resignation from coaching the country’s top football team on July 10. (Yonhap)

SEOUL (Yonhap) — Making his first public appearance since stepping down as head coach of the South Korean men’s national football team in the summer on Monday, Hong Myung-bo said he is “at peace” away from the spotlight.

Hong held a press conference at a Seoul hotel ahead of his annual charity football match for sick children and faced the media for the first time since his resignation from coaching the country’s top football team on July 10.

Hong, a former national team captain and one of the most beloved athletes in South Korea during his playing days, lasted barely a year on the bench. South Korea’s winless exit out of the group stage at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil was Hong’s undoing.

He had actually received a vote of confidence from the Korea Football Association (KFA), but decided to quit amid mounting pressure from the disgruntled public.

The fall from grace was such that Hong admitted on Monday that he thought about canceling his charity event, but he ultimately regrouped himself to serve as the host for the 13th year. Hong runs his own scholarship foundation.

“This charity match is separate from what I’ve done as a coach,” Hong said. “I’ve been putting a lot of work into this before I became the national team coach. I decided that I wasn’t always going to be a coach, but I had to keep organizing this event. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but I received a lot of encouragement and support from people around me.”

For many years, Hong had been synonymous with success in South Korean football. He was the captain when the country advanced to the semifinals at the 2002 World Cup it co-hosted with Japan, an unprecedented run that hasn’t been matched since. In 2012, Hong coached South Korea to the Olympic bronze medal in London for the country’s first podium finish in Olympic football.

Hong said he’d been burdened by the weight of expectations during his 24 years with the national team as a star defender and a highly-visible coach, and he feels relieved to be away from the attention.

“Right now, my mind is like a calm lake,” he said. “I can see things that I never saw during the year I coached the national team. I’d like to do things that I love in a place I love, without responsibilities or pressure.”

Asked about his future plans, Hong said nothing is set in stone.

“So far, I haven’t had much of a choice (in what I wanted to do),” he added. “Now, I am going to do things that I like to do.”

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