New head coach for K League club Jeonbuk wants players to hold heads high

May 29, 2024

Kim Do-heon, new head coach of the slumping K League 1 club Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, said Wednesday he wants his players to rediscover the joy of playing the game.

Kim was appointed Jeonbuk’s new bench boss on Monday. He is scheduled to coach his first match Wednesday evening against Gangwon FC in Chuncheon, some 75 kilometers east of Seoul.

At his inaugural press conference hours before the kickoff, the 41-year-old said he first wants to instill some confidence in his squad.

Kim Do-heon, new head coach of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, poses before the start of his inaugural press conference in Chuncheon, Gangwon Province, on May 29, 2024. (Yonhap)
Kim Do-heon, new head coach of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, poses before the start of his inaugural press conference in Chuncheon, Gangwon Province, on May 29, 2024. (Yonhap)

“I had the feeling that these players may have been playing with fear, and I told them yesterday they should have more confidence in themselves,” Kim said. “When we can prepare ourselves as a team, then I think the level of confidence among individuals will grow. I reminded them that matches are not something to be feared and they should be enjoyed.

“And when players have fun on the field, results will follow,” Kim added. “And all our fans have to do is to enjoy it.”

It’s been difficult for Jeonbuk players and supporters to have much fun this year.

Jeonbuk, owner of a K League-record nine championships, went winless in five matches to begin 2024, with three draws and two losses putting them in last place in the 12-team league. Head coach Dan Petrescu resigned on April 6.

Jeonbuk then played nine matches with assistant coach Park Won-jae serving in a caretaker role. They had had three wins, two draws and four losses under Park, and now find themselves in 10th place with 14 points, only three ahead of last-place Daejeon Hana Citizen.

Kim, who had been an assistant coach for the Chinese club Chengdu Rongcheng before taking over Jeonbuk, did not get into specifics when asked about his thoughts on Jeonbuk from an outsider’s perspective.

“I don’t think it was the fault of any one person,” Kim said. “But I am here to write a new chapter. Rather than trying to identify problems from the past, I am only going to look forward. I will put the past behind and give this team a fresh start.”

Kim said “time, space, positioning and balance” define his tactical philosophy.

“Over the course of a match, we will try to position ourselves so that we will win the battle for time and space. On the flip side, we will try not to give our opponents time and space,” the former midfielder said. “It’s also important to have the balance between defense and offense. Formations can be thrown out the window. The key is to dominate the other team with positioning.”

Kim said his primary goal this season is to push Jeonbuk into the top six of the league tables. After 33 matches each season, the 12 K League 1 clubs are divided into two tiers — with the top six grouped in Final A and the bottom six falling into Final B. Clubs in Final A are guaranteed to avoid relegation. Jeonbuk are now four points back of sixth-place Incheon United.

“I think once our players build some momentum, we can be pretty scary,” Kim said.

The coach added that, beyond producing immediate results, he wants to lay the foundation for sustainable success for Jeonbuk.

“I want to build Jeonbuk into a team that players want to play for,” Kim said. “We will try to become the team that sends more players to foreign clubs and to the national team than anyone else.”

Kim said there will be no short cut to success.

“Training will be the answer,” he said. “And our players must have the drive. As long as they are willing to put in the work, we can find solutions together. The process will be fun.”

The first step for Kim wasn’t so fun, as Jeonbuk lost to Gangwon 2-1.

The clubs were tied 1-1 at halftime, before Gangwon’s Yago Cariello netted the winner in the 77th minute.

Gangwon opened the scoring only three minutes in with Yang Min-hyuk’s goal, before Lee Yeong-jae leveled for Jeonbuk in the 23rd minute. Jeonbuk lost a man when Jeon Byeong-gwan was sent off on his second yellow card of the match 16 minutes after the restart, and Gangwon capitalized on their man advantage.

Coach Kim said the match was his “Welcome to the K League” moment.

“We were able to settle down after conceding an early goal,” Kim said. “The players played the way I wanted them to. They were also satisfied with themselves after the first half. But we weren’t able to respond after going down a player.”

Kim said he will try to get his charges to regroup quickly and prepare for the next match on Saturday against two-time defending champions, Ulsan HD FC.

Kim split his K League playing career between Seongnam FC and Suwon Samsung Bluewings, and won the league MVP award in 2006 after helping Seongnam to the title.

He played for West Bromwich Albion in England from 2008 to 2009 and finished his career with Indy Eleven, an American club. Kim also collected 62 caps.

After retirement, he worked as a coach for Suwon and then for Jeonbuk. He was Jeonbuk’s caretaker manager for about a month last year, dragging them out of the relegation zone and into the middle of the pack before they hired Petrescu. The club had six wins, two draws and one loss on Kim’s watch.