It’s been nine months since Jürgen Klinsmann, 59, took over the reins of South Korean soccer.
Four summonses later, he is about to take charge of his first official competition. It’s the Asian second round of the 2026 North and Central American World Cup. Compared to the jubilant departure of the Bento four years ago, there is more anxiety than excitement.
This is understandable, as Klinsmann’s record this year hasn’t been bad. Three wins, three draws, and two losses in eight matches. Three straight wins over Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Vietnam got the team on the right track. It was enough to make up for the fact that his first victory came later than any other coach in history.
He’s also had to work hard to get to know South Korea’s players. Of the 41 players he has called up to the national team so far, seven have earned their first taegeuk (Ahn Hyun-beom, Park Kyu-hyun, Park Yong-woo, Hong Hyun-seok, Lee Sun-min, Kim Ji-soo, Kim Jun-hong). “I’m sharing roles with different coaches to observe 40 to 50 domestic and international players from different perspectives,” Klinsmann said.
That’s not bad compared to his predecessor, Paulo Bento, who looked at 36 players in half a year (42 if you include training camp) and made eight new discoveries.
Nevertheless, Klinsmann’s lack of favor is largely due to his foreign travels. His promise to stay in South Korea when he was hired has already lost its meaning. He is the first coach to spend more time abroad than at home. The fact that Klinsmann selected domestic players without observing their performances, unlike his European counterparts, was also enough to discredit him. Ahn Hyun-beom (Jeonbuk), Klinsmann’s first player, is a prime example.
Moreover, Klinsmann’s selection of players has been stuck in a rut too early. The only changes from the October call-up are defender Kim Joo-sung (Seoul) and goalkeeper Kim Jun-hong (Gimcheon), with goalkeeper Song Bum-geun (Shonan) joining them.
While it’s understandable that the main players are performing exceptionally well, it’s unfortunate that the team has stuck with players who have been underperforming at their clubs. Especially in the side defense, a position that needs to change, the players are all in their mid-30s, except for Seol Young-woo (Ulsan), so I’m worried about qualifying for the World Cup in three years.
If we look at the history of previous coaches, it is not uncommon for players who shine at the Asian Games to be selected for the national team. Examples include Lee Jae-sung (Mainz) at Incheon 2014 and Hwang In-beom (Tsubena Zvezda) at Jakarta-Palembang 2018. On the Hangzhou side, Hwang Jae-won (Daegu) was touted as a candidate to inject energy into the flank defense, but he failed to receive a call-up in October and again in November.
With Klinsmann declaring “win now,” the overload on the main players is also a concern.
‘Captain’ Son Heung-min (Tottenham), who has been traveling back and forth between Europe and Asia, has been out of shape since his October call-up, while Lee Kang-in (Paris Saint-Germain) and Kim Min-jae (Bayern Munich) have been the subject of local controversy. If any of them get injured, Klinsmann could lose both his present and future. 무지개토토 도메인
“Korean soccer is definitely going through a golden age,” says Kim Dae-gil.