Jürgen Klinsmann’s South Korea national soccer team has announced its October A match roster. The team will convene at the National Training Center (NFC) in Paju on the 9th before facing Tunisia (29th in the FIFA rankings) at the Seoul World Cup Stadium on the 13th and Vietnam (95th) at the Suwon World Cup Stadium on the 17th.
If I had to summarize the characteristics of this A team roster in one sentence, it would be ‘the rice with the herbs’. It’s almost like a copy-and-paste, with most of the expected players remaining unchanged. The biggest problem with the roster is that it doesn’t show much thought or consensus on how to improve Korean soccer and make it more competitive.
Captain Son Heung-min (Tottenham), Kim Min-jae (Bayern Munich), Lee Kang-in (Paris Saint-Germain), Lee Jae-sung (Mainz), Hwang In-beom (Tsubena Zvezda), Hwang Eui-jo (Norwich City), Hwang Hee-chan (Wolverhampton), and Cho Kyu-sung (Mitwillan) are all still on the roster. The only changes from the previous roster are the return of veterans Kim Jin-soo (Jeonbuk) and Kim Tae-hwan (Ulsan) from the Qatar World Cup, and no ‘new faces’. Lee Soon-min (Gwangju) and rookie goalkeeper Kim Jun-hong (Gimcheon) were given one more chance after their initial call-ups against Europe last month.
With next year’s Asian Cup just around the corner, you might think there’s no need to make too many changes. However, there are always variables in a big tournament, and some fresh faces and competition is essential to keep the team fresh and motivated. In other words, the October A-Match was the last chance to experiment with new faces before the Asian Cup.
Prior to the Asian Cup, in 2010, Cho Kwang-rae boldly selected young players in their late teens and early 20s, such as Koo Ja-cheol and Ji Dong-won, to play in the main squad; in 2014, Uli Stielike found a crown prince in Lee Jung-hyeop, who was playing in the second division; and in 2018, his immediate predecessor, Paulo Bento, discovered Hwang In-beom, who would later become the ‘successor to Ki Sung-yueng’.
With each change in national team managers, new players have emerged to take advantage of the opportunity, earning them the title of “Prince of the OOO.” However, Klinsmann has been in charge for more than seven months and has already played six A matches, and no one has made a new mark on the national team. That’s why it’s been argued that the national team has become a “stagnant pool” of tried-and-true players.
However, it’s not as if the existing players on the national team are performing so well that they don’t need to be reinforced. One of the few new faces on the roster under Klinsmann is Lee Ki-je (Suwon). Lee has seen his club, Suwon, struggle in the relegation zone, and he himself has had defensive issues towards the end of the season.
Kim Jin-soo has only just recovered from a facial injury and is just starting to find his stride. Hwang Eui-jo, who was loaned out after losing out on a starting spot at his club, and Oh Hyun-gyu, a second-year European player, have been called up again this season despite not only lacking playing time, but also having no offense at all. What do players think when they see that they are unconditionally selected for the national team even if they don’t perform well in their clubs?
It’s also unfortunate that the national team doesn’t take into consideration the core players who have been overworked for a long time. Son Heung-min and Kim Min-jae are two of the mainstays of the European side and are considered to be the core of the national team’s offense. However, despite recently reaching 200 European goals, Son is reportedly suffering from nagging thigh injuries. He scored a goal against Liverpool recently, but was substituted after not playing the full game 스포츠토토.
Kim Min-jae has also been a starter for Munich this season, but critics in Germany say he hasn’t been as good as he was in Italy last season. Kim had already complained of physical strain and burnout earlier this year.
Lee is currently competing for the Under-24s at the Hangzhou Asian Games, and has been called up to the A team again after struggling with injuries and competition for places in his first year at PSG. For an already exhausted squad, another long-distance trip during the A-match could prove to be even more poisonous. This is why it was unnecessary to mobilize the best and most proven members of the squad for the exhibition matches against Tunisia and Vietnam at home.
On the other hand, this deepening of doubts about the team’s management goes hand-in-hand with the controversy over Klinsmann’s ‘work ethic’. Since his appointment, Klinsmann has been at the center of controversy for breaking his promise to stay in Korea, traveling frequently, working from home, and focusing on personal activities unrelated to the Korean national team. Klinsmann also refused to hold an official press conference to announce the roster in favor of his own convenience, replacing it with a press release in September and again in October.
The fact that Klinsmann doesn’t consider overhauling his home league to be his primary job as a national team coach means that he is less likely to experiment with new faces. If Klinsmann’s methods were working, the national team would be doing well, but the team has only won one, drawn three and lost two A matches since Klinsmann’s appointment.
Klinsmann’s five consecutive A-match winless streak is the worst in history for a foreign coach, but the team narrowly escaped with a 1-0 victory over Saudi Arabia in their last European outing. With public opinion against him, Klinsmann has been forced to treat every game like a guillotine match, using his best players rather than experimenting with new players or tactics.
Despite the ongoing controversy, Klinsmann has deflected recent criticism, stating that “all evaluations should be done after the Asian Cup” and that “the national team falters when negative stories continue.” After briefly making a “showboating return” to Korea in the wake of the controversy, Klinsmann made it clear that he will continue to do things his way, watching only two K League games in Korea before flying back to his home in the United States. We’ll see how Klinsmann’s assertiveness pays off in the upcoming A-Match in October and the Asian Cup next year.