- Hong Myungbo has been Ulsan coach since December 2020
- The former South Korean international has no shortage of experience
- “I will fight for the honor of the club, but not for my reputation”, he assures
Hong Myungbo is a regular at FIFA competitions. The former libero has played four FIFA World Cups with the Republic of Korea. He notably led the Taegeuk Warriors in fourth place in Korea / Japan 2002, as captain. As a coach, he reached the quarter-finals of the FIFA U-20 World Cup, before winning the bronze medal at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament London 2012 with the U-23.
But, since the inglorious – and winless – elimination of the Republic of Korea in the 2014 Brazil first round, the former coach has been quiet. His appointment as coach of Ulsan Hyundai on Christmas Eve will therefore be an opportunity for him to return to the highest level, on the occasion of the FIFA Club World Cup ™ in Qatar.
If Ulsan has already participated in the competition, Hong is preparing to discover this tournament. But he already shows the ambition to want to do better than the third place of the Pohang Steelers in 2009, which remains the best performance of a K-League resident to date. Between the level of the competition, the expectations of the supporters, the departures of Brazilian striker Junior Negrao and veteran Lee Keunho, and the tight schedule, the task is not going to be easy.
In his country, Hong has the image of a fighter, who has never been afraid to take up impossible challenges. Will this stay in Qatar be an opportunity for him to reconnect with his glorious past? FIFA.com met the 51-year-old technician to take stock before the game against the UANL Tigers.
Hong Myungbo, you have already had the opportunity to say that something is missing in your career. With this first experience on the bench of a K-League team, do you feel you are filling this void? What does this new challenge represent?
I come back after a long absence. I look forward to putting my ideas into practice with top players and meeting the expectations of our supporters. The K-League represents the highest level in South Korea and Ulsan Hyundai is currently the best team in Asia. I intend to use everything I have learned so far to keep the club on top. I will fight for the honor of the club, but certainly not for my reputation.
You are one of the most successful South Korean players and you have achieved great things as a coach. Venture into uncharted waters by taking charge of a K-League team?
My career has been exclusively focused on national teams until now. It is indeed the first time that I will work in the K-League. My goal is simple: to win the championship. Ulsan Hyundai has been waiting for this title since 2005. It is a source of motivation for me. I really want to succeed in this mission and quench this thirst for victory.
Ulsan won the AFC Champions League with panache, but only finished second in the K-League. Where does your team stand after their winning streak in the Champions League?
For two years, Ulsan has played quality football, but has often failed on the verge of success. Trust is essential in a group and we must set common goals. Our victory in the 2020 Champions League comes at the right time. It will allow us to find a conquering state of mind.
You worked with several Ulsan players when you coached the national team and the U-23 selection. What do you expect from them?
To win, you have to get to know yourself already. These players can set an example for their teammates. I expect them to make the link between technical support and young people.
First, you will play in the FIFA Club World Cup. What are your ambitions in this tournament?
We don’t have much time to prepare. However, I think that our winter internship and the rest that we took did us good. We will not only represent Ulsan, but also South Korea and Asia.
What state of mind are you hours before your first game against the UANL Tigers on February 4th?
First and foremost, I am proud to have the opportunity to participate in the Club World Cup. We are going to face a tenor from America. Our first objective will be to develop quality football. The team is still in the construction phase, which may complicate things a bit during the tournament. Nevertheless, we will give our all because we will be there to represent Asia.
What do you think of your workforce?
The group has changed significantly in recent weeks. Clearly, that means that we will approach this Club World Cup with a new team. Fortunately, we still have a few players who have participated in the Champions League. Between these veterans and the new faces at my disposal, I think I can build a competitive team.
Should we expect to see Yoon Bitgaram, the best player in the Champions League, stand out again?
Yoon Bitgaram is one of our most important players. As the playmaker, he is the one who pulls the strings on the pitch. He has a solid international background so I will ask him to take his younger teammates under his wing. I’m also considering giving him the set pieces.
Ulsan’s record in the FIFA Club World Cup is disappointing: in 2012 your team conceded two defeats in two matches. What are your ambitions this year?
All the teams involved in this competition represent their respective continents. They are therefore very valuable adversaries. The Pohang Steelers put in the best performance of a South Korean team, finishing in third place. I hope we can be proud of our journey, but everything will depend on our preparations over the next few days.