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Coach Gong on U23 Asian Cup, football philosophy and youth development

By Lam Thoa, Minh Kha   June 16, 2022 | 11:15 pm PT
Coach Gong on U23 Asian Cup, football philosophy and youth development
Gong Oh-kyun in an interview with VnExpress in Hanoi, June 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Ngoc Thanh
In an interview with VnExpress, coach Gong Oh-kyun talked U23 Asian Cup, his football philosophy and the importance of creating a foundation for young players in Vietnam to develop.

Gong has worked for many years as an assistant coach of the South Korea U17, U18, U20 and U23 teams. In 2020, he worked as an assistant to coach Shin Tae-yong and the Indonesia national team, also coaching the U20 squad.

He signed a deal to be the new coach of Vietnam U23 in February 2022, taking over the team from coach Park Hang-seo after SEA Games 31 in May.

The 2022 U23 Asian Cup was Gong's first major tournament with Vietnam U23 team. The 48-year-old applied a new playing style to the team, a high-pressed, offensive-oriented approach. The team made it past the group stage with one win against Malaysia and two draws with Thailand and South Korea. In the quarterfinals, Vietnam exited the tournament after losing 0-2 to Saudi Arabia on Sunday.

How has your life changed after coaching Vietnam in U23 Asian Cup and what are your regrets about this tournament?

It's not about my life. What I really care about is how the tournament changed the life of players for the better.

My goal before this tournament was to put every player in the games. Myself and Vietnam Football Federation (VFF) have agreed that the experience of players is the number one priority and the result is only second. I think that in such a big tournament like this, one minute on the field is already a valuable experience.

Therefore, my regret is that several players didn't get to play much, especially keeper Dang Tuan Hung, the only one who didn’t get to play a single minute. After the tournament, I spoke to him and he said it’s alright, so I was somewhat relieved. Hopefully, I can use him in the next tournaments.

This team were formed from two different groups of players, one of whom won AFF Youth Championship and the other won the SEA Games gold medal. How could you turn them into a solid team in less than two weeks?

We didn't have much time for training, but that's not the problem. If a team can achieve great results just by training, then any team can do it. I had experience in big tournaments before and I used it to communicate with them as quickly as possible to help them achieve the best results in their ability.

During training, I only focused on one or two main points. I told them that they will play attacking and pressing football in every game. I'm grateful that the players have tried to follow my lead to achieve something in a short time, although I know sometimes they had doubts.

When I worked with the players, I told them that I follow the principle of freedom as I gave them a certain level of freedom so that they don't feel stuck into a framework. I believe that there are principles in freedom and freedom in principles. That helped players feel comfortable mentally.

I have attended many tournaments and worked with youth teams of South Korea, so I have no doubts about myself.

Coach Gong Oh-kyun gives instructions during the U23 Asian Cup between Vietnam and South Korea on June 5, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Lam Thoa

Coach Gong Oh-kyun gives instructions during the U23 Asian Cup between Vietnam and South Korea on June 5, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Lam Thoa

Vietnamese football in recent years has been successful thanks to the defensive and counter-attacking style under coach Park Hang-seo. What difficulties did you face in switching to an attacking style of play?

Actually, the high-pressing style used in this tournament has not been perfected and hasn’t achieved my desired results. I don’t strictly impose my tactics on the players, but instead pay attention to the ability of players to fit my philosophy. I worked with a number of players born in 2001 and I feel like they were able to adapt to my tactics.

Again, I'm grateful to the players for their efforts to adapt to my tactics. It makes no sense to use a branded bag that doesn't suit you, so the strategy must also be flexibly applied to the current players that you have.

In the opening game (against Thailand), Vietnam didn’t have the best lineup because some players had physical problems. How did you deal with that?

When they told me that some players would be absent, I wasn't shocked or surprised, because I had prepared in advance. We have an abundant resource of players. I think that incident motivated the team even more.

Vietnam and Thailand are rivals. South Korea and Japan also have a rivalry like that, so I can understand the importance of the match between Vietnam and Thailand. The draw happened due to errors in the last three minutes.

About 10 minutes before the match ended, I had a quick talk with the Vietnamese assistants and they suggested playing defensively to protect the lead. But I didn't agree. I want the players to believe in this attacking style of play and I’m pleased with that decision, as the players continued to follow my football philosophy until the end of the tournament.

What do you think about Nguyen Van Toan, who made a mistake that led to Thailand's equalizer in that match?

To say that it was Van Toan's fault is not true, because he gave the best he could and that situation can happen to any goalkeeper. After the match, I saw Van Toan crying. I told him not to cry but to smile. Van Toan is an influential player so if he cries, his teammates may also be sad and that can't be good for the whole team.

Is that also the reason why you often smile?

In South Korea, there is a saying "If you smile a lot, then fortune will come". I’m also a fun and lighthearted person. Working with these young players for the first time, if I'm not happy, they get nervous. Therefore, I smile also so that they can feel more comfortable talking to me.

Coach Gong Oh-kyun while waiting for the referee to check VAR over a penalty for Vietnam during the U23 Asian Cup match with Malaysia, June 8, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Lam Thoa

Coach Gong Oh-kyun while waiting for the referee to check VAR over a penalty for Vietnam during the U23 Asian Cup match with Malaysia, June 8, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Lam Thoa

Why did you accept the invitation from VFF?

During my career, I have traveled to many countries, from my homeland South Korea to China then Indonesia. In 2017, I watched Vietnam play in South Korea and I was impressed. Then I got acquainted with an agency. When they contacted me and told me about the offer, I immediately accepted. I also received some advice from coach Park Hang-seo.

Speaking of Park, recently in Uzbekistan, I was asked about the pressure as his successor on the U23 team. But pressure is everywhere in this profession and this is a normal thing. I didn't think twice when I was invited to Vietnam.

What advice did coach Park give you?

Park didn't say much more than one sentence: "You have to do it well". I replied: "Yes, you can rest assured".

VFF also supported me a lot. I was most impressed when we were in Dubai for training. They hired a Vietnamese chef for the players to feel like home.

Many people considered your first tournament with the U23 team a success, so is Vietnam a suitable place to develop your future career?

I don't think this tournament is successful or great, even if we enter the semifinals or final. The most important thing to me is after leaving the team, what legacy I created for the players and what foundation I laid for them to develop.

 
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