Klinsmann sacked as South Korea coach following Son and Lee's fight ahead of Asian Cup exit

By AFP   February 15, 2024 | 10:53 pm PT
Jurgen Klinsmann was sacked as South Korea coach on Friday following defeat to Jordan in the semi-finals of the Asian Cup and revelations about a bust-up between star players.

The 59-year-old former Germany striker, a World Cup winner as a player, was in the post for just under a year and never won over South Korean fans or media.

"The KFA has decided to change the national head coach following a comprehensive review," Korea Football Association president Chung Mong-gyu said.

"Klinsmann has failed to display managerial capability and leadership expected of a national head coach in areas ranging from tactics and personnel management to work attitude and others required to bring about competitiveness to the team."

Klinsmann, whose managerial record has not matched his stellar playing career, said it had been "an incredible journey" and thanked his players in a post on social media, just before the axe fell.

The KFA was under huge pressure to fire Klinsmann. Its national team committee had on Thursday said that "a change of leadership is necessary."

South Koreas coach Jurgen Klinsmann (L) is with captain Son Heung-min after their 0-2 loss to Jordan at the Asian Cup semifinal in Qatar, Feb. 6, 2024. Photo by AFP

South Korea's coach Jurgen Klinsmann (L) is with captain Son Heung-min after their 0-2 loss to Jordan at the Asian Cup semifinal in Qatar, Feb. 6, 2024. Photo by AFP

The South Korean team have been in the eye of a storm.

On Wednesday came revelations about a fracas between players that left Son Heung-min with an injured finger on the eve of the 2-0 loss to Jordan in the last four in Qatar.

Paris Saint-Germain's Lee Kang-in subsequently issued an apology after Yonhap news agency said the 22-year-old had tried to punch skipper and Tottenham star Son.

Lee's representatives have denied there was a punch.

The conflict was reportedly triggered by younger players -- including Lee -- rushing through their dinner so they could leave early and play table tennis.

This angered some of the older players, including Son, who wanted to honour long-standing tradition that the pre-game dinner be a team bonding experience, triggering the brawl.

Lee and Son both played in the Jordan loss, the latter with two of his fingers strapped together.

Klinsmann, whose contract was due to run until after the 2026 World Cup, had promised to deliver South Korea's first Asian title in 64 years.

Star brawl

The altercation on the eve of the Jordan game fuelled calls for Klinsmann to be sacked, with some saying it was more evidence of his weak management.

KFA president Chung said "this incident reflects a lot to us for areas to pay attention to when it comes to managing a national team going forward."

"The KFA will right away embark on finding the next head coach for the upcoming 2026 World Cup qualifiers," said Chung, himself under pressure to quit.

Yonhap previously reported that the KFA would consider a temporary appointment for next month's World Cup qualifiers home and away against Thailand.

Former United States coach Klinsmann was under the cosh from day one because of his managerial record and he had refused to move to South Korea from the U.S.

He was also accused by some fans and media of smiling too much, even when they lost.

The German is reportedly entitled to be paid up for the rest of his contract until July 2026, estimated at $2.2 million a year.

"If South Korea had been eliminated in the first knockout stage (of the Asian Cup) the KFA could have fired him without a package," Sports Chosun reported.

The KFA's Chung -- part of the family which founded Korean car company Hyundai -- said that if there was a significant financial burden from the dismissal "I will look into ways for me to contribute financially as head the KFA."

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