Son and Lee's brawl fuels calls for Klinsmann to be fired

By AFP   February 14, 2024 | 10:13 pm PT
Son and Lee's brawl fuels calls for Klinsmann to be fired
Coach Jurgen Klinsmann speaks at a press conference ahead of South Korea's match against Jordan in Asian Cup semifinal, Feb. 5, 2024. Photo by AFC
Jurgen Klinsmann's fate as coach topped the agenda as South Korean football bosses met Thursday, a day after revelations about an Asian Cup bust-up between players that left Son Heung-min with an injured finger.

The closed-door Korea Football Association meeting, which had been scheduled to take place no matter how the team fared at the Asian Cup, has taken on extra significance.

Yonhap news agency reported, citing unnamed sources, that the KFA would consider a temporary appointment for next month's World Cup qualifiers against Thailand if Klinsmann were to be sacked.

The KFA was due to hold a press conference later Thursday and a smattering of protesters gathered outside KFA headquarters in Seoul, demanding Klinsmann's removal.

The German former striker, who was appointed in February last year, is clinging to his job following a humiliating 2-0 defeat to Jordan in the semi-finals of the Asian Cup.

Klinsmann, who has never won over South Korean fans or media, had promised to deliver the country's first Asian title in 64 years. He has refused to resign despite fierce pressure.

On top of that, details have now emerged about a brawl that took place the night before last week's game.

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

Lee's representatives have denied there was a punch.

The fracas 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 honor longstanding tradition that the pre-game dinner be a team bonding experience, triggering the brawl.

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

He had the same dressing on his fingers when he came on at the weekend in Tottenham's 2-1 win over Brighton.

Blame game

The incident has fueled calls for Klinsmann to be sacked, with some saying it was more evidence of his weak management.

The fact the players fought on the eve of such a crucial match is "more shocking than the semi-finals elimination", sports outlet OSEN wrote.

"The 2024 Asian Cup will go down in history as the worst tournament, marked by incompetence of a smiling Klinsmann and a divided national squad," OSEN said.

The incident highlighted a generational and cultural shift in the South Korean team, Song Gi-seong, a sports journalist at broadcaster MBC, told AFP.

It is partly due to a "cultural gap between Son, who went to Europe after finishing middle school, and Lee, who went to Spain to train at age nine," he said.

The fact that the bust-up was leaked and then quickly confirmed by the KFA may indicate the KFA were trying to shift blame for the Asian Cup exit from the coaching staff to the players.

"Under normal circumstances KFA usually denies it or makes no comment, but on this topic they were so unusually quick in confirming it," said Song.

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