Vietnam's defense will be solidified under new coach Kim: K-League expert

By Xuan Binh   May 5, 2024 | 02:00 am PT
Sharing in an interview with VnExpress, K-League United's editor-in-chief Matthew Binns said Vietnam will improve defensively under new coach Kim Sang-sik despite not adopting a similar playing style to the Park Hang-seo era.
Kim Sang-sik nhận giải HLV xuất sắc mùa K-League 2021, sau khi giúp Jeonbuk vô địch Hàn Quốc.

Kim Sang-sik is honored the best coach at K-League 2021, when his club Jeonbuk won the title.

Once a renowned player in South Korea, Kim Sang-sik has a coaching career no short of controversy. He was fired just two years after leading Jeonbuk to victory in the K-League. As someone who has followed South Korean football for many years, what do you think of Kim's time at Jeonbuk?

Kim's first coaching job was quite challenging as he led a top team in South Korea in 2021. In theory, he deserved such an opportunity because of his long-standing contributions to Jeonbuk as a player and assistant coach. It was an offer he could not refuse, but perhaps he should have started at a less ambitious club to hone his skills and refine his coaching style first.

Nevertheless, Kim still secured the 2021 K-League title and 2022 National Cup in his first two seasons. Jeonbuk's situation worsened after Kim left. This indicates that the team had deep-rooted issues, which partly helped preserve Kim's reputation.

Kim now finds himself in a similar situation to when he took over at Jeonbuk. While focusing on honing his skills, he got a surprise offer to manage Vietnam - also a team with high expectations from the fans. Failure in Vietnam could significantly affect Kim's reputation, but the job is also a great opportunity for him to assert his value.

What do South Koreans think of coach Kim?

Kim has been a well-known player and figure in South Korean football. Some Jeonbuk fans might feel relieved when he left the club, but Kim is still held in high regard by the loyal fans. Players also show respect and determination to play for him.

Some believe that Kim's early success at Jeonbuk was mainly due to the quality of his players. However, we can see that even a coach of Dan Petrescu’s caliber could not succeed with a strong and well-invested Jeonbuk squad. Petrescu stepped down after failing to win the first five matches of the 2024 season.

Players and coaches who have worked or played with Kim find him easygoing, which should not be underestimated. The 48-year-old coach can inspire the team's fighting spirit to put on excellent performances. However, the issue is that Kim’s teams could not maintain such performances throughout the season.

Chuyên gia Matthew Binns (giữa) trong trận chung kết lượt đi Cúp Hàn Quốc giữa Jeonbuk và FC Seoul trên sân Seoul World Cup ngày 27/10/2022. Ảnh: NVCC

Matthew Binns (C) at Seoul World Cup Stadium for the Korean FA Cup's final first leg between Jeonbuk and Seoul on Oct. 27, 2022. Photo courtesy of Matthew Binns

With his style of coaching, how do you rate Kim's chances of success at the national team level?

Unlike clubs playing in the league with a series of matches, national teams usually play fewer games and in knock-out competitions. Therefore, some believe Kim will be better off with a national team because he is able to assemble a great squad for each tournament.

The challenge for Kim is to familiarize himself with Vietnamese players and convince them to trust his tactics and fight for him. Kim's reputation and achievements in South Korea may not hold much weight in Vietnam, so this will be a real challenge for him.

Vietnamese football was very successful under coach Park Hang-seo, and to some extent, Kim will be compared to his fellow South Korean predecessor. What are your thoughts of these two figures?

Kim has only managed one club, so he cannot match Park in terms of coaching experience.

However, Kim has been successful as both a player and a member of the coaching staff. After building his reputation as a key player of the mighty Seongnam in the early 21st century, winning three K-League titles, Kim joined Jeonbuk in 2009 when many thought he was past his prime. Yet he still played a crucial role in helping the team win the K-League twice in 2009 and 2011. He then moved up to the assistant coach position, contributing to the team's six additional league titles. He was also the most recent head coach of Jeonbuk to win the K-League in 2021. Kim understands the pressure of working at a club that values results and titles.

HLV Kim Sang-sik cùng cầu thủ Jeonbuk nâng Cup Hàn Quốc trên sân Jeonju World Cup ngày 30/10/2022. Ảnh: Jeonbuk

Coach Kim Sang-sik and Jeonbuk players celeberate winning the Korean FA Cup on Oct. 30, 2022. Photo by Jeonbuk

Apart from the professional aspect, coach Park was highly regarded for his people management skills. How about Kim in this aspect?

Kim has a great relationship with players and earns their respect. When Kim's team fails to meet the expectations, it is usually down to tactics rather than the players’ efforts.

To understand Kim's management skills, we can look at players like midfielder Paik Seung-ho. Paik is playing for Birmingham FC in the English Championship but spent three seasons with Kim at Jeonbuk. He returned to the K-League in 2021 after several unsuccessful years in Europe. It was clear that Kim had a significant influence on Paik, promoting him to vice-captain. Last year, Paik captained South Korea to gold at ASIAD 19, exempting him from military service and earning him a move to Birmingham.

Right after Jeonbuk won the K-League in 2021, the most emotional moment was the team captain, Hong Jeong-ho, running to hug Kim and bursting into tears. Hong, then 32, had won many titles but was still moved by the achievement with coach Kim, which showed how strong the bond between him and the players was. Not to mention, Kim often danced on the pitch after winning titles.

We also have to acknowledge how Kim motivates the whole team to fight hard in difficult situations. An instance is when Jeonbuk lost in the penalty shootout to Japan’s Urawa Reds in the 2022 AFC Champions League semifinals. Despite the painful defeat, Kim's team only lost one out of the next 13 matches, returning to the K-League’s title race and winning the Korean Cup. Anyone watching those matches could see how Kim pushed the Jeonbuk players to fight tirelessly.

HLV Kim nhảy mừng chức vô địch của Jeonbuk tại K-League 2021.

After a period of Philippe Troussier’s possession-based play, should Vietnam revert to a defensive style under coach Kim?

With years of experience as a center-back and defensive midfielder, Kim is capable of building a team with a tactically solid defense. It is hard for critics to fault a team's defense under Kim. However, he is not solely a defensive-minded coach.

Kim’s Jeonbuk were criticized by some as not entertaining to watch, but the club's essence at that time was not defense. From 2018 to 2021, Jeonbuk increased their average possession per game from 50% to 55%, and Kim maintained this for the following three years. Their issue was more about the cautious, sideways, or backward passes. The team struggled to create chances in spite of high possession, which frustrated fans. Kim seemed to have addressed this issue by the end of the 2022 season, hence staying on for 2023. However, ultimately, Jeonbuk could not find a way to score.

Kim's team is not defensive, but it is fair to say they do not take unnecessary risks in attacking. This issue needs to be addressed by Kim and his staff when working in Vietnam.

Britain’s Matthew Binns, 36, has lived and worked in South Korea since 2014. Over the past decade, he has attended Jeonbuk's matches in the K-League to commentate for the league's English channel. Binns is also the editor-in-chief of K-League United - the league’s English magazine. He claims to be a fan of Jeonbuk, the club where Kim Sang-sik had been the assistant and head coach for nearly 10 years.

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