- Hong Myungbo was named Ulsan Hyundai head coach in December 2020
- The Korea Republic legend has vast experience on the international stage
- “I will fight for the club’s honour and development but not for my personal sake.”
Hong Myungbo is no stranger to FIFA tournaments.
As a player, the former sweeper figured prominently for Korea Republic in four FIFA World Cups™ across 12 years, most notably captaining the Taegeuk Warriors to a historic fourth-place finish at Korea/Japan 2002. As a coach, he guided the national youth side to the last eight at the 2009 FIFA U-20 World Cup, before taking the U-23 side to their first bronze medal in the Olympic Football Tournament at London 2012.
Managing the national team at Brazil 2014 – where his side finished winless – may well have proved to be a final time featuring in a FIFA campaign. However, Hong announced his return to the global scene when he was appointed head coach of Ulsan Hyundai six weeks ago on Christmas Eve with the FIFA Club World Cup™ in Qatar being his first challenge.
Qatar 2020 marks Ulsan’s second appearance but Hong’s first time at the club global showpiece. While the ambition will be to better Pohang Steelers’ third-place finish in the 2009 edition, the difficulties facing Hong can’t be underestimated: formidable opponents, high expectations, departures of the club’s top striker Brazilian forward Junior Negrao and veteran Lee Keunho, not to mention limited time to prepare the team.
Throughout his storied career, Hong has cut a steely figure and is known as an odds-defying winner. Will he emulate his past feats with Ulsan this time around? FIFA.com sat down with the 51-year-old to get his thoughts ahead of their opener against Tigres UANL.
FIFA.com: Coach Hong, congratulations on the new role with Ulsan Hyundai. You had said that there was something missing in your illustrious career, but now with the Ulsan job – your first managerial job in charge of a K-League side – what does the new coaching job mean for you?
Hong Myungbo: I came back to the coaching role after a long time away. I’m anticipating to organise a team with high-quality players and to live up to the expectations by our fans. K-League is the top flight in our country and Ulsan Hyundai are the best team in Asia. My ambition here is to make the best use of my previous experience to get a good outcome. I will fight for the club’s honour and development but not for my personal sake.
You are one of Korea Republic’s most accomplished players and have had success as a coach, leading the national team at Brazil 2014 and the U-23 side to a first-ever bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics. Does coaching a K-League side feel like a completely new challenge for you?
My career had been almost one-sided to the national teams and this is my first K-League team to be in charge of. My task is clear and simple: to win the K-League title. Ulsan Hyundai fans are hungry to win the domestic championship as their last triumph dates back to 2005. This indeed motivates me and I want to complete the mission and satisfy their thirst.
Your first task in charge is, however, coaching Ulsan at the FIFA Club World Cup. So what are your expectations?
We were given short time to prepare. However I believe our winter training camp and some good rest will stand our team in good stead. After all, we are coming here not just representing Ulsan but also Korea Republic and Asia.
Ulsan won the AFC Champions League in some style despite having finished runners-up in K-League. What do you think of the team? How do you rate their successful campaign in the AFC Champions league?
Ulsan have shown decent football over the past two years. However, the question is that the team sometimes fail at the final hurdle. Confidence is the key for the team and we need to have common goals. In that sense, our success at the 2020 AFC Champions League came as a timely boost and our winning mentality is back.
You are familiar with several veterans of the team having coached them with the national senior team and U-23 sides. What are your expectations for them?
Knowing each other is one of the basics of winning the game. These familiar players can be exemplary ones to the team-mates, and I expect them to connect me and the backroom staff with the younger players with their leadership.
What are your thoughts ahead of the opening game against Tigres UANL on Thursday?
First of all, I’m honoured to have this opportunity to participate in the FIFA Club World Cup. Now we’re up against the powerhouses from North and Central America, and we’d like to play some good football against them. We’re still in the process of building a team, which could make things a bit difficult for us [during the tournament]. Nevertheless, we’ll give everything we have, as we’ll go out there representing Asia.
How do you rate the current squad at your disposal?
At the moment, we’ve had quite a lot of changes in the squad, which means we’ll have to take part in this Club World Cup essentially with a whole new team. Even so, we’ve still got some players who played in the AFC Champions League. With these old legs complemented by new faces, I’m going to build a good team heading to the tournament.
Under such circumstances, do you expect Yoon Bitgaram to rise to the occasion just as he did so by finishing as the tournament MVP in the AFC Champions League?
Yoon Bitgaram is one of the most important players in Ulsan, a playmaker who pulls the strings. He also has experience in the national team, and I’m expecting him to lead the young players in our team as a veteran. I’m also thinking about using him for set pieces to create more scoring chances.
In their FIFA Club World Cup debut in 2012, Ulsan finished with zero points. What goals have you set for the team in the global encore?
The participating teams in this Club World Cup are the representatives of their continents, and therefore, are strong sides. We will try our best, as we represent Asia as well. I think Pohang [Steelers] have had the best result so far, finishing third, as a South Korean side. I’m expecting to come back with a good result, which will depend on how we prepare in the upcoming days.