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[Opinion] Wednesday’s Prism

Posted July. 02, 2002 23:03,   


There is a person who appears stronger than the cheers that gradually grew during the month of June, 2002. His name is Hiddink. There has never been a foreign person who so impressibly became a part of our lives. Even though only a few have actually encountered him, he has already become the Korean people’s favorite friend and their kind teacher.

This is not because of his achievement in winning against the strong European teams, which washed away the long lasting inferiority complex that existed inside the Korean people’s minds. There exists a distance from the part of ordinary people against those who are praised as great people. However, Hiddink became a part of our lives through the cheering squad’s mask, through the dolls in the display windows, through handkerchiefs of girls who wished for another victory, and through the heart of middle-aged women who wore red T-shirts. It was rather a proclamation of happiness when the old married women repeated, “we love you, Hiddink oppa (the Korean term for big brother)”.

Who has given this happiness to them? Who has ever shaken the hearts of Korea’s men, women, old, and young in such a manner? There is something different from the melodramatic emotions that broadcast programs evoke through depictions of him as the main character among the unconditional acclamation.

There are various interpretations of what this “something” is. The first interpretation is, “Hiddink as a leader”. This interpretation is based on his excellent leadership that helped the mediocre Korean soccer leap into the world in a short period of time, which is also a pun against the Korean political sphere that is lacking adequate leaders.

The second interpretation is “Hiddink as a manager”. This is a based on the desire to eradicate the roots of corruption existing in the Korean industries, which has delayed Korea’s chance to truly enter the world level market, by applying Hiddink’s leadership to enterprise management.

The third interpretation is, “Hiddink as a parent”. His ability to bring out the best of each player and his attitude to support them even when they made mistakes was sufficient enough to move the hearts of the older generations. This is why many people repeat mentioning the scene where Park Ji-sung and Cha Doo-ri jumped up to embrace Hiddink.

Finally, there is the interpretation, “Hiddink as a true professional”. Until the evaluation games during May when the Korean team started to show its improvement, Hiddink was merely considered as a stubborn foreign coach. Even when he said a few days before the World Cup opening that “The world will be surprised”, people doubted his motive.

In other words, he was the only person who precisely knew the Korean team’s ability and the top-level world teams’ abilities and his professionalism shined through the difficult process of reaching the final top 4.

All of these interpretations are equally convincing because of Hiddink’s milti-angled ability. However, what impressed me is different from any of these interpretations. Hiddink is a poet. One may say that he is simply eloquent, but his ability to calm down an emotional situation is truly poetic. When he replied, “you decide” to a reporter’s question about what his next goal may be after the team won against Portugal and entered the top 16, when he expressed his confidence of winning against Italy in a round about manner by saying, “I’m hungry”, and when he said that, “I want a glass of champagne” on the day that the ream won against Spain and entered the top 4, these were all short, but concise expressions of a poet who wanted cherish the moment of victory.

Whether a person like this will leave Korea or not is a secondary matter. It is more important that Korea has “stole my heart” and that the young players innocently fought for the country’s honor rather than for the money. When people were lost of words after the team won against Spain, he walked up to the “Red Devils” stadium seats and followed the Korean formality. Nobody knows why he did this, but could it have been his own metaphor as a poet that “this is where my job ends and that it was possible because of people like you”. Even when heroes overcome difficult situations, they don’t always become people’s friends. However, people love poets. The legend became reality and he wrote an epic. It is not that Korea has stolen his heart, but that he has stolen our hearts. It is not because that Korean people are lonely, nor is it because they are uncommonly passionate. Why is it, then? Not only is it because of all those interpretations, but perhaps it is also because of his poetic sensibility that healed the wounded Korean reality of repeated competition, tension, breakdown and resurgence and because of his philosophy that people found reliable. He was a poet who walked along the difficult journey of recovering Korea’s confidence with the concise words, “with no guarantee, but with no fear”.

Ho Keun Song(Prof. of SNU, Sociology)