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”I Have a Good Feeling”

Posted July. 06, 2004 22:21,   


Nowadays, the Korean national soccer team’s veteran defender Choi Jin-chul (33, Chonbuk Hyundai Motors) feels like dying.

The new head coach of the Korean national team, Johannes Bonfrere’s training at Paju NFC (the Korean national soccer’s team’s training center) started from June 29. Afterwards, Choi spends his resting time collapsed in his bed. That is because he is exhausted. “When I see Choi these days, he looks like a dead person. Considering that even I feel tired, Choi must feel even more tired,” said younger teammate Lee Eul-yong (29, FC Seoul).

Choi’s rank on the national team is second only to Kim Tae-young (34, Chunnam Dragons). However, Kim is exempt from practice due to injury, making the Choi the oldest player.

“The intensity of the training is similar to that of Hiddink’s. I guess it’s tougher because I’m older now.” These were the words of Choi, who rested for three days during pro soccer’s All-Star game (held on July 4) and came back to the NFC soccer field for the first time after six days, but still looked haggard.

Having been part of the national squad since 1997, he is one of the few players to have played under the leadership of Guus Hiddink, Humberto Coelho, and Johannes Bonfrere. How does he feel towards the three coaches?

“Coach Bonfrere is more picky and meticulous than Hiddink. Sometimes it feels that he is too extreme.”

Hiddink, who led the Korean team to the semifinals of the 2002 World Cup, was famous for his elaborate and systematic drills, but also for his Spartan fitness training. What does it mean to be more severe than Hiddink?

“Both Bonfrere and Hiddink are similar in that they push forward high intensity drills until they are satisfied, and yell at players during practice. The difference is the extent. Bonfrere immediately stops training if he sees something he dislikes and explains each single thing. He also scolds players to the point of making them cry.” The hours of training are two hours, in the morning and afternoon. That is longer than Hiddink’s training, which only lasted at most one hour and half, both in the morning and afternoon.

Bonfrere takes notes of the strong points and weaknesses of the players during drills. On top of the desk in the NFC coach room is covered by memos scribbled with tiny letters. It is said that he spends the nights after training going over the memos.

Lee Eul-yong helps him by his side. “Dutch coaches seem alike. They are short-tempered, and stubborn. In those aspects Hiddink and Bonfrere resemble each other.”

Coelho, on the other hand, was completely different. “He let the players loose. He emphasized autonomous training and thought it was a good idea, but I think it backfired because he treated the players too at ease.”

The intensity of drills was also low. Although Coelho complained, “I only trained for 72 hours during one year and two months,” his practice hours were only half of Hiddink’s and Bonfrere’s, one and half-hours during the whole day. The method of training was also ‘the nice guy next-door’ style.

After going through Coelho and meeting a tough coach like Bonfrere, the players can only be on the verge of collapsing.

The players are going through hellish training, but are hopeful to revive Korean soccer, which has plunged after the World Cup.

“We will have to see. We still have not played a game. But I have a good feeling. I think we will have good results because the players are enthusiastic.”

Coach Bonfrere’s debut on the world stage will be July 10’s friendly match against Bahrain at Gwangju World Cup Stadium. Let’s hope for new Korean soccer that will be reborn after going through such hellish training.

Jong-Koo Yang yjongk@donga.com