Ghotbi on Asian Cup and South Korean players

Afshin Ghotbi recently left his position as South Korean assistant coach to take over Iranian club Persepolis. Born in Iran, the 43 year-old left his homeland for America in 1977 and went to the 1998 World Cup with the United States and the 2002 and 2006 World Cups with South Korea. He spoke to John Duerden of (extracts):

Practical problems of the 2007 Asian Cup:

First of all, you have four different countries, four different kinds of politics and different logistics. There are only 16 teams, it makes no sense to have four teams in each country and then have them travel around in the knockout stage. I can give you some examples – when we arrived at the training ground in Jakarta, the training pitch was worse than any amateur pitch. We went to the stadium before any game had been played and it looked like there had been a full season of games played on it. It was very bumpy with different kinds if grass growing on it, maybe five different kinds. They’ve cut it where one stripe as one height and the next stripe is a different height so television cameras could see different colours and that makes absolutely sense for the players because the ball is changing speeds as it travels through the grass at different levels.

Then we were supposed to have a closed training session but there were a 1,000 people watching. Having four teams in the same hotel makes no sense. Then we traveled to Malaysia and then realized that some of the coaches and staff didn’t have enough rooms. So then they had to move us to a different hotel and a two-hour day turned into a 14 hour day for the coaches and a 12-hour day for the players. With only a three-day break between games, this doesn’t help the players.

Having referees referee us for two or three games creates awkward situations. In the Iran and Korea game, having a referee from UAE, this makes no sense as some Iranian players play there and can speak Arabic, so they can influence. We’re playing Iraq with a Kuwaiti referee. These are recipes for questions.

The AFC has to do a better job of managing these tournaments. The sponsorship was fantastic and they did a great job of finding sponsors but what happened to selling tickets? For a top player playing in an empty stadium, it doesn’t motivate them so much. I think pitch conditions, logistics, empty stadiums and the decisions taken with referees needs to improve. If Asia is to be the future of football then we need to be a lot more responsible. The game against Indonesia was fantastic and we need more of those kinds of games but the semi-final in Malaysia, most of the stadium was empty. If you have the tournament in one country, it’s easier to build energy, if we put the tournament in cities attractive for tourists. Our 3/4 place play-off against Japan in Palembang and with all respect to Palembang it was in the middle of nowhere. The players had to fly from Malaysia to Jakarta and then take another flight to Palembang and then take a bus ride through farmland – it makes no sense.

On the South Korean national team:

I feel we have planted a fantastic foundation for the future of Korean football and 2010. The fruit of what we have done will be seen in 2010. We have introduced players that were unknowns – players like Kim Chi-woo, Kim Jin-kyu, Oh beom-seok and Kang Min-soo were fantastic. Son Dae-ho was introduced and he is not very young but based on his experience, you can see a bright future in international football for him in the next 5-6 years.

The Korean team was a young team and achieved much more than people gave them credit for. They played Japan, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq – the top four teams. We didn’t lose a game. With a little bit more luck, more sharpness and innovation in attack, it was a tournament that we could have won. But for the fans and the media, it is difficult to get excited about a team that scores only three goals in six games … We all wanted to score more goals but the reality is who is scoring goals in the K-League? The reality is which Korean player is consistently scoring goals at the top level? As long as in the K-League the best strikers are foreigners, as long as Korean strikers abroad are sitting on the bench, it’s very difficult to produce top goalscorers for the national team when you are getting two, three day and two-week preparations before major tournaments and try to compete with the best teams in the world and Asia.

Take Shin Young-rok as an example. He’s been a very promising striker since he was 16 and I met him at Suwon. It is very difficult for him to get in the first team. If Suwon really have the player’s greatest interest at heart and the development of Korean football at heeart, they can take some decisions to help him –either give him as many opportunities as possible in the first team or loan or sell him to a different club where he can start. I can understand this, they want to make the deepest squad and win things and they think ‘why should we give a good player away to another team?’

We have to use more innovation and ingenuity in attack. It starts at the youth level and the selection of players that are youthful and creative. It starts with a training environment where they are given chances to take decisions. I have worked in the K-League and they are trained to be mechanical, they are trained not to take risks, not to make decisions, follow orders and that is a reflection of the society. Those are things that Hiddink started talking about in 2001, trying to break down the heirachy in football and the relationship between older players and younger players.