It is not often that a coach leaves his post just 80 days after leading a team to the World Cup but that is what former South Korean coach Jo Bonfrere did this week – although he would have been fired the day after.
Even after the 2002 World Cup semi-finalists made sure they had a crack at the 2006 version, the dour Dutchman wasn’t as popular as he might have been –partly due to patchy performances but also because of his perceived lack of passion and personality.
Finishing bottom of the East Asian championships meant that the knives, always near to hand in the top drawer, were shined and sharpened. The defeat of a near full-strength Korean team to an inexperienced Saudi Arabian line-up was the last straw. The media had a field day and the country’s legion of netizens were flexing their fingers behind their keyboards.
The KFA called an emergency meeting for August 23, a meeting which increasingly looked like marking the end of the Dutchman’s 14 month tenure. On August 22, Bonfrere offered his resignation, a decision which the committee gratefully accepted.
Leaving the questions of whether the former coach of Nigeria was ‘got to’ by the KFA or whether the KFA is made up of a bunch of bumbling buffoons aside – the main question is: Did he deserve to lose his job?
On the face of it no; he had reached the World Cup and as he said, after a year in the job had got to know the players and was starting the process of preparing the team for the World Cup. In such a situation, results slip down the list of priorities below trying new players, formations and tactics. If Hiddink had been fired halfway through his preparation for the World Cup (which included worse results than Bonfrere’s) then 2002 could well have been a different story.
Because of those achievement three years ago, Bonfrere lamented the fact that, crypto gambling expectations are high, the media and public focus on results, comparisons are always being made with the past and he didn’t have enough training time.
Such comments are not unreasonable but could have come from the mouths of most international coaches around the world. Bonfrere can feel aggrieved at his dismissal as he reached the World Cup, but with the vagaries of the Asian qualifying system it was not a tall order.
Performances were the problem; there weren’t enough good ones. South Korea’s problem at the beginning of his 432 day spell was the fact that the strikers missed a multitude of chances but in the East Asian Cup, those chances dried up, a much more serious problem. This is especially true with a defence that has improved but all too often concedes a soft goal after having little to do for the other 89 minutes.
The 59 year-old’s post match press conferences started to follow a similar vein. The team’s luck would be lamented as would the other team’s onus on defence after getting a lucky goal. When coaches start to talk about luck, game after game, it is a sign that all is not well.
Bonfrere’s big mistake was not to talk to the media. His reluctance to do so led to a lack of support for him when things started to go wrong. As results worsened, his obvious dislike for press conferences continued and he became more defensive and snappy.
His answers were not the only thing becoming snappy as his dress sense improvingIt is interesting that in his last two games in charge, Bonfrere swapped his benchwear of a KFA t-shirt for a smart Hiddink-esque suit, even in temperatures of over 30 degrees Celsius.
The temperatures off the pitch became hotter but Bonfrere simply had no supporters to protect him; it was easier for a weak-willed KFA to decide to dismiss him than to continue his employment.
Now they have to find someone else – and quick.