The Korea Football Association (KFA) named Hong Myung-bo as the new manager of the men's senior national team, Monday, as it prepares for next year's World Cup finals.
Hong, 44, a legend as a player and manager of Korea's Olympic squad that won the bronze in the London Olympic Games, inherits a struggling team in need of fixing. The Taeguk Warriors have sank steadily into mediocrity in the past year under the helm of Choi Kang-hee, whose legacy as Korea's coach will be defined by poor play, blown leads, and unfulfilled guarantees.
Despite an uninspiring qualifying campaign, Korea managed to stumble into a spot in Brazil, edging regional rivals Uzbekistan by a single point on goal difference after Group A play.
Choi stepped down last week after Korea's 1-0 loss to Iran at home in its final qualifying match. Hong now has less than a year to make Korea looking like a team that truly deserves to be on world sport's biggest stage.
While the KFA did review three other candidates, Hong had been pegged as the front-runner from the beginning of the coach hunt.
''As a strategist, Hong favorably compares to anyone who is out there, including foreign coaches,'' said Huh Jung-moo, the KFA vice chairman, in a news conference at the Paju National Football Center in Gyeonggi Province, shortly after KFA senior officials met and agreed on Hong as Choi's replacement.
''We are committed to Hong for the long run. We have hired foreign coaches before and most of them left after one-off campaigns. This is no longer the direction Korean football is willing to take. In the meeting, the support for Hong was near-unanimous.''
There was deep disappointment over Choi's failure to coax his team into play larger than the sum of its parts, particularly because the parts had previously triggered the talk of a new golden generation in Korean football.
The KFA's priority was to find a coach to inspire its promising youngsters, including the Bundesliga trio of Son Heung-min, Koo Ja-cheol and Ji-Dong-won, who engineered the country's impressive run at the London Olympics and are now expected to be the core of the senior squad. And there wasn't a more obvious candidate than Hong, the Olympic coach himself.
Hong's first test will come in the East Asian Football Federation (EAFF) East Asian Cup tournament at home next month, which invites Japan, Australia and China to play for regional bragging rights. There are also a number of international friendlies scheduled between August and November.
Hong, considered one of the best defenders Asia has ever produced, played in nearly 140 matches for his country from 1990 to 2002, a span that included four World Cup appearances and an Olympic tournament. His composure and ability to anticipate plays at the backline earned him the nickname as the ''Korean Paolo Maldini'' and he was also known for a thunderbolt right-foot that was dangerous in dead-ball situations.
Hong began his coaching career as an assistant on the senior national team from 2005 to 2007, and then on the under-23 squad from 2007 to 2008.
In 2009, Hong led the under-20 squad to the quarterfinals at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, a year before he led the under-23 team to a bronze medal at the Guangzhou Asian Games.
The bronze-medal run at last year's Olympics has so far been the feather in Hong's coaching cap. The KFA is now hoping that Hong can produce similar results at the senior level.