Much-criticized Klinsmann asks for help in building ‘positive spirit’ for nat’l football team

Jurgen Klinsmann, much-maligned head coach of the South Korean men’s national football team, on Thursday called on the public and media to help build “a positive spirit” around his players as they gear up for a big continental tournament next year.

Klinsmann returned to South Korea on Thursday following a last-minute schedule change from the previous day in Europe.

After South Korea completed their two-match trip to Wales and England on Tuesday, Klinsmann had initially planned to see South Korean internationals in action in Europe. His itinerary included a trip to Germany to watch Bayern Munich defender Kim Min-jae in the Bundesliga at the weekend.

However, the Korea Football Association (KFA) announced Wednesday evening that Klinsmann would instead fly back to South Korea on Thursday and scout players in the domestic K League before announcing the next edition of the national team for October friendlies. South Korea will host Tunisia on Oct. 13 and Vietnam on Oct. 17.

On the latest trip, South Korea had a goalless draw against Wales but defeated Saudi Arabia 1-0 for Klinsmann’s first win in charge of the Taegeuk Warriors.

Klinsmann said the latest camp was an opportunity for him and his staff to learn more about the team in the buildup to the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup kicking off in January in Qatar.

“It was a good learning camp with a lot of positives,” Klinsmann told reporters at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul. “Step by step, we’re growing together.”

The KFA on Wednesday didn’t provide reasons for Klinsmann’s schedule change, though Klinsmann might have been mindful of mounting criticism over his work habits.

Klinsmann had been under fire for having spent more time overseas than in South Korea, despite vowing at the start of his tenure in March that he would live here to learn about the new country and its culture.

While staying in his Los Angeles home, Klinsmann also moonlighted as a European football analyst for ESPN and attended the draw ceremony for the UEFA Champions League in Monaco, leaving the grunt work of K League scouting to his assistants.

That South Korea did not win their first five matches under Klinsmann didn’t help the narrative surrounding the coach.

When asked why he made the change, Klinsmann smiled and quipped, “Because you asked for it.”

“The KFA said there’s a lot of media waiting normally for the team when they come back home. And so I said, ‘No problem. I can switch plans,'” Klinsmann added, turning more serious. “And I will go to the two games this weekend (in the K League), no problem.”

Klinsmann reiterated his goal of winning the Asian Cup, something South Korea last did in 1960. The coach said his team will need help from the public and the media if they were to end the long title drought.

“It’s vital that everybody builds a positive spirit. The fans, the media and the team, obviously,” he said. “If it doesn’t go well, there is enough time to criticize or fire the coach or do whatever you want to. But in the buildup to a tournament, a national team especially needs the help of the fans and the media to believe in it and to build a positive momentum.”

Klinsmann cited Germany’s disappointing showing at the 2022 FIFA World Cup as an example, claiming that negativity surrounding the team led to Germany’s stunning exit in the group stage.

On multiple occasions during the scrum, Klinsmann referred to the Asian Cup as “the benchmark” by which his staff and his players should be measured. He said he will take whatever shots that come his way if South Korea fall short of the Asian title.

And despite persistent criticism over his commitment to South Korea and lack of tactical acumen, Klinsmann said he will lean on his considerable tournament experience to get the job done at the Asian Cup.

The former German international starred at three World Cups and coached his native country to third place at the 2006 World Cup. As head coach of the United States, Klinsmann lifted the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup trophy.

“Absolutely, if you’re not doing well, then you should be questioned,” he said. “But I have a lot of experience, especially with tournaments. And I love tournaments. I know how to time things towards a tournament, and that’s why I think the biggest point is that this team keeps growing and stays healthy. The benchmark for us is the Asian Cup. We believe that we can win the Asian Cup.”

Klinsmann said he isn’t about to change the way he operates, as he plans to keep splitting his time between South Korea and overseas to help prepare the team for the Asian Cup. Between the October friendlies and the January-February tournament, South Korea will play early qualifying matches for the 2026 FIFA World Cup in November.

Source: Yonhap News Agency