“If you look at the last U-20 World Cup, Lee Kang-in is the only player who has made it to the national team level now.”
Jürgen Klinsmann, head coach of the South Korean national football team, spoke to the media after the June A match on 12 June and said these ‘weighty’ words alongside the touting of the U-20 World Cup squad. It’s a phrase that shouldn’t be overlooked for the future of Korean football.
South Korea has been performing well at all levels of the national team recently. The U-20 team has been particularly impressive. At the 2017 U-20 World Cup in South Korea, Lee Seung-woo (Suwon FC) and Baek Seung-ho (Jeonbuk) led the team to the round of 16, and at the 2019 tournament in Poland, Lee Kang-in (Mallorca) led the team to reach the final of a FIFA-sanctioned tournament for the first time in Korean football history. At the recently concluded tournament in Argentina, they reached the quarter-finals for the second time in a row.
The achievements of the U-20 team can be interpreted as a positive sign that Korean football’s long-standing youth development policy is beginning to bear fruit. In fact, 17 of the 21 players in Kim Eun-joong’s U-20 squad – 81 per cent – came from the K League.
However, whether this success translates to the adult stage is another matter, and one of the biggest concerns for Korean football.
Players who excel at the age-group level need to be guaranteed playing time in order to continue their success at the adult level. Playing a lot of games keeps them in shape, and the bumps and bruises help them realise where they’re lacking, giving them the motivation to work harder and improve. “It doesn’t matter if you’re playing in K League 1 or K League 2, the most important thing is to play consistently,” says Klinsmann. Players grow by playing. They can’t grow if they’re benched or can’t play, so I think we need to keep an eye on that.”
The U-20s, who are continuing their ‘success’, are not immune to this problem. Two of the main stars of 2017, Lee Seung-woo and Baek Seung-ho, failed to settle into the Barcelona B team and subsequently moved elsewhere for playing time, only to struggle for a while. Lee Kang-in is now an integral part of the A squad, but he too struggled for a long time at Valencia, where he didn’t play much.
Most of the players in this squad also lacked the stamina to play 90 minutes for their clubs, which was a problem for Kim. The team was criticised as a ‘valley generation’ without a single star, but the more fundamental problem was that the players were not fully fit. “I’ve seen countless cases of promising young players coming to the pros and not playing for so long that their growth stops and they become mediocre,” says a football insider. I would like to see more things like a loan system to help them get on the field, or perhaps more age-specific leagues like they have overseas.” 메이저사이트