The sudden appointment of Huh Jung-Moo as Korea Republic coach came as a surprise, given the fact that the Korean FA had been searching for a high-profile foreign manager. However, with less than two months left before the kick-off of the Preliminary Round for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South AfricaTM, plan B seems to be working out for the Taeguk Warriors, who are aiming to reach the world finals for a seventh successive time.
Huh's third term, following a 12-day stint in 1995 and two years in the hot-seat between 1998 and 2000, will be "the last chapter of my football life," according to the 52-year-old. If the first chapter was his illustrious playing career, which culminated in an appearance at Mexico 1986, the second was the 1990s when he established himself as one of the most colourful homegrown coaches of all time.
Having furthered his FIFA World Cup experience as Korea Republic's fitness trainer at Italy 1990, Huh joined the coaching staff of Pohang Steelers the following year before assuming the club's reins in 1993. He was also an assistant coach for Kim Ho's national squad that narrowly missed out on a place in the knockout phase at USA 1994.
His first test as the coach of Korea took place in Suwon on 12 August 1995, when the hosts lost 1-0 to Brazil in a friendly. He then left Pohang to coach his hometown club Chunnam Dragons in 1996, and it was with the Gwangyang-based outfit that he won his first major trophy: the Korean FA Cup in 1997, a competition he would go on to win again with the Dragons in 2006 and 2007.
Huh's second tenure at the Korean national team helm began in similar fashion to the first. In December 1998, he took the Taeguk Warriors to the Asian Games football tournament in Bangkok where they suffered a 3-2 defeat by Turkmenistan in the opening match. Although they bounced back with four straight wins, Huh could not prevent them going down 2-1 to the hosts at the quarter-final stage.
Nevertheless, Huh kept on rebuilding the side by calling up talented young players like Lee Chun-soo, Lee Young-pyo and Park Ji-sung. In less than two years, the trio would go on to play important roles at the Men's Olympic Football Tournament and the AFC Asian Cup in 2000. Despite the early exit from Sydney, where they lost 3-0 to eventual runners-up Spain in their curtain-raiser before beating Morocco and Chile 1-0 respectively, Huh's charges finished third in the continental championship in Lebanon.
But that proved to be the end of his term and the beginning of an influx of foreign-born coaches: Dutchman Guus Hiddink arrived on the New Year's Day in 2001, followed by Portuguese Humberto Coelho two years later, then a Dutch trio of Johannes Bonfrere, Dick Advocaat and Pim Verbeek. Seven years under foreign guidance produced mixed results, from a fourth-place finish at Korea/Japan 2002 to a first round exit at Germany 2006 - and now it is a time for yet another challenge.
Asked why Korean football has been in decline since 2002, Huh said: "Although I think it was an inevitable downfall, everyone is responsible for it. Players, coaches, as well as the association. We have to start over from the scratch."
Indeed, he will have to do just that in February, when the Koreans take the first step toward qualification for South Africa 2010 against Turkmenistan, who spoiled Huh's debut nine years ago.
"The FIFA World Cup is the biggest stage on earth and a tournament that can even affect the morale of a whole nation," said the tactician. "I have coached the national team before, but I think I was too young and not good enough then. Now I will give my all and take every game as the final. I will bet everything in my football life on this."