Colin Bell named Korea Republic head coach in October 2019
Englishman is the first foreign coach of nation's women's national team
FIFA.com hears about his ambitions, philosophies and plans
Colin Bell is one of the most experienced coaches in women's football and now he's embarking on a unique challenge, even for someone with his background. The Englishman has notably coached 1.FFC Frankfurt and Republic of Ireland in recent years. In October 2019 he became the first foreign coach to take charge of the Korea Republic women's national team, with Women's Olympic Football Tournament qualifiers looming in February.
On the eve of the East Asian Football Federation (EAFF) E-1 Championship in Busan, Bell chatted exclusively with FIFA.com to talk about his goals and plans for the future of the team, currently 20th on the FIFA Women's World Ranking, his coaching philosophy and other topics related to the development of women's football.
FIFA.com: You gave your opening statement at your introductory press conference completely in Korean, which was impressive. What will your language acclimation look like during your time as manager?
Colin Bell: I’m trying my best to learn as much as I can as quickly as I can. I try to learn a new word or sentence every day. I just believe communication is so important, but also it’s a mark of respect of the country I’m actually working in, for the people living there, that I try my best to speak their native language. Plus I enjoy languages. I’m hopeful that maybe after 12 months I can be speaking quite well.
Do you already have a favourite football phrase in Korean?
‘Pass nae-beun pan-dae’ which means four passes and switch, which we use quite often for our small-sided games. The most difficult thing is pronunciation. I’m having to try to learn hangeul, the Korean alphabet. If I’m just trying to use the Roman alphabet, I won’t be able to get hold of the language as well but I’m in-between at the moment. I’m trying my best.
Could you give us some insight about where the programme wants to go and what the long-term vision is and how you fit into that vision?
The KFA have made a big step in hiring a foreign coach, which is the first time in the history of the women’s national team, maybe just to give a different perspective and they're expecting new heights. Now it’s up to us to get things moving together. Everyone needs to see that it’s a team effort to get everyone on the same page to make Korea Republic a really strong force within women’s football. I honestly believe it’s possible.
When you see smaller countries like the Netherlands win the EUROs, it took them 30 years to get to that level, but you have those comparisons where smaller nations make the most of that. When I say small, I mean there’s a small number of girls actually playing here. You have to look at those statistics as well. We need to change that mindset and get more girls exposed to football and can enjoy playing. There’s a lot to work on, but that’s exciting. There’s so much space to move in to. The country can bring out world-class players. Ji Soyun’s proved that
What are your long-term and short-term goals for the team?
The short-term plan is to try and qualify for the Olympics knowing that it’s going to be very difficult because there are only two places up for grabs [Editor's note: Korea Republic are in Group A in Asia's qualifiers for Tokyo 2020 alongside Korea DPR, Vietnam and Myanmar]. The long-term one is to build a team that’s strong enough to be competitive at the World Cup, not just to qualify but to qualify and do really well. I’m looking for a new dynamic within the team and changing the style of play a little bit, being more active and trying to build up a younger team that has a lot of energy and hunger.
How do you work? Do you impose a style of play from the get-go or is it something that develops after you get a lot of time with your players? What will be the identity of your Korean team?
I’m a big believer in organisation, so we have to defend really well first. I want an attacking, aggressive style of play but if you can’t defend, then you’re always going to be in trouble. We want to be very difficult to play against, so teams can’t get through us and break us down so easily. It’s more of an active approach. Having the ability to keep the ball for longer periods of time within the game, or having that game intelligence to identify when you may only need two passes to get a shot or only three passes to score.
I want to win matches being really active, while always having a defensive organisation, because I believe if we’re defensively well-organised, we’ll attack better. It’s not rocket science. It’s nothing new. But the organisation of when we have the ball and when we don’t have it is key. We want to highlight that.
You believe that football is very complex. Some say that it’s a simple game. Why is it complex in your eyes?
Football’s complex because it’s played by human beings, and human beings are complex beings. You have 22 of them on the pitch, plus the referees and assistants, now you even have video assistants as well, limited time and space to play in, limited areas, so there’s a lot going on. The complexity is then within the decision-making and in the amount of information a player has to take in a short space of time; that is a complex thing. The objective is to try and simplify the game, although it is complex and prioritise certain things.
When you speak about women’s football you get into conversations that you don’t get into with men’s football, mainly pertaining to perception, societal acceptance etc. A lot of men’s coaches don’t have to worry about things like that. How do you manage the added responsibilities in a position like this?
It is something that always seems to come up. Football’s the only sport that has this comparison, or people try to compare men’s and women’s football. It’s not needed. Automatically you have differences. The gender’s different, so the physicality’s different, the speed of the game is different. If people can be open-minded and watch the girls actually play and just concentrate on that, how they actually perform, what’s they’re performance level, then you forget about the other things. Mindsets will change if and when we’re successful. People will get behind the team.
A really interesting part of your introductory press conference was when you broke down why we shouldn’t be comparing men’s and women’s football by using the example of Boris Becker and Steffi Graff. Why is that important to you? What message do you want to get across?
Tennis at the time in the 80s and 90s, it was a nice game to play, more for the upper class, and all of a sudden it took a boom because these two players came up and were just world class, but no one ever compared them to each other. They were both world class. You could enjoy watching Boris and then enjoy watching Steffi. That’s the mindset we need to get to and achieve with women’s football. Watch the game, get behind your team and enjoy it.
Why did football get bogged down in comparing the men’s and women’s games?
It’s a male-dominated sport and it was always a man’s sport. If you look back up until 1970 organised women’s football was banned in Germany. Up until 1972 it was banned in England. You couldn’t play an organised game properly. You’re battling against tradition that’s been instilled in our DNA for many many years and generations, and now women are breaking through and breaking that barrier. They’re doing it now at a pace which is great because we have so many talented women playing football and it’s just great to see.
Society’s beginning to change. Enjoy the performance, but don’t compare Megan Rapinoe with Lionel Messi. Compare Rapinoe maybe with Ji Soyun if you want to, but not to Cristiano Ronaldo. That doesn’t make sense. To be honest, I don’t even think it makes sense to have the Messi-or-Ronaldo discussion. Those are pointless conversations.