Having only been appointed coach of the Korea Republic U-20 team last November, Shin Taeyong does not exactly have time on his side. With a mere five months to go before the FIFA U-20 World Cup gets underway in his homeland, Shin is busy assessing his squad in Portugal, where they are currently based for an extended training camp and series of friendlies.
This comes in the wake of a two-week training camp in Jeju at the end of last year. Indeed, the coach and his charges will also be foregoing their traditional Lunar New Year holiday, which begins this weekend, opting instead to sweat it out in training. That said, Shin is no stranger to a challenge or being the man in the spotlight.
During a legendary playing career spanning 13 seasons, he racked up 401 games, scored 99 goals and made 68 assists, leading Ilwha Chunma to six K-League championships along the way. In late 2008, Shin started his coaching career in Seongnam as the helm of the club where he enjoyed so much success as a player. Later, after the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, he filled the managerial void by becoming interim head coach of the Korea Republic senior team. In February of the following year, he was given responsibility for the U-23 team and led the Taeguk Warriors to the quarter-finals of the Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016.
As such, Shin Taeyong is taking this new situation in his stride. “In life, everyone has disappointing moments,” he told FIFA.com in Seogwipo last month. “I would have preferred to take things on from the very beginning, but I think coming in mid-cycle was also important. To be called on in times of trouble and have people think ‘We don’t have much time, but we can probably make it with this guy’ is something I regard as positive.”
With only a tight schedule to work with, the first order of business for Shin was to select 35 players from among those used by his predecessor, Ahn Iksoo, and evaluate their performance levels at the Jeju training camp. For the Portugal get-together currently underway, the squad had to be further whittled down to 25. Not an easy task for a man who, despite a fantastic club career, had few chances to shine with the national team.
I told him, ‘I’m sorry, but this time you have to make a sacrifice for your father... if you were to come into the national team while I’m in charge, it would be problematic.’
“Of course, it really hurts. When it involves guys you’ve suffered or rejoiced with, then deciding who can and cannot go is bound to disappoint some players. But I try to instil some confidence in them,” Shin said. “I played fairly successfully for my club team, but the reason I never played well for the national side was because I felt peer pressure from senior players. That meant I could never play the way I wanted to. If I’d played the same way I did for my club, then perhaps the national team would have performed better – but I never got to do that. Therefore, I train my players so that they’re able to show all their talents on the pitch and perform with confidence,” he added.
Shin is familiar with the Spartan training style of Park Jonghwan, the coach who led the South Koreans to the semi-finals at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Mexico 1983 and oversaw Ilwha Chunma’s glory days. Though he wore the captain’s armband and shone charismatically under Park’s brand of football, Shin’s coaching philosophy is completely different to that of his former boss.
“In our time, the style of football differed greatly from coach to coach, and that was difficult for us. We played football with a lot of restraint. I think if players are to develop, they have to play to their abilities. Instead of the coach saying ‘do this, do that’, I think he should present the big picture of what he wants and allow the players to make it happen. It shouldn’t be done in a coercive atmosphere, but rather one that nurtures players. I think better results can be achieved by letting the players do what they can by themselves,” he explained.
While in charge of the U-23 team, Shin’s coaching philosophy became known as “brotherly leadership”, and among this group of players, Shin often hears himself being compared to a “neighbourhood *ajusshi *(dad)”. That paternal relationship may also have something to do with some of the current U-20 squad having played with Shin’s eldest son, Jaewon, during the qualifying phase of the FIFA U-17 World Cup Chile 2015.
“They’re friends with my eldest son. The age gap is similar to that of father and son, so I’m an *ajusshi *to them,” laughed Shin. “My eldest son took part in the Asian qualifying for the U-17 World Cup, but then he suffered a fatigue fracture, had to sit out seven months and missed the World Cup. So I told him that as long as I’m in charge, he cannot make the U-20 team. There could be a misunderstanding. I told him, ‘I’m sorry, but this time you have to make a sacrifice for your father. I’m not going to say anything about your true talent, because you’re good at judging it, but if you were to come into the national team while I’m in charge, it would be problematic.’ He was disappointed, but we can’t do anything about it.”
Though he tends to prefer attacking, aggressive football, Shin Taeyong has not set concrete goals just yet for his charges, instead focusing on instilling a positive mindset among them. “I’ve not thought about goals so far, as we haven’t played a game with a full-strength line-up yet. We’ll have a better idea after the JS Cup concludes in March. That being said, because this World Cup is being hosted in our country, I think we need to reach at least the quarter-finals, or even go beyond that.”
In order for Shin Taeyong to achieve that objective, he will need the enthusiastic help of the home supporters, as he explained with our interview drawing to a close. “I’d like it if we managed to get as many of the country’s football fans behind us as possible. I think that our young players will achieve better results and draw strength from our supporters if they show up in droves like for the 2002 World Cup. I believe that fans enable players to give it their all. So I say to everyone, ‘If you give us your support and encourage us, we will accomplish even greater things’.”