It is said that a soldier who does not want to be a general is not a true soldier after all. It should follow then that a successful footballer will set himself the highest targets when he becomes a coach.
When South Korean footballing legend Cha Bum-kun returned to the K-League after a ten-year gap to take charge at Suwon Bluewings at the start of the 2004 season, his ambitions were suitably lofty. "I will try to make Bluewings one of the greatest clubs in the world," he said.
And the 52-year-old, whose last club role in his home country had been a three-year spell coaching Ulsan Tigers from 1991-94, enjoyed immediate success, guiding Bluewings to the title after a nerve-jangling penalty shootout victory over Pohang Steelers in the K-League championship final.
For Cha, who has represented his country as a player and coach at past FIFA World Cups, that domestic success spawned another ambition: to win the 2005 AFC Champions League with Bluewings and thus qualify for the FIFA Club World Championship in Japan in December. "I believe our team are capable of achieving this as long as we work hard and play well," he told FIFAworldcup.com.
The path to continental glory
Bluewings underlined their improvement under Cha when they beat Barcelona 1-0 in a friendly in Seoul last July. After soaking up Barcelona's Ronaldinho-inspired attacks, a 78th-minute free-kick from Serbo-Montenegrin import Zoran Urumov sank the visiting Spaniards. "The result is not everything but it did boost the team's confidence." Cha said.
Cha's Bluewings are currently well on track in their Champions League campaign, sharing the leadership of Group E with Chinese champions Shenzhen Jianlibao. They hit the ground running with a 5-0 thrashing of Vietnam's Hoang Anh GL, and then, after a goalless draw with Shenzhen, won back-to-back duels with Japan's Jubilo Iwata.
"The most recent 2-1 victory over Jubilo Iwata was the hardest of the tournament so far, as we were behind after only four minutes," Cha said. "The return match with Shenzhen (in China) on May 25 will probably decide who advances to the last eight."
Passing on his experiences
Regarded as the best footballer the Korea Republic has ever produced, Cha remains an idol to young players in the country, having collected 127 international caps and scored 55 goals, in addition to an impressive record of 98 goals in 308 Bundesliga appearances.
For all his achievements in Germany and he lifted the UEFA Cup with Eintracht Frankfurt and Bayer 04 Leverkusen - the high point of Cha's playing career was being part of the first Korea Republic team to appear at a FIFA World Cup finals, in Mexico in 1986, where they lost to Argentina and Italy but earned a draw against Bulgaria. Looking back, he recalled: "We didn't achieve our first win but the campaign was not disappointing as we played hard and well against the best teams in the world - the eventual champions Argentina, Italy and Bulgaria.
"The match against Italy was a thriller. Despite the difference in quality, we showed how we'd improved and scored three goals in this close 3-2 contest one of them an own goal, unfortunately. We lost the match but not by the big margin that was expected. And although we didn't go beyond the group stage, I think the lessons we learned and experiences we gained there partly helped lay the foundations that eventually produced the tremendous success at the 2002 finals."
Cha spares no time and effort passing on the knowledge he gleaned to the next generation, and one notable beneficiary is his elder son, Cha Du-ri, who has followed in his father's footsteps by playing in Germany for Eintracht Frankfurt. "I told both my son and our other European-based players more than once that wherever you play with a foreign club, the most important thing is to bridge the cultural gap between Asia and Europe," he said.
"To cope with this you will have to learn a new language and culture, and make new friends until you become one of them. I had a lot of German friends when I was there two decades ago and without their help, I couldn't have succeeded."
Family, religion, football
Despite his magnificent achievements as a player, his subsequent coaching experiences have provided mixed memories, with the 5-0 defeat by the Netherlands in the first round at France 98 a bitter one. He was sacked as national coach after that match, the South Koreans' second in the finals, and seven years on admitted: "The defeat by the Dutch is hard for me even today. We should have played better but it was impossible in such an atmosphere - you must remember how our team were supported by the Red Devils in 2002, well, the Dutch players had the same with the whole stadium a sea of orange."
It was not easy taking another coaching position in the Korea Republic, although the support of his family undoubtedly helped. "Three things are most important in my life - family, religion and football," said Cha. "Football is my life's work but when I've suffered setbacks in my career, my family and religion have always helped me recover."
Not surprisingly, Cha has passed on a love of football to his family. At the FIFA World Cup in Korea/Japan, four family members were involved in the tournament, one way or another: he was working as a commentator; his daughter as a volunteer interpreter; his younger son as a ballboy; and his elder son, of course, as a key member of Guus Hiddink's South Korean team.
That man Hiddink will be back in Seoul in July for a friendly match between his PSV Eindhoven side and a Korea University XI that Cha has been invited to coach. Old boys Lee Chun-soo (Ulsan), Choi Sung-yong (Suwon) and Park Chu-young (Seoul) will feature in the alumni team as well as former national captain Hong Myung-bo. It is Hiddink versus Cha a repeat of France 98, albeit in more relaxed circumstances. And if he loses again? The answer was to be expected: "A professional football man will never quit the game."
First name: Bum-kun
Date of birth: May 2, 1953
Place of birth: Hwaseong, Korea Republic
Playing career: Air Force (Korea Republic), SV Darmstadt 98, Eintracht Frankfurt, Bayern 04 Leverkusen (all Germany)
Coaching career: Ulsan Hyundai (Korea Republic), South Korean national team, Shenzhen Pingan (China), Suwon Bluewings (Korea Republic)
Bundesliga appearances: 308
Bundesliga goals: 98
International caps: 127
International goals: 55
FIFA World Cup
Three appearances as a player in 1986
- Two matches as a coach in 1998
Winner with Eintracht Frankfurt in 1980 and Bayer 04 Leverkusen in 1988
Champion with Suwon Bluewings in 2004