|75th Anniversary reception on 19 of Sep. ⓒKFA
Happy 75th Birthday to the Korean Football Association (KFA). The men who set up this organization, one of the oldest in Asia, would not recognize the football scene if they saw it now. A domestic professional league that will soon be 16 teams strong, playing in state of the art football stadiums that just a few years ago were filled with people from around the globe watching the greatest sports competition on earth.
The N and K3 leagues would also bring a smile to the faces of those founding fathers. As would the fact that the national team has appeared at the World Cup seven times, easily the best record in Asia. The Taeguk Warriors have also reached the furthest in the competition, a semi-final appearance in 2002 amid scenes that have rarely been experienced both in and outside of the Land of the Morning Calm. Another happy fact is that the K-League is the continent’s oldest professional league and South Korean clubs are again easily the most successful in Asian club competitions.
Perhaps the most surprising fact would be that some South Korean footballers are household names in Europe and beyond. Park Ji-sung, a native of Suwon, plays regularly for the English and European, and who knows, soon to be world club champions Manchester United. He can be seen in front of crowds of 76,000 in the English Premier League, the most popular and watched football league on the planet. Compatriots such as Kim Do-heon and Seol Ki-hyeon play for famous old English clubs while on the continent, Lee Young-pyo is a Borussia Dortmund player and Park Chu-young is already impressing in France with seven-time champions AS Monaco.
So, there is much to be proud of. A long way has been come but there is still much to do. The beauty of the game of football is that it never stands still, on or off the pitch. Austria were the best team in the world in the 1920’s. Uruguay won the first two World Cups in the thirties and the Hungarian team of the fifties will never be forgotten. Now, the trio, though Uruguay may disagree, barely register on the international scene these days.
Past triumphs are all well and good but it is the next 75 years that are important and the hard work needs to continue. Historically, South Korea may be the most successful Asian team but standards are rising all across the giant continent. Qualification for World Cups never was a foregone conclusion but these days it is harder than ever. Long-time rivals Iran, Saudi Arabia and Japan have now been joined by Australia. Other teams have emerged: Iraq, Uzbekistan, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE and even North Korea are once again a force to be reckoned with.
Such a challenge is not to be feared, it is, after all, through competition that standards rise. What South Korea needs to do is to make sure that it doesn’t get left behind and there is much that the KFA is doing and can do to make sure that this doesn’t happen.
Until now, somehow, South Korea has seemingly had an amazing production line of youngsters that are virtually all technically gifted, athletic and two-footed. This is something that should not be taken for granted and should be nurtured as much as possible. It is always going to be difficult to provide a plethora of pitches in a small, crowded country which is mostly covered by mountains but football facilities around the peninsula are improving. More needs to be done however. It is in the schools where the focus must be strongest. Compared to established European nations, the number of people who play the game in Korea is small- and is a testament to the passion and dedication of those who do play that Korea still manages to compete on the international stage.
Coaching is another huge area that can not be forgotten. It is the one of the duties of the KFA to help ensure that youngsters with talent, or potential, are identified quickly. It is also a duty to ensure that these youngsters are coached by fully-trained and dedicated coaches. The dearth of coaches in England at the 5-11 years age range has been a problem for the English FA and is one that is only now starting to be sorted.
There are always challenges for the future and work to be done. But for a day at least, the KFA can relax and enjoy its achievements and its 75th birthday.