Jurgen Klinsmann: Is time running out for winless South Korea boss?

Jurgen Klinsmann's side have drawn two and lost two of his first four games in charge
Jurgen Klinsmann's side have drawn two and lost two of his first four games in charge

Wales boss Rob Page will not be the only manager at Cardiff City Stadium in need of a win on Thursday. South Korea's head coach Jurgen Klinsmann is under pressure after just six months in the job, not just for poor results but a style of management that is not going down well.

Four games at home so far have resulted in two draws against Colombia and El Salvador, and defeats at the hands of Uruguay and Peru - not ideal preparation for January's Asian Cup, a competition that South Korea last won in 1960, or the start of World Cup qualification in November.

Upon his appointment at the end of February, Klinsmann acknowledged that he had work to do to get up to speed with his Korean and Asian football.

"It's a big learning curve for me too but hopefully I'm a great learner," said the German.

Remote control

It is the method of study being utilised that is a bigger issue than results.

In his first press conference, the former Germany boss indicated he would live in South Korea, as his predecessors have all done. Seoul media, however, has calculated that the 59-year-old has spent just 67 days in the country in the six months since his appointment.

"The fans are very disappointed with the fact he is spending most of his time in the USA rather than in Korea," said South Korea journalist Lee Sung-mo.

There is plenty of football to watch as the domestic K-League has entered its final quarter of the season.

"The games are being played every week, and there are many talented young players there," said Lee. "The fans expect the manager to visit to see them himself and communicate with fans, K-League clubs and players."

Klinsmann, whose assistants have been attending games, held a press conference in August with Korean reporters on Zoom from his Los Angeles home to address the concerns.

"Maybe it's something new to people that are used to doing it differently," said Klinsmann, who has also managed Germany, Bayern Munich, the United States and Hertha Berlin.

"I don't blame anybody when they say, 'Where is he?' The work of a national team coach is international. I need to know what goes on in Europe. I need to be in touch with the coaches of the [Korean] players in Europe.

"I need to always understand what the best teams and the best nations do, and what we can do better.

"I am a workaholic. I love to work like Koreans love to work. If I'm not maybe 24/7 in the country, I still work 24/7."

Korean working culture

South Korea's work culture is one that has traditionally valued time spent in the office, with long hours and few holidays the norm.

In 2022, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reported that South Koreans work an average of 1,901 hours a year, the fifth-highest in the rankings and considerably higher than the 1,532 recorded by those in the United Kingdom.

All Klinsmann's predecessors - including Paulo Bento, who took the team to the second round of the 2022 World Cup - lived in the country and were commonly seen watching local games.

It leaves Klinsmann's remote style as an outlier, a concern given that between leaving the United States job in 2016 and taking up the South Korea post this year, his only coaching role was a 10-week stint in charge of Hertha Berlin in 2019-20.

For Lee, such an approach could work in special situations for a limited time, with a manager who has been in place for years and had a strong knowledge of the culture, players and fans.

"However, Klinsmann was appointed only six months ago and he spent more time abroad than in South Korea so far, when Korea had no win with him," said Lee.

"These circumstances are not helping anyone linked with Korean football, including Klinsmann himself."

Going forward

When the pressure is on, smaller issues can become more important. It has been noted that Klinsmann has found time to hold interviews with foreign media on Harry Kane joining Bayern Munich and Wataru Endo leaving Stuttgart for Liverpool.

Despite the growing concerns, Klinsmann decided to name his squad for the Wales and Saudi Arabia games remotely, in the form of a press release on 28 August.

Even the usually sedate Yonhap New Agency pointed out that this was a break from the long-established tradition of the head coach of South Korea holding press conferences to announce and explain their selections.

If results don't improve against Wales and Saudi Arabia, on Tuesday, it could be that Klinsmann finds he can spend as much time as he wants in California.

"That would be no wins in six games and I'm sure that the Korean media and fans would want him to be sacked so they can prepare for the Asian Cup with a new manager," Lee said.

"These two games in September are crucial for him."