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S. Korean football federation to discuss Klinsmann's fate this week

Feb. 13, 2024 - 10:14 By Yonhap
Jurgen Klinsmann, head coach of the South Korean men's national football team, listens to a question from a reporter at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, on Thursday. (Yonhap)

The South Korean football federation will hold a meeting this week to determine the fate of the beleaguered men's national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, days after the country's disappointing exit from the top continental tournament.

The Korea Football Association announced Monday afternoon that its National Team Committee will hold a postmortem meeting "sometime this week," following South Korea's semifinal elimination at the Asian Football Confederation Asian Cup last Tuesday.

The KFA added that its technical director, Hwangbo Kwan, and head of the National Team Committee, Michael Muller, met earlier Monday to review South Korea's performance at the tournament in Qatar.

South Korea suffered a 2-0 loss to Jordan in the semifinals last Tuesday, while failing to register a shot on goal.

The focus of the National Team Committee's meeting will likely be on the status of Klinsmann, who has defied growing calls to resign in light of the Asian Cup exit. A senior KFA official said once the National Team Committee reaches a consensus on Klinsmann's future, the executive board will make the final call.

"Since we have World Cup qualifying matches coming up next month, we have to hold the meeting as soon as possible and start the process," the official added.

Another KFA official said a decision by the National Team Committee on Klinsmann could be reached by the end of next week, at the latest.

Klinsmann, who was appointed in February 2023 and is signed through the 2026 FIFA World Cup, had been in the hot seat for most of his tenure. The temperature went up several notches during the Asian Cup due to a string of uninspired performances by the Taegeuk Warriors.

After beating Bahrain 3-1 to open the group stage, South Korea were held to a 2-2 draw by Jordan, salvaging a point thanks to Jordan's late own goal. South Korea then settled for a 3-3 draw against the lowly Malaysia, ranked 107 spots below South Korea at No. 130.

Football fans hold a banner outside the Korea Football Association House in Seoul on Tuesday, demanding the immediate firing of Jurgen Klinsmann. (Yonhap)

South Korea then needed late equalizers before squeezing past Saudi Arabia and Australia in the knockout stage. Then they ran into a determined Jordan side that completely neutralized toothless South Korea, who were trying to win their first Asian Cup title since 1960.

Along the way, Klinsmann drew heavy criticism for failing to provide South Korea with much tactical structure and for wasting what many observers regarded as one of the most talented national team squads.

Klinsmann was also panned for smiling at inappropriate moments, including in the immediate aftermath of the semifinal loss to Jordan. With some of his players reduced to tears following the crushing defeat, Klinsmann was caught on camera flashing a grin as he congratulated his counterpart, Hussein Ammouta, on Jordan's victory.

Both at the postmatch press conference and his media scrum upon arriving back in South Korea, Klinsmann was asked, point-blank, whether he would step down. The German coach said he wasn't planning to resign and he would instead review the tournament with the KFA and then begin preparing for the country's next World Cup qualifying matches against Thailand on March 21 and 26.

However, Klinsmann returned to his home in the United States on Saturday, just two days after landing in South Korea, even though he'd told reporters Thursday that he would go home "next week."

In the leadup to the Asian Cup, Klinsmann had frequently said the continental tournament would be his "benchmark" by which he and his staff would be measured, and that he would accept any criticism that comes his way if South Korea fell short of the AFC crown.

On Thursday, Klinsmann further angered fans by claiming South Korea had "a successful tournament" in Qatar because they were the only East Asian side to make it to the semifinals in a tournament held in the Middle East. Some fans at Incheon International Airport threw Korean taffy -- an insult in Korean culture -- and directed a few choice words at Klinsmann.

The KFA has not officially disclosed Klinsmann's annual salary or other details of his contract, but he is believed to be making $2.2 million per year. If the KFA were to fire him, it would still have to pay him for the remainder of his contract. The KFA would also have to honor the contracts for members of Klinsmann's staff, further driving up the cost of sacking Klinsmann.

KFA President Chung Mong-gyu has also been hearing calls for his head -- not only from disgruntled football fans but from politicians.

Chung has been at the helm of South Korean football since January 2013 and is believed to be seeking a fourth term, with the next election set for January 2025.

Prior to the National Team Committee's meeting, senior executives of the KFA, including Hwangbo and Muller, met Tuesday to review South Korea's performance at the Asian Cup. The KFA said Chung did not attend.

The KFA added the executives on hand were mostly former players and that they had "an open discussion" on a wide range of issues covering the Asian Cup.

Earlier Tuesday, some fans brought banners to the KFA House in Seoul to call for Klinsmann's dismissal and Chung's resignation. (Yonhap)