That 27 managers have taken charge of Vietnam’s national team since 1991 is an indication of the challenges facing one of Southeast Asia’s veteran sides. The latest man to take up that challenge is Korean coach Park Hang-seo, who was in the stands as a caretaker led Vietnam to a 6-1 Asian Cup qualification win over Cambodia.
In an interview with Sports Chosun, Park mentioned that he has been given preferential treatment rarely offered to previous Vietnam coaches. This is an indication of what Park is expected to deliver, but what path has his career taken in order to earn such deference by the Vietnam Football Federation?
Park’s career as a player wasn’t particularly long. The midfielder started his football career with semi-professional team Korea First Bank FC in 1981. Soon after, he carried out his mandatory military service by playing for Army FC. After spending five years at Lucky-Goldstar Hwangso, the club who are known today as FC Seoul, Park retired in 1988 at the age of 29.
A Rise to Prominence
Park returned to Hwangso as a coach in 1989, where he remained until his appointment as a trainer for Korea’s national team during the 1994 FIFA World Cup.
In 2000, soon after the resignation of national team head coach Huh Jeong-moo, Park was promoted to an assistant coaching position. Huh was succeeded by the well-known Guus Hiddink who had led Netherlands national team to a runners-up finish at the 1998 World Cup in France.
As Hiddink was not familiar with Korea, Park became a bridge between the Ditchman and players. Lee Chun-soo, a former national team player known as a troublemaker, described Park as a mother-like figure in his autobiography. In this harmonious environment, Korea Republic reached the semi-final of the 2002 FIFA World Cup. Hiddink’s legendary results could perhaps not have been as achievable without Park.
A Troubled Relationship with the Korean Football Association
When Hiddink left Korea, Park was appointed as the new head coach of the country’s Under-23 team. However, he soon butted heads with the Korean Football Association.
While the FA initially announced that Park would lead the team from the 2002 Busan Asian Games until the 2004 Asian Athens Olympics, KFA General Secretary Nam Kwang-u said that his term would be only through 2002, sparking the new head coach’s ire.
The KFA fell under further criticism after news emerged that Park would not be paid until the Asian Games. In response, KFA technical chief Kim Jin-guk accused Park of damaging the program’s reputation.
While Park remained in charge of the side despite these conflicts, he was eventually sacked after Korea only managed to win a bronze medal in Busan.
An Eventful Managerial Career
In 2005, Park was appointed head of the newly-founded Gyeongnam FC. After finishing 12th in their debut K-League season, Gyeongnam achieved a playoff appearance in their second campaign, a remarkable accomplishment for a new club.
However, under accusations that he was involved in the club’s internal problems, Park accepted responsibility and resigned following their first round exit.
In December 2007, Park took over at Jeonnam Dragons, where he won Samsung Hauzen Cup in the following year. After leading the side to a playoff appearance in 2009, he resigned in 2010 following disappointing results.
Sangju Sangmu and Changwon FC
Park’s next stop was relegated military team Sangju Sangmu, who dominated the K-League Challenge in 2013 and earned a swift return to the top flight. However, they did not adjust well to the K-League Classic and were relegated after just one season, obtaining another promotion after a second Challenge title in 2015. But that would be Park’s final year at the club, as he claimed an irreconcilable conflict with the club’s newly-appointed commanding officer over player selection.
This season Park found himself at Changwon FC, in the country’s semi-professional third division known as the National League. After a bright start the team struggled, suffering a 15-match winless streak from late May through the end of September before finishing the regular season in sixth place.
The Challenge Begins
After a career spent in Korea Republic, Park will begin his first overseas post on solid footing: Vietnam are just one win away from qualification to the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, having earned an unbeaten 2-2-0 record thus far in the final group stage.
But before the Golden Star battle it out with Asia’s best in UAE, they will first need to contest the 2018 AFF Suzuki Cup next November and December. After reaching the semifinals in the last two editions, the pressure will be on Park to deliver the country its first regional title since 2008.
Will Park Hang-seo succeed with Vietnam?