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Seoul: Turning 49 today, Hwang Sun-hong is one of Korea Republic’s greatest-ever players with over 100 international appearances and more than 50 international goals for his country, as well as being a member of the famous side that finished in fourth place at the 2002 FIFA World Cup.

At club level, Hwang is a two-time Asian Club Championship winner with Pohang Steelers, as well as enjoying success as coach for the side from the North Gyeongsang Province.

Now at the FC Seoul helm, and having won last year’s K-League Classic with the club, Hwang spoke exclusively to to discuss his career, his club, Korea star Son Heung-min and more.

Q: First things first, July 14 is your birthday so let’s begin by wishing you a Happy Birthday! How do you plan to celebrate and do you have a special birthday wish?

Thank you. I plan to have a nice birthday celebration with my family and spend some quality time with them. As for my birthday wish, well, I hope that FC Seoul have good results without picking up any injuries.

Q: It’s been about a year since you become the manager of, arguably, Korea’s most popular team. How has the experience been so far?

Hwang Sun-hong guided FC Seoul to a 2016 AFC Champions League semi-final finish 

I am very lucky to have had the opportunity to join FC Seoul, which is the best club in the K-League Classic. That does mean there is pressure on me and a lot of expectation. We won the league last year on the back of excellent performances from our players.

Although we’ve had some difficulties this year, I’m sure that we can improve. The players and I are focusing on developing our FC Seoul playing style and getting better results.

Q: Last year, FC Seoul reached the semi-finals of the AFC Champions League, this year a group stage elimination. How disappointed were you by this?

Yes, it’s true we are not satisfied with the way this season has panned out so far, but the season is not finished yet. We’re intent on qualifying for next season’s AFC Champions League and putting on a much-improved performance.

Q: FC Seoul recently signed the first-ever Iranian player in the K-League, Khaled Shafiei. Can you talk a little about the reasons behind the signing?

Khaled is a very physical and powerful player. We’ve never had a player of his style before, so he should really help us. Moreover, his experience is vital – he’s played more than 200 matches –  that makes him an important addition to our defensive backline. 

Q: Focusing on another of your players, and as a famous striker yourself, what is your opinion of FC Seoul’s Dejan Damjanovic? What makes him so good?

His greatest strengths are his determination and tenacity in front of goal, and his striker’s instinct. He has that strong desire to make goals. He is really someone that I would urge young players to look up to as a role model for an attacker.

Q: Speaking of attackers, could you give us your thoughts on Korean star Son Heung-min. He’s just completed a great year at Tottenham Hotspur but can he get even better?

Of course, he is playing exceptionally well at the moment, better than any other Korean in Europe even though he is still young. No one can say whether he’s at his peak yet, though. I have faith he can keep improving and get even better. I think he can become a key player at Tottenham, as he already is with the national team.

Q: You are Korea’s second all-time top scorer and with just nine more goals, you could have gone ahead of Cha Bum-kun to become number one. Did this ever cross your mind and were you tempted to keep going until you did?

As a striker, it’s natural for people to focus on goal-scoring records but, at that time, I didn’t have any specific aim to break the national team top scorer record.

If I think about it now, I would have quite liked to have broken the record!

However, I am content because Cha Bum-kun was an exceptional striker. I hope mine and Cha’s records can be an inspiration for younger players and they will go on to surpass us.

Q: Which goal that you scored for the national team that is your favourite?

The first goal against Poland at the 2002 FIFA World Cup rings in my heart as it contributed to Korea Republic’s first-ever World Cup victory.

My goal became a historical moment for Korean football as well.

In addition, personally, I liked the goal against Australia in the 2001 FIFA Confederations Cup.

That goal was singled out by FIFA as a great goal and it remains one of the most memorable for me.


Q: Hong Myung-bo told us that you were the best player he’s played alongside. Can you share with us your playing days with Myung-bo?

I spent a lot of time with Hong Myung-bo in the national team and club – most of my career really!

He gave an aura of stability and leadership in defence, so I could concentrate on scoring goals.

I expect him to do lot of things for the development of Korean football going forward, and I will do my best to improve Korean football with him together.

Hong Myung-bo [third from left] and Hwang [fourth from left] 

Q: Who has been the biggest influence in your career?

It has to be my former Korea Republic coach Guus Hiddink.

Korean football was so limited before he joined but after he led us to fourth place at the FIFA 2002 World Cup, we really believed we could challenge anyone on the world stage.

I got such a thrill seeing how happy our football fans were at that tournament, that it motivates me to aim for that as a coach myself.

Hiddink gave me that goal, so that’s why he’d be the greatest influence in my football life.

Photos: Lagardère Sports