Park Hang Seo: The mastermind behind U23 football team’s success

Park Hang Seo began coaching the U23 football squad in October 2017 and he and his boys made a great run for Vietnam at the U23 Asian Championships in China.

From failure in Korea

With a passionate love for football since he was a little boy, Park Hang Seo played for some Korean professional football clubs from 1979 to 1988. He then became an assistant coach for the Korean national football team.

After his success as the assistant to head coach Guus Hiddink of Korea’s national football squad which reached the semifinals in World Cup 2002, Park Hang Seo worked as the head coach of other Korean football clubs. When Korea’s U23 national football team only got a bronze medal at the 2002 Asian Games, Park Hang Seo resigned under strong criticism. He returned to his native land where he led the semi-professional teenager football team.

Park Hang Seo in an interview with the press. Photo: Thanh Giang / VNP

Fans cheer Park Hang Seo and his boys in Hanoi after their return from Changzhou, China. Photo: Cong Dat / VNP

“I was surprised to get the offer from the Vietnam Football Federation but immediately accepted it. I thought it was an opportunity, but might also be the last challenge in my football career,” he said.

Park Hang Seo officially became the head coach of Vietnam’s U23 national football team in October 2017. With the assistance of Lee Young Jin, a former member of the Korean national football team, who came with him to Vietnam, and his Vietnamese assistants, Park Hang Seo selected players for the U23 Asian Championships after watching them play.

“After three months of coaching, I sometimes missed my home during the hard pressure from work. Every morning, when I saw the clear eyes of my players, I was happy and felt spiritually motivated. This brought me closer to the boys and the coaching team despite the language barriers. That’s why they could grasp my tactics very well,” he said.

“The welcome I received in Vietnam was just like what I and the Korean team got after World Cup 2002 but this was much more meaningful for me personally. I think it is the most worthy event to remember from my 40 years in football.”
“Park Hang Seo shares his feelings about the welcome from Vietnamese fans upon the return home of the U23 team.”

To one hundred days of making a historic run

One of Park Hang Seo’s hardest jobs in his first days coaching the U23 players was to remember their names as it was difficult for him to pronounce Vietnamese. For those with the same names, he even had to put their names together with their clubs. But now, Park Hang Seo can call all their names confidently in Vietnamese.

With experience working as the assistant to the head coach of the Korean national team, Park Hang Seo spent a lot of time encouraging his players to overcome the preconception against their physical strength. He pressed his players to go to the gym of the Vietnam Football Federation three or four times a week to improve their strength. He also asked them to eat more tofu and drink milk to help restore vitamins and fluids before and after matches.

Park Hang Seo in the ceremony to honour the U23 squad at My Dinh national stadium.Photo: Cong Dat/VNP

Park Hang Seo and his boys at a friendly match betweenthe U23 squad and Ulsan Hyundai.
Photo: Tran Thanh Giang/VNP

Coaching in a match. Photo: Tran Thanh Giang/VNP

Under the training of Park Hang Seo, the U23 team shifted from the 3-4-3 to 5-3-2 format. He followed the tactic of focusing on wingers, midfielders and defenders. He also placed importance on selecting the team captain who was important for passing the coach’s ideas to team members effectively. Luong Xuan Truong proved to be the right choice with his excellent performance throughout the regional tournament.

With their hard efforts in three months, Park Hang Seo and the U23 players created a moment for Vietnam’s football, writing a new page in the history of South East Asia when they became the first team in the region to reach the finals in the Asian Championships.

Story: Ngan Ha & Minh Thu- Photos: Cong Đat & Thanh Giang