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Footballist interviews Choi Young-joon

Prior to the Gwangju match last weekend, football site "Footballist" (풋볼리스트) sat down for a brief chat with new Busan boss Choi Young-joon. Below I've translated parts of the interview. The full Korean version can be read here (via Naver Sports). Footballist's Kwon Tae-jeong was the original reporter/interviewer.

Screenshot courtesy of FOOTBALLiST via Naver

It's been a week since you came to Busan. What was your initial reaction to the environment here?

Only the name sign was changed. Otherwise it's still a football club, and I've adjusted quickly. The feeling here isn't desperate, but like standing next to a cliff. At first it felt like many of the players lacked self-confidence. The atmosphere was very dark. We talked about changing the mood to . . . a shade of gray? Now the players' mood have lightened. It's only been a short amount of time, but the atmosphere is much brighter.

It can't be easy to take charge of a team in danger of being relegated?

For me that's part of the attraction. I'm eager to show my methods and ideas on the pitch. Around me everyone said it'd be difficult, and there were those who worried too. However for me it was an honor and opportunity, and I happily accepted. We've hit the bottom, and will rise again. We can't go any lower. This isn't as good as it gets. I think it's a great opportunity and I need the players to feel the same way. Now we need to make the most of this situation.

The situation is urgent. Is there enough time?

If we act rashly we will surely go backwards. If we build a proper base, then we can grow and advance. It's vital we set a strong foundation for the team, otherwise it won't work. I think the most important thing is that, first and foremost, the players have the technical and tactical skills. This season if you saw Busan, they played well but lost or drew. It's the most disappointing thing for players. When you lose many games in a row and get used to the taste of defeat, you start to give up. That kind of attitude must be slowly and gently changed. It hasn't even been a week, but already the players' mood feels a lot brighter.

How are you opening the players' hearts and minds?

When I first came, at meals you couldn't even hear the sound of chopsticks. (laughs). It felt very cautious and the mood was awkward. You only heard the sound of eyes going back and forth. Now at the dining room and training pitch you hear the players chatting away. Players must feel comfortable around their coaches. They should talk a lot and easily. They should talk more [than they do now]. I think it'd be good if it was so noisy that I had to tell them, "quiet down a little".

*Translation note: When Choi Young-joon is talking about the atmosphere when he came it doesn't translate neatly into English, and so the above literal translation sounds a bit awkward. What he means is that at the dining room it was extremely quiet. No one was talking and everyone just kept to themselves. The mood felt very tense and awkward with everyone just checking out what others were feeling (what Koreans refer to as 눈치 ). Most people know what it is/looks like, people eating and just looking around periodically to see what else is going on, but no one says anything.*

What does Busan need now? How do they improve?

If you watched many of Busan's games this season, you already know the answer. Many times they conceded absurd goals and just gave up. Psychological self-destruction. We need to find the proper balance between having a confident and tense mindset. Players need to be able to revive the fighting spirit themselves, so if they concede a goal they'll think, "we'll go and score twice now".  Seeing the last game, the players didn't know how or the correct place to run, so they wasted their strength. They got tired from chasing the ball. We've only had a short period of time to prepare, but step-by-step they're learning the details of the physical preparation, and that'll show in their play.

What do you think about the image of a "coach"?

I spent three years as a youth coach overseas. (Choi Young-joon was the Brunei U20 coach from 2001-2003). During that time, since I was younger, if a game didn't go well I would get angry. But then after the game, the players would come and knock on my door. In Korea you can't imagine such a thing happening. The players would say, "We'll do our best next time." I started to feel, "Ah, okay. I don't need to get angry." And then, after the next game, I didn't. I think that was the start. I didn't use a strong charisma or push them hard. With the "Golden Age" program too, if I praised a player then they would play better and enjoy themselves. If someone does something for themselves rather than being pushed to by someone else, later there is a difference. A pro player doesn't need to be told every little detail, they just need the overall results or assessment. If a coach is acting as a mentor, that's a good route to follow.

*Translation note: This sentence felt difficult to translate. I think I got the idea correct, if not the word-by-word translation. He seems to broadly be speaking about how he changed from being a typical Korean coach (all-powerful, harsh) into a more open "teacher". One that used more positive praise and guidance.*

How are you preparing for the split rounds, and what is your main priority for the remaining part of the season?

Realistically there are only five games left, and advancing to the 10th spot will be difficult. The playoff too, will be difficult. If we go to the playoff our psychological state will go down, and because of that the team coming up will have hope for a win. It is important that we prepare ourselves first because we do not know which team will come up from the K League Challenge. We should be able to play well regardless of who our opponent is.

The return of Lee Jeong-hyeob will help the team?

Of course. The return of the national team's one-top forward? His presence alone will be a threat to opponents. He's a player who can create opportunities as well as finish them. However, he is currently recovering from his injury, and cannot train much yet. If his condition improves then I expect he will be a big boost to the team in the remaining games. 

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