- The Washington Times - Friday, July 18, 2003

SEOUL — The most idolized foreigner in South Korea’s modern history has returned to the nation that still adores him.

Guus Hiddink, the man who coached South Korea to the 2002 World Cup semifinals, is back. Hiddink returned here with the Dutch championship club PSV Eindhoven to compete in the Peace Cup, an eight-club affair now under way at six venues around the nation.

It’s difficult to explain to Americans how famous Hiddink is in Korea. He turned a soccer-minnow into a shark, giving pride to a nation seeking respect in the sporting world.

South Korea had not won even one World Cup game before the 56-year-old Hiddink became the coach of the national team, posting a 0-10-4 mark in its five appearances since 1954.

When South Korea and Japan were chosen to co-host last year’s Cup finals, the Koreans finally decided to look outside for help.

Hiddink was given a $3.25million contract (for 18 months of work) and a clear mission: win a game and get the Koreans into the second round.

Hiddink did far better. The Koreans won four games, beating European powers Portugal, Poland, Spain and Italy, and reached the semifinals.

In the process, Hiddink — called “Mr. He Think” by Korean fans — turned the country soccer-mad and became a hero. Hiddink always got the biggest cheers when Korea’s games were shown on TV in local bars.

“Hiddink is probably the best loved foreigner in Korea since General MacArthur, and I think it’s because the Koreans recognized his coaching methods were behind the success at the World Cup,” said Michael Breen, the author of two books on Korea. “This is a very insular, nationalistic country, where foreigners are treated well and respected but are always on the outside.

“Hiddink was the first foreigner to be made an honorary citizen of Korea.”

It was not easy for Hiddink, at first. He was attacked harshly in the media because of his player selections and grueling training sessions.

He publicly questioned veteran players, which shocked Koreans, and went outside the list of 50 players he was told to use. Hiddink said he was not concerned about seniority, only fitness. He wanted his players to be tough and mean and learn to play all over the field in what the Dutch call “total football.”

When the Koreans lost 5-0 to both France and the Czech Republic in warm-up games, the media mockingly dubbed him “Mr. 5-0.”

But Hiddink persevered, breaking down a hierarchy among the players that was so stifling that younger players used the traditional, elevated form of address when calling for the ball from senior players and felt obliged to pass to them.

“Hiddink noticed that at meal times the older players ate first and the younger ones would wait,” said Breen. “Hiddink mixed them all up. He recognized that this aspect of Korean culture was bad for creativity and individual confidence.”

After Hiddink’s success, Koreans were eager to study his methods. An in-depth analysis recommended that Koreans acknowledge foreign leadership, accept the need for change and trust non-Koreans.

And Hiddink’s efforts did not go unrewarded.

Korean Air gave him free tickets for four years to any destination he chose. The nation gave him a vacation home on Jeju Island. And, a Korean brewery offered him free beer for life.

What more could a new citizen ask for?

Notes — On Wednesday before a Korean crowd supporting the Dutch team, Hiddink led PSV to a 4-2 win over German club 1860 Munich in the opening games of Group B of the Peace Cup in Pusan.

In the other group game, the Los Angeles Galaxy tied 0-0 with Uruguan team Nacional in Jeonju.

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