Ulsan Hyundai’s target is K-League title, says new head coach Hong

New Ulsan Hyundai coach Hong Myung-bo has set his sights on ending the club’s 16-year K-League title drought after taking over from AFC Champions League-winning coach Kim Do-hoon.

Hong was appointed last month to replace Kim, who steered Ulsan to their first AFC Champions League crown since 2012 last month in Qatar, and the five-time FIFA World Cup veteran is looking to build on the achievements of his predecessor.

“We have a very clear goal. That’s to win a championship this year,” Hong said, according to Yonhap. “And as important as winning the title right away is, I also want to lay the foundation for more titles down the road.

“I’ll build the squad around our young core and develop our youth players so that they’ll be the cornerstones in the future.”

Ulsan last won the domestic league title in 2005 and endured continued frustration under Kim with back-to-back runners-up finishes in the league in 2018 and 2019 as well as being losing finalists in last season’s Korean FA Cup behind Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.

Hong is hoping his vast experience can help Ulsan overcome those issues. The 51-year-old former defender represented Korea Republic at four FIFA World Cups from 1990 until the nation’s run to the semi-finals on home soil in 2002 before moving into coaching.

He led Korea Republic’s U23 team to the bronze medal at the Olympic Games in London in 2012 before taking the senior national side to the FIFA World Cup Finals in Brazil two years later. He then spent a brief spell with Chinese side Hangzhou Greentown.

Hong is returning to coaching after a three-year stint working as the Korea Football Association’s chief executive and is relishing working on the pitch once again.

“I’ll talk to the players about having that desire to win,” Hong said. “I want to stress the importance of professionalism. It’s frustrating that we haven’t been able to get over that hump the last two years.

“Just because we’ve been runners-up for two straight years, it shouldn’t diminish the efforts we’ve put in during that process. The one thing that we’ve not done as well as Jeonbuk is we haven’t been able to come together for the common goal at key junctures.”

Hong and his new team have a hectic schedule over the coming weeks as the AFC Champions League winners will represent the continent at the FIFA Club World Cup in Qatar, with Ulsan’s opening game to be played on February 4.

Ulsan’s players only recently emerged from quarantine following their AFC Champions League success and will soon start their preparations for the new season, with Hong keen to ensure his team play with an eye-catching style that delivers positive results.

“I want us to play an exciting, entertaining and dynamic brand of football,” Hong said. “The ultimate objective of any strategy is to win. And I can try all sorts of different ideas to accomplish that.”

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