In front of the South Korean reporters in the national football center in Paju, Jürgen Klinsmann was deliberately relaxed. First of all he wants to get to know the players around star striker Heung-Min Son.

“It’s a big learning curve for me, but I hope to be a big learner,” said Klinsmann ahead of his international debut as South Korea’s head coach. But the former German national coach also knows that the friendlies against Colombia this Friday in the southeastern port city of Ulsan and four days later in the capital Seoul against Uruguay (March 28) are something special.

In South Korea, the 1990 world champion is described as a “legend” or “icon” of German football. The fans are curious to see whether Klinsmann can convey his playing style to the team from the start. The 58-year-old indicated it shortly after his arrival in early March: As a trained striker, he always loves to attack.

media also critical

However, domestic media expectations have been mixed so far. While his reputation as a player is undisputed, some observers have doubts about his coaching career to date. “The assessment of his coaching career is inconsistent,” writes the newspaper “JoongAng Ilbo”. His career as a club coach was less impressive than his work as national coach for teams in Germany and the USA.

His abrupt departure from Bundesliga club Hertha BSC was also registered in South Korea, where Klinsmann last worked as a coach until February 2020. Looking back, Klinsmann spoke openly about it in South Korea. It was a mistake to explain on social media why he left the club. Would he do it like this again? “No.” But: “If it’s a bad decision out of ten, then that’s okay,” he said.

In the country that finished fourth in the 2002 World Cup, Klinsmann should now not only work as a coach, but also as a manager and motivator, explained German Michael Müller, who works as technical director for the South Korean association.

No experiments

Before the games against the strong South American teams, who are ahead of South Korea in the FIFA world rankings, Klinsmann initially refrains from experiments. Only three players from the team that reached the round of 16 at the last World Cup in Qatar are missing from the current squad. “You can’t change too much before the first meeting with the team,” said Klinsmann at the training camp. He wants to gradually influence the team.

Son plays a central role in Klinsmann’s considerations. The current striker of English Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur stands out in the 25-man squad and is also said to be the leader on the pitch. He is a big fan of “Sonny”, explained the new national coach.

Klinsmann, who has been given a contract by the association until the final of the 2026 World Cup, has ambitious goals. He wants to end the South Koreans’ long dry spell at the Asian championship. The trophy should be won at the next Asian Cup in Qatar in early 2024. But first it’s about something else: “You want them to have fun,” Klinsmann said of his players.