South Korea boss Bell looks to Hiddink for advice

Guus Hiddink in 2002
Guus Hiddink took South Korea’s men to fourth at the 2002 World Cup – the country’s best showing

When seeking how to guide South Korea to success at the Fifa Women’s World Cup, manager Colin Bell turned to the man who took the country further on the global stage than any other.

The 61-year-old Englishman is the first foreigner to coach the South Korea women’s team, and admits that managing the country’s culture as well as his players has proved a challenge.

“In Korea age is very important, so there’s a hierarchy,” he told BBC World Service before their opening game of the World Cup against Colombia. “Sometimes the younger players think they can’t say anything to the older ones.

“I was reading old interviews from Guus Hiddink from 2002 because he experienced the same thing when he took over before the Korea-Japan World Cup.

“We experienced it in one game, when a younger player could and should have said something to an older player, and we actually conceded a goal. So we had to learn the hard way.”

Hiddink took South Korea’s men to the semi-finals on home soil 21 years ago. A similar feat would also see Bell hailed a hero.

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Born in Leicester, Bell moved to Germany, where he played then coached, working his way to the top of the European club game. He coached Frankfurt in the 2015 Women’s Champions League.

Since then Bell’s coaching career has been colourful and international, featuring everything from managing Republic of Ireland women to a spell as assistant coach of Huddersfield Town men, before getting the call from South Korea.

He leads a nation playing at its third successive Women’s World Cup. South Korea reached the knockout stage for the only time in 2015, before suffering a group-stage exit four years ago.

‘I relax by covering Gary Numan songs’

Bell said he will be nervous before his first World Cup match as a manager but will calm himself with his other love – music.

“I’ve got my little music studio with me, so I can have down time and switch off and forget the world for a few hours,” he said. “I have a mini synthesiser, a mini guitar and a microphone.

“Then I record, send it to my family to get their thumbs-up or thumbs-down. It’s just nice to relax. I’m a big Gary Numan fan so I like to cover as many songs as I can.”

Colin Bell with South Korea players and officials
Colin Bell (fourth from right) took charge of South Korea in 2019

When focus turns to the pitch, Bell will have to navigate an eye-catching Group H also featuring Germany and Morocco. Along with Colombia and South Korea, all four sides were beaten in their most recent continental championship finals.

In the case of South Korea, it was a gut-wrenching 3-2 loss to China in the 2022 AFC Cup, having been 2-0 up in their first major final.

They also suffered disappointment this year at the Arnold Clark Cup, losing all three games to Italy, Belgium and hosts England – but Bell is not too concerned.

“We were training for one week in our off-season,” he told his pre-match news conference before facing Colombia as reason for the defeats. “I saw it positively. We should have beaten Italy and Belgium.

“If we can compete against top teams with one week’s work, I can take the positives and the results are not so interesting.”

‘We’ve had good conversations with Son’

Interest has also been drawn by Bell’s decision to call up 16-year-old Casey Phair, who will be the youngest player in Women’s World Cup history should she play in either of South Korea’s first two matches.

Born in the United States to an American father and Korean mother, Phair is the first mixed-race player to play for South Korea.

Bell knows the interest in Phair and has tried to shield her from pressure, but insists she is good enough to play a major role in Australia and New Zealand.

“I’ve known her now for a year. She did very well in training. Now we will take it day by day,” he said. “I don’t want to hype up a young player too much before she plays. That’s why I’m safeguarding her from media.

“She’s very powerful, very fast, strong. She’s got that self-belief, expecting to win.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to instil into this team for the last four years, and it’s not easy because it is a big cultural difference to go from this underdog mentality to a mentality that the expectation is to win.”

Bell has also been drawing on the experience of the men’s team, speaking with Tottenham forward and South Korea star Son Heung-min.

“Sonny’s great,” Bell said. “We’ve had a two or three really good conversations, the first time before the World Cup in Qatar. We started in English, then we went into Korean and finished in German.

“He’s a top player and really humble, and that shows the quality of Sonny.”

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