[Asian Cup] Matchup of two legends-turned-coaches adds to drama of S. Korea’s nailbiter with Saudi Arabia

Posted on : 2024-01-31 17:28 KST Modified on : 2024-01-31 17:28 KST
The game was won by South Korea in an intense penalty shootout that saw Mancini walk off the pitch before a winner was declared
Jürgen Klinsmann (left), who manages the Korean men’s national football team, speaks to Roberto Mancini, who manages the Saudi Arabia national team, ahead of their teams facing off in Qatar for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup on Jan. 30 (Korea time). (Yonhap)
Jürgen Klinsmann (left), who manages the Korean men’s national football team, speaks to Roberto Mancini, who manages the Saudi Arabia national team, ahead of their teams facing off in Qatar for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup on Jan. 30 (Korea time). (Yonhap)

South Korea pulled out a dramatic 4-2 victory over Saudi Arabia in the round of 16 battle in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup. South Korea will advance to the quarter finals to face Australia. The match also drew attention as a standoff between major coaches who’ve previously faced one another on the pitch. 

Former Italian player Roberto Mancini started as the head coach of the Saudi Arabian national team in August 2023. His annual salary is reported to be 25 million euros (US$27 million), the highest of any national coach. 

Shortly after Mancini was appointed to lead the Saudi team, he faced off against former German player Jürgen Klinsmann, who was appointed to lead South Korea’s national team in February 2023. The two footballers’ teams met for the first time under their new coaches for a friendly match in Newcastle, England, in September of last year. Korea won the match 1-0 after Cho Gue-sung lobbed in a last-minute goal. This was Klinsmann’s sixth match and first victory as the coach of the South Korean team.  

Klinsmann’s annual salary is estimated to be around 2.8 billion won (US$2.1 million), making it around one-13th of Mancini’s. Yet it’s still the second highest among countries competing in the Asian Cup. According to the terms of their contracts with their respective football associations, neither Mancini nor Klinsmann can publicly speak about their salaries. 

Both Klinsmann and Mancini were born in 1964, and both were strikers when they were players. At the end of their careers, they even faced off in Italy’s Serie A, when Mancini played for Sampdoria and Klinsmann played for Inter Milan, a team he joined in 1989. Mancini and Klinsmann played in the same league for three seasons. During that time, Klinsmann scored 34 goals, while Mancini scored 29.  

Klinsmann took home a World Cup title in 1990, when the games were hosted in Mancini’s home country of Italy. Klinsmann also played for Germany when it won the 1996 Euro title. Conversely, Mancini never won a major title. 

As a coach, however, Mancini boasts a better resume. Mancini led Inter Milan to three consecutive Serie A titles (2005-2006, 2006-2007, 2007-2008) and Manchester City to an English Premier League title in 2011-2012. As a coach, his status is legendary. He also led Italy to win the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship. 

As the coach of the US national team, Klinsmann led the team to win the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup. But that’s his only major title as a coach. His resume as a coach for pro teams is even shabbier. When he was the head coach of Hertha BSC (Germany) in 2019, he resigned after just 76 days, putting him at the receiving end of a tidal wave of fan hate. 

The South Korea-Saudi Arabia Asian Cup match ended in a tie at 1-1, extending the game into a shootout that ended in Korea’s favor, 4-2. Mancini even left the bench before the match was over, a move that has aroused much suspicion. 

After the Saudi team’s third and fourth kickers missed their target, Mancini stormed out of the stadium and into the tunnel toward the locker room. 

Mancini has tried to justify his unsportsmanlike behavior. In a post-match press conference, he claimed he’d left because he didn’t know what to say to his players, who had left it all on the field. 

Mancini also seemed irritated at a somewhat aggressive question by a Saudi reporter. When asked why he replaced certain players during the match, he snapped that he needed a player who wasn’t tired and that it’d been a change necessary to win the match. 

“When you lose a penalty [shootout] you are sad because it is difficult, but this is football,” Mancini continued.

“We have to accept this. I am very happy with my players because they played a very good game against one of the best teams in the world,” Mancini said in a post-match interview with beIN Sports. 

“We had the pleasure of playing Roberto and Saudi Arabia in September at a friendly game in Newcastle. And what Roberto did in these few months is exceptional. How he has transformed the Saudi Arabian team into a very, very strong side,” Klinsmann said in a post-match interview, applauding his rival. 

“We were too passive in the first half, and Saudi Arabia was the better team in the first half. And then I made some changes in the second half after talking about it during half time. We raised the tempo, raised the rhythm,” Klinsmann added. 

By Kim Dong-hoon, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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