SEOUL – Calm mornings – and evenings – finally are back to the land of Morning Calm. After an extraordinary three weeks that shook the world – and not only in soccer terms – the Red Devils won’t go to the final in Yokohama after all: instead, they’ll settle for still another opportunity to party next Saturday in a third-place battle ending their formidable World Cup campaign. A party is always a party, and the millions of red supporters who once again took over the streets of South Korea are not exactly complaining about being upstaged on Tuesday in the semi-final by an usually boring but nonetheless Mercedes Benz-precise German team.
Quoting sources close to the Ministry of Industry, the Munhwa Ilbo newspaper said 25 million Koreans – more than half the country’s population – were wearing a red T-shirt on Tuesday, June 25, exactly 52 years after the beginning of the Korean War. North and South are still divided – and still technically at war. No one at the moment will dare predict what effects this extremely successful World Cup campaign may have in terms of overall Korean unity. The universal consensus is that South Korea is now one. It is not so far-fetched to dream that the North might catch the fever.
Anyway, in South Korea a mechanism is already in place to exploit this newfound unity as a political commodity. “Hiddink for President” was a ubiquitous banner at all of Korea’s matches. In the event that the Dutchman, Korea’s national coach, is granted rarely given South Korean nationality (the whole nation supports the move anyway) and ran for president, he would obviously win by a landslide.
But of course Guus Hiddink won’t be a presidential candidate: that honor falls on the all-powerful Chung Mon-joon. South Korea’s outstanding soccer success developed exactly as Chung had planned. He wears, among others, many crucial hats: head of the Korean Football Association, vice president of the world soccer controlling body Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), president of the organizing committee of the World Cup, a member of parliament and, crucially, the son of the founder of the mega-conglomerate Hyundai, a key World Cup sponsor.
Chung is extremely popular because Koreans identify him as the man who enabled the country definitely to bury the memories of the 1997 Asian financial crisis and regain its pride – not only by co-staging the World Cup with amazing success, but by the unexpected and astonishing success of the Red Devils themselves, written off as virtual no-hopers before the tournament. There have been many allegations, especially in the Italian and Spanish press, that Chung had a “hand of god” in the extremely controversial refereeing decisions that ultimately contributed to the elimination of Italy and Spain from the World Cup at the hands of the Koreans. South Korea may have been a full-fledged democracy since the end of the 1980s, but corruption is still endemic, involving politicians, businessmen and former presidents. FIFA president Sepp Blatter, though, has dismissed the European allegations as pure nonsense.
Meanwhile, incumbent President Kim Dae-jung, a Nobel Peace Prize winner for his efforts at engaging the North and a man judged to be absolutely incorruptible, had to go on national TV only a few days ago to apologize publicly for the behavior of his two sons, both arrested on corruption charges. An embattled Kim is struggling to unveil his plans – after the World Cup final in Japan next Sunday – to clean up the government in his remaining six months in office.
Diplomatic sources assure Asia Times Online that Chung Mon-joon will definitely have a go at the presidency when Kim steps down at the end of 2002. At the moment, Chung is making all the right noises. He is publicly emphasizing a direct link between 1987, when tens of thousands of Koreans were marching in the streets to demand the end of the military dictatorship, and 2002, when millions have been cheering in unison for the national team. Chung’s team of associates are busy rounding up a support base. And the independent member of parliament has even concocted a political organization: the Environment Party.
Chung is the man who ultimately hired Guus Hiddink 18 months ago, and who defended him when the Dutchman introduced a brutal training regime to put some steel, and flair, into the Korean team. Hiddink is likely to return to the Netherlands to coach top-flight team PSV Eindhoven. But the fact is, Hiddink’s total soccer will continue to be applied to everything in South Korea, especially investment. The first of what will be an endless series of books is already on sale in South Korea: CEO Hiddink: Domination of the Game, which details his management philosophy, sets visions and goals and applies the whole lot to business.
Korean businessmen are particularly impressed by how Hiddink got rid of the notorious “three yon” that permeate Korean society: hyolyon, chyon and hakyon, meaning the family, local and regional, and school connections – the equivalent of the Chinese guanxi – without which you simply make no progress. Hiddink’s method also bombarded deference to elders – a crucial feature of a traditional Confucian society – and promoted the most transparent meritocracy. Ergo, no corruption like the scandals involving President Kim’s sons.
The Samsung Economics Research Center took the Hiddink method one step further by outlining the Hi-Five theory – which arguably contains all the essential elements for the success of corporate Korea in the 21st century as the country positions itself to be the leading hub in Northeast Asia and the eighth-largest economy in the world. Hi-Five stands for hardiness, impartiality, fundamentals, innovation and value-sharing and expertise. As Hiddink hi-fived the Red Devils into footballing fame, Chung Mon-joon is dreaming of hi-fiving an energized country into lasting prosperity. And why not a rematch against the hosts in the 2006 World Cup in Germany?