“I’m just sorry.”
Byun Seok-hwa (62), president of the Korea University Football Federation, is one of the football leaders who are most concerned about the future of the U-23 age group beyond college football. During his six consecutive terms as president of the university federation, his enthusiasm, leadership in communication, and bold investments make us feel his sincerity. As much as he is a high player (選數), he also serves as an opinion leader in Korean soccer. He has recently made it a habit to say ‘I’m sorry’ at public events. At the 2022 University Federation Awards Ceremony, which concludes the year on the 10th of last month, “It is very regrettable that we have to promise the next one without achieving a new dream. As the college football president, I am sorry.”
Chairman Byun, who recently met with this magazine in Tongyeong, Gyeongsangnam-do, where the freshman and sophomore college football was held, conveyed his heavy heart once again. The anxious heart of the ‘college football godfather’ is in line with the system related to young players such as the Korea Football Association (KFA) U-21 rule and the K League U-22 rule. In the past, it was the norm for promising players to go through college and join the pros. Recently, however, the youth system has been established starting with professional teams, and the KFA and professional federation’s policies for young players have increased the number of cases of ‘going directly to the pros’ instead of going to college. Naturally, young stars are born on the professional stage and in the national team by age group. In the 2019 U-20 World Cup, when Korea achieved the runner-up myth, 14 out of 21 players gained experience in the professional world. Chairman Byeon does not disparage these achievements. What he is concerned about is that there are more ‘athletes who fall from horses’ than those who see the light. 메이저놀이터
Chairman Byun said, “These days, many college players drop out after their sophomore year because of the U-21 and U-22 rules. And if they are not called by the pros, they will give up soccer altogether. I quit when I was in the third year because I was embarrassed to see my juniors in the first and second grades.” In addition, “professionals who joined under the U-22 rule will be released if they are not of the ‘representative level’ outside the age range. In any country in the world, in order for a young player to truly grow, he must normally compete with his seniors and win and go to the A national team. Our reality is the opposite,” he lamented. Excluding the actual key players, there are very few cases in which K-League U-22 players have been used even after they have turned ’23 years old’. Players who received the same ‘Young Player Award’ as the rookie of the year often become ‘Journeymen’ when they lose their U-22 qualifications. In addition, the case of starting the game under the U-22 rule but stepping back to the bench after only playing 5 or 10 minutes in the first half is also pointed out as a bad system.
A bigger problem is that even if freshmen and sophomores advance to the pros under the U-22 system, they are not reflected in the university’s employment rate. The school is in the process of disbanding because it spends money on running the soccer club and cannot take care of the money. In addition, Korea aims to be a ‘study player’ and has set up a policy to allow elite players to study at the same time. The entrance examination process includes grades and interviews, but it is difficult for coaches to select the type of player they want. Chairman Byun said, “It is difficult for both players and leaders. It cannot be changed with the authority of the university federation president. I talk to the KFA side, but they only talk about the strengths and achievements of the U-21 and U-22 rules. That’s why I said ‘I’m sorry’.”
As Chairman Byun intended, voices say that the system needs to be supplemented. In terms of emphasizing current achievements, it is the view that the sacrifice of many U-22 age players and the collapse of college football should not be caused. Chairman Byeon mentioned the case of Japan. “Twenty years ago, Japan was also in a mood to skip college and go pro,” he said. There were also social misfits. So now, it is a system that thoroughly goes to pros after graduating from college,” he emphasized. At the same time, he added, “I want to implement the current U-22 system, but (college and league) find a way to return to college while using the players the pros want.”
The low-age system is often referred to as the European advanced system. Chairman Byeon said, “Europe has a distinctly different club system from ours. It’s like growing lettuce in a field in Europe, and we grow it in a gravel field,” he said. It could become a social problem in 10 years.”