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“We learnt a lot from him”: Bento bows out as Korea’s coach, after successful tournament at Qatar 2022

Russian coach Anatoliy Byshovets was the first-ever foreign coach to lead the Republic of Korea’s national team, between 1994 and 1995, as the change prompted a new approach for the Asian team. Soon, a plethora of other foreign coaches led the squad, with the largest-profile one being Guus Hiddink, who helped Korea to secure their best-ever finish at the tournament they co-hosted, ending up on the fourth place at the 2002 FIFA World Cup.

In total, seven managers had previously steered Korea in the history of the squad, with the eighth, Portuguese stalwart Paulo Bento taking charge in 2018. Known as a very outspoken manager, the prospects were not clear for Bento to lead the side for many years.

Yet since his appointment, he navigated through thick and thin and brought back Korea into the top tier of world football, helping his side reach the Round of 16 at Qatar 2022. All as he became the longest-tenured manager in the history of the “Taegeuk Warriors”, with his charismatic approach making fans and players give everything for the team.

A defensive midfielder in his playing career, which saw him feature both for Benfica and Sporting, the two Lisbon giants, Bento also earned 35 caps for the Portugal national team, which he subsequently managed between 2010 and 2014, leaving after failing to help Portugal progress from the group phase at Brazil 2014.

It was a low point for Bento, who tried to bounce back at club level, featuring as the coach of Brazilian outfit Cruzeiro, Greek powerhouse Olympiacos and Chinese team Chongqing Dangdai Lifan.

In total, his career spanned over three different continents, with total different styles of football, making him more of a journeyman that a high-profile manager that will come back to European football and make his mark, after being touted as a possible assistant for Manchester United at the start of his managing career.

But when the chance of taking up a new challenge with a national team came, Bento went all in and never looked back, becoming only the second Portuguese coach in the history of the Republic of Korea team, after Humberto Coelho served a stint between February 2003 and April 2004, with mixed results.

What did not start like being a good fit, it developed into a wonderful relationship, as Bento has the largest number of wins for a manager in Korea’s history, 35, and an excellent winning percentage, 61.4%, only behind two managers which have coached at least 30 matches for Korea, German Uli Stielke and local Han Hong-ki.

But as Korea bowed out after the Round of 16 match against Brazil, when they went down 4-0 after only 30 minutes, in an excellent display of flair and attacking prowess from the South American powerhouse, Bento knew his time was over as the Korea coach.

“We just have to think about the future and it will not be with the national team of South Korea. I have just announced to the players and to the president of the South Korean federation and this was a decision I had already taken since September that was set in stone,” said the Portuguese coach.

“Today I have confirmed it and I have to thank them for everything they have done. They have given their very best and I have been very pleased and proud to have been their manager,” added Bento.

His time was marked by a quarter-final at the AFC Asian Cup in 2019 and a championship at the East Asian Football Championship in 2019, while also bringing back Korea to the Round of 16 at the FIFA World Cup for the first time since 2010.

It was also an emotional tournament at Qatar 2022, with an otherworldly comeback for Korea against Bento’s home country, Portugal, when they secured a 2-1 win that enabled them to progress to the knockout phase of the competition, a special game for a special coach.

Enough for many to be in awe of Bento and the fans to treat him with the respect he deserves.

“Our coach has achieved a lot despite being in a difficult position. I had a great relationship with him. I learned so much from him over the past four years. It was a very important four years for us.

We never doubted his strategy but a lot of people were wary of his methods. Now that we have learned them by experience and were applauded for proving ourselves at the World Cup, we need to keep those teachings with us and move forward,” said Korea’s star, Son Heung-min, after the team’s elimination at Qatar 2022.

With or without Bento, Korea will be back in the future at the FIFA World Cup. And they will surely have learnt something after this tournament and after Bento’s stint.

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