Ex-Roar man with Socceroos in his sights

Australia seem to have an unfair advantage over South Korea going into the 2015 AFC Asian Cup final in Sydney and not because of the tens of thousands of home fans that will be cheering on the green and gold on Saturday.

In terms of exchange between the two countries, it has been a little one-sided. There is much more first-hand knowledge of Korean football in the Australia camp than vice-versa.

Matt McKay was a popular figure for Busan I'Park before a new coach deemed him surplus to requirements. Nathan Burns really could show Incheon United what a mistake they made in signing and then not playing him and Alex Wilkinson has become a respected defender at Jeonbuk Motors after an uncertain start. 

Recent Socceroos such as Sasa Ognenovski and Robert Cornthwaite spent a number of years in the K-League.

Yet, there is one on the South Korean side who knows Australian football better than most in Asia.

Shin Tae-yong was part of the Hyundai A-League when it started back in 2005, though an ankle injury meant that he turned out just the once for the then-Queensland Roar.

This turned out to be the only club appearance he didn't make for Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma. “Mr. Seongnam” then joined the coaching staff of the Brisbane-based club.

“It was a totally new environment for me,” Shin said when he returned to his homeland in 2008 to take over Seongnam as head coach.

“The league was new but there was a high degree of professionalism off the pitch that was impressive and I really learned a lot.

“The Australian game was more physical than in Korea of course, but it was something that all clubs had to deal with. I remember well the Australian will to win.”

His time in the Hyundai A-League, an unusual and adventurous choice for an East Asian tactician, coupled with his stellar playing career - six league titles and one continental crown - meant that there were high hopes for the new Seongnam coach, who was just 37 when he took the job.

Signing Sasa Ognenovski was Shin's masterstroke and you could argue that he played a major role in opening up Asia to Aussie exports.

A Seongnam team that was as fast and technical as it was strong and physical strolled to the 2010 Asian Champions League title. In the post-match press conference in Tokyo, Shin said that he was a 'Special One'.

Here was the 'Asian Mourinho' - young, confident and successful but a much snappier dresser rivalling German-boss Joachim Leow in the fashion stakes.

If there was ever going to be an Asian coach make it in Europe, Shin could have been the first, yet financial issues cost Seongnam its best players and the team was not able to replicate the same success. Shin left in 2012.

He popped up in August to be named the caretaker coach of the national team after the resignation of former national team-mate Hong Myong-bo.

His first two games in September came against Uruguay and Venezuela. The former was lost, the latter was won but there was an aggressive, attacking intensity to the performances absent in Brazil.

For October friendlies against Costa Rica and Paraguay, Uli Steilike was in charge but the squad selections were basically Shin's, understandable as the German arrived in the country to take charge just days before the squad announcements were made.

In terms of strategy, the German has started to find his own way but still leans on Shin, a first-class number two and one who could be number one at some point in the future.

At the AFC Asian Cup, Shin is the man in charge of watching Australia and Korea FA sources say his reports on the team have been top-class and a real help for the team.

As I write, and hopefully, you read, Shin is studying the Socceroos in a way that few in Asia have done so in the past.

His little local knowledge may go a long way and though it may not be much of a consolation for Socceroo fans if Korea is triumphant on Saturday but a part of that triumph will have been forged in Australia.

The Socceroos will face Korea Republic in the AFC Asian Cup Final at Stadium Australia on Saturday 31 January (8.00pm local kick off). Click here  to purchase tickets.