After guiding Ulsan Hyundai to their first back-to-back titles, head coach Hong Myung-bo gave credit to the club and players for the victory.

Ulsan held on for a 1-0 victory over Jeonbuk Hyundai in the Hana One Q K League 2023 38th Round ‘Hyundai Street Derby’ at Munsu Football Stadium in Ulsan, South Korea, on Wednesday.

Having already clinched the title with a victory over Daegu FC in Round 35, Ulsan ended its coronation in style by securing a derby match against rival Jeonbuk.

It was the first time Ulsan had won back-to-back league titles since its founding in 1983. After winning the 1996 and 2005 seasons, head coach Hong Myung-bo lifted the trophy last year for the first time in 17 years, and now Ulsan has entered a new dimension of back-to-back titles. Only three teams have ever won back-to-back league titles: Suwon Samsung (1998-1999), Seongnam Ilhwa Cheonma (1993-1995, 2001-2003), and Jeonbuk Hyundai (2014-2015, 2017-2021). Ulsan joins them at the altar of honor.

“We had already secured the title, especially the opponent was motivated (to qualify for the Asian Football Confederation Champions League Elite), so I thought it would be difficult for us, but I think we did what we had prepared for,” Hong said in the post-match press conference. “A lot has happened in the past year, but we won the last game in front of our fans. It’s even better to win and do (the ceremony) in a good mood before the coronation.”

“This is my third year (in charge), and Ulsan has grown from a team that loses every game to a team that wins every game. This year, in a small way, I think the fact that we came into the rivalry match with a point was a big factor in Ulsan winning the title. I would also like to thank our fans for their constant and generous support throughout the year.”

On his second championship, Hong said, “Holding the trophy was surreal. Even though we lost, we didn’t hold the trophy, but now that we have it, it feels just as good as last year.”

It was especially impressive to see Kim Ki-hee holding the trophy alongside Jung Seung-hyun, who shared the captaincy this year. “Seung-hyun Jung also struggled a lot,” says Hong. In the middle of the year, he was troubled by a social media incident, so we changed the captaincy and Kim Ki-hee led the team well in a difficult time. Both players played their roles well throughout the year, so I think they did a great job together.”

Ulsan has also been successful in mobilizing crowds since last season.

Coach Hong said, “In order to have a lot of spectators, soccer must be fun and bring results. It’s hard to ask people to come to a game without providing them with a fun game and results, so the players and the front office are constantly working on it. I think it’s growing and bearing fruit little by little.”

When asked how the win feels personally, Hong showed his humility by saying, “As I always say, I don’t think it’s my win, it’s Ulsan’s win, the players’ win, and the fans’ win.”

“Of course, winning the title last year after 17 years and winning it again in one year is a huge difference. It’s a huge difference to win again in one year after 17 years. It was not easy to fix the problems and improve, but I think a lot of people dedicated themselves to the team. I think this championship is a good opportunity for Ulsan Hyundai in the future, and it will be a great asset for Ulsan to grow in the future.”

As for his plans for next year, he said, “I’m doing it little by little, but overall, I’m going to finish my ACL and then take the next step.”

Kim Young-kwon is a favorite for MVP of the 2023 season. Hong has a special connection with Kim, saying, “He understands my style of soccer. We put a lot of effort into recruiting him because he has a good defense in Korea. He’s the oldest member of the team and he’s doing a good job of leading the team. Of course, I don’t know if he will win the MVP, but I think he has done a good job among many players. I feel like I need a break in the future. I didn’t get a break last year either. There’s also his age. You have to make the right decision and give him that. That way, I’ll be able to play in top form next year.”

When asked about Kim’s future with the national team, Hong was surprised and said, “You can’t tell someone to retire from the national team.”

“I don’t know exactly when the next national team call-up will be, but I will judge it during the break, and after the Asian Cup, if we advance to the ACL round of 16, we have a match on February 16, which is difficult. We need to think about what to do then,” he added.

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