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2016 Season Preview: Gyeongnam FC

Changwon Football Center - one of the best stadiums to watch football in the country and home to Gyeomgnam FC. (Source: Sportal Korea)

The Background

Gyeongnam FC used to be a club that punched well above its weight. As late as the 2010 season it was leading the K-League and in 2012 made the FA Cup final. However, the decline of the club has been rapid after the near bankruptcy of former main sponsor STX in 2012, with relegation following in 2014. 2015 could be looked upon within the club as 'annus horribilis' as Gyeongnam FC found itself near the bottom of the division in its first season in the second tier only being saved from the wooden spoon by annual bottom dwellers Chungju Hummel and police team Ansan. In addition to the external problems, internally the club was in turmoil with accusations of embezzlement and match fixing finding Gyeongnam being punished with a ten point penalty for the 2016 season. With the provincial government reluctant to fund such a mess it initially decided to drastically cut the funding to the team in the 2016 season. At the end of 2015, the 2016 already looked devoid of hope.

Last Season

9th (out of 11) 10-13-17 (43 pts)

The New Manager

However, hope appeared on the horizon in mid-December in the form of new manager Kim Jong-Boo. An ex-Korean national team player who scored at the 1986 World Cup, he had led Hwaseong to success in the K3 challengers league (Division 4) in 2014 with an attacking brand of football which will be attractive to Gyeongnam supporters whose games were devoid of goals last season. His dealings in the transfer market over the winter seem to indicate that he will continue with this attacking style of football with some exciting signings coming into the team. While initially it may not seem like an overly ambitious managerial appointment for a team in the second division, if he can bring some attacking intent while also getting some wins on the board, it should bring more fans to the Changwon Football Stadium and elsewhere across the province this season.

The Big Preseason Transfers and Players to Watch
Danalache training for Gyeongnam FC (Source: KNN news)

Christian Danalache - In what is arguably the biggest overseas transfer in the club's history, he could have a massive impact in the same way Caborre did when he was Kleague top scorer in 2007 and led Gyeongnam to the Kleague playoffs for the first time in club history. Quite how Danalache ended up at Gyeongnam I am not sure but as a supporter there are no complaints. He was top scorer of the Chinese first division in 2013 and scored a goal a game at Chinese second division Xinjiang last season. If anything, the man knows how to find the back of the net and has been given the number 9 jersey indicating he should be one of the first names on the team sheet. Controversy does seem to follow him with some issues at his previous clubs but if he and Gyeongnam FC can keep it together in harmony for one season, that may be enough to get us back into the first division again.

Lee Sang-hyup - nicknamed crazy left-foot who was once seen as having the best left-foot in Korea, he has been signed in another show of attacking intent by the new manager. He has been at the highest level for most of his career playing at both perennial front runners Seoul and Jeonbuk with a stint at Jeju in between. His experience should be of much benefit and he has been given the role of vice-captain for the new season. He still has a couple of good years left at 29 and a more mature voice up front alongside Danalache should hopefully enable a good partnership to flourish

Lee Won-jae - this is perhaps one signing that doesn't stick out as a major one but the new manager has immediately seen the defender as a major component for the 2016 season granting him the captain's armband. Signed from Daegu where he played an important role in their second division title challenge last season, he also has played at some of the best clubs in the country turning out for Pohang, Jeonbuk and Ulsan during his career. Still only 29, he has been described by the new manager as the rock with which to build the defence around and it will be interesting watching him lead the team from the back as he tries to ensure the defense stays strong with the new attacking focus of the team during the season.

The Keys to Success

A fast start - Since the club has been given a ten point penalty to start the season due to the match fixing accusations conducted by the previous club's administration in past seasons, it is imperative that the club gets some wins on the board quickly as it plays catchup. Its first five games are a mixed bag with winnable home games against Gangwon and Chungju while also on the road at Daegu, Anyang and Busan in what will be tough games. I feel they need to win four of these to give them the momentum they need to maintain a full-season playoff challenge. A slow start would just about kill any hope of the club finding itself in the playoff mix come November.

Hopefully a lot more celebrations this season (Source: OSEN)
Putting goals on the board - Gyeongnam were awful last year in front of goal having the worst attack in the division scoring a paltry 30 goals in 40 games. If they are to have any chance of a successful season this will need to change as you can't win if you don't put the ball into the back of the net. As has been indicated above, all signs point to this problem being rectified with four of the more promonent transfers in during the winter being forwards with the above Danalache and Lee Sang-hyup coming in along with leading scorer from the third division last season Kim Hyung-Pil and veteran ex-nats team forward Bae Ki-jong. Hopefully, all this translates to a lot more goals.

Keeping the defence tight- While the Gyeongnam attack in 2015 was abysmal, one of the rare bright spots for the team was that its defence was almost as measly as well being the best in the league conceeding 43 at just over a goal a game. With the focus seemingly more on attack, the defence will need to make sure that they continue to do what they did last season. There is some good young talent in the backline in the form of Woo Joo-sung and Park Ji-Soo and the addition of new club captain Lee Won-jae should give further guidance to a young but solid defensive unit.

The Season Prediction - Just outside the playoff spots in 5th or 6th

Without the ten point penalty you would think Gyeongnam would be in with a decent chance of making the playoffs however ten points is a significant gap to make up. Considering this though, there is a new anticipation around the club with the change of footballing style used by the new manager and the exciting new signings he has brought in. It feels that the club is trying to recreate a new start and leave behind what happened previously in the history books. If anything, there should be a lot more goals and excitement during Gyeongnam's games in the upcoming season and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Gyeongnam could sneak into the playoffs and perhaps Danalache to be the leading scorer in the country. For me however, that ten points will be just a bit too much, especially with the some of the better teams in the league looking strong too and a 5th-6th place finish could be the eventual placing with an end of season run at the playoffs. In any case it should be much better than the dross the fans had to endure last season....Gyeongnam fighting!!!!!!

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