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K-League: Who is a Flat Track Bully? Part 2

(from FCSeoul.com)
In part one, I looked at Choi Yong-soo’s overall record and listed the records of the managers of the Big Four clubs (Jeonbuk, Pohang, Suwon, and FC Seoul).  Now, I will look at how the manager of the Big Four clubs Jeonbuk (Choi Kang-hee), Pohang (Hwang Sun-hong), and Suwon (Seo Jung-won) have fared from 2011 until 2015.  I am also curious as to how the coaches did against the other clubs in the top of the table.  Here is the table at the end of the season after every team played one another 30 times.  
2011 K-League Table
Rank
Team
Manager
Pts.
1st
Jeonbuk
Choi Kang-hee
63
2nd
Pohang
Hwang Sun-hong
59
3rd
FC Seoul
Choi Yong-soo (23 games)
55
4th
Suwon Samsung
Yoo Sung-hyo
55
5th
Busan I’Park
An Ik-soo
46
6th
Ulsan Hyundai
Kim Ho-gon
46

In 2011, the top six qualified for the playoffs.  In the playoffs, Ulsan eliminated Seoul and Suwon defeated Busan.  Ulsan then knocked Suwon out and keeper Kim Seung-gyu, by saving two penalties, was the hero for Ulsan in their win against Pohang.  Unfortunately, Ulsan lost to Jeonbuk in the two-legged championship final.  

Below is the record of the top three managers during the regular season.  I have split it into two parts.  The first part is their record against the Big Four (Jeonbuk, Pohang, FC Seoul, and Suwon Samsung) and the second part is their record against the teams in the top six of the table (Big Four + Ulsan and Busan).  

                   Choi Yong-Soo, Choi Kang-hee, & Hwang Sun-hong: Records in 2011
2011 vs. Big Four                                    2011 vs. Top Six
Manager
P
W
D
L
GF (Avg.)
GA (Avg.)
Pts (Pct.)
Avg. Pts
P
W
D
L
GF (Avg.)
GA (Avg.)
Pts (Pct.)
Avg. Pts
Choi Yong-soo
4
1
2
1
5 (1.25)
5 (1.25)
5 (42%)
1.25
6
3
2
1
9 (1.5)
7 (0.78)
11 (61%)
1.83
Choi Kang-hee
6
1
3
2
10 (1.67)
11 (1.83)
6 (33%)
1
10
4
4
2
19 (1.9)
15 (1.5)
16 (53%)
1.6
Hwang Sun-hong
6
2
1
3
9 (1.5)
10 (1.67)
7 (39%)
1.17
10
4
1
5
16 (1.6)
16 (1.6)
13 (43%)
1.3

Against the Big Four, each manager should have played six games and against the Top Six it would be four more games.  Because Choi Yong-soo did not become the caretaker until after the first seven games, he missed out on losses to Suwon and Busan, a draw against Ulsan, and a victory over Jeonbuk.  Since he only managed in four games and two of them were draws, his average points against the Big Four is pretty low.  Yet, it drastically improves when the results against Busan and Ulsan are factored in.

 However, the same can be said of Choi Kang-hee and Hwang Sun-hong as well.  Both had a limited sample size, so each result takes on greater significance.  Choi Kang-hee performed abysmally against the Big Four, but his average jumped quite a bit when he when the results against Busan and Ulsan are taken into account.  Hwang Sun-hon, on the other hand, had slightly better results against teams in the Top Six rather than the Big Four, but not by much.

Nonetheless, even though Choi Kang-hee only averaged a point against the Big Four and improved slightly when factoring in results against the top six, he really feasted on the teams below.

Choi Kang-hee vs. Teams Not in the Top Six
P
W (%)
D (%)
L (%)
GF (avg.)
GA (avg.)
Pts (%)
Avg. Pts
20
14 (70%)
5 (25%)
1 (5%)
48 (2.4)
17 (0.85)
47 (78%)
2.35

Besides one loss to Jeonnam, Choi Kang-hee was quite successful.  He collected 78% of the points available and had an average of 2.35 points per game against teams outside the top six.  Let’s compare that to how Hwang Sun-hong did against teams outside the top six in 2011.

Hwang Sun-hong vs. Teams Not in the Top Six
P
W (%)
D (%)
L (%)
GF (avg.)
GA (avg.)
Pts (%)
Avg. Pts
20
13 (65%)
7 (35%)
0
43 (2.15)
17 (0.85)
46 (77%)
2.3

Unlike Choi Kang-hee, Hwan Sun-hong did not lose to anyone outside the top six.  However, he had more draws and one less win, hence, the four point difference between the two teams at the end of the season.  If Hwang had drawn one or two games less, he might have been the champion that year. 

Choi Yong-soo vs. Teams not in the Top Six
P
W (%)
D (%)
L (%)
GF (avg.)
GA (avg.)
Pts (%)
Avg. Pts
17
12 (71%)
2 (12%)
3 (17%)
40 (2.35)
21 (1.24)
38 (75%)
2.24

Choi Yong-soo finished just behind Choi Kang-hee and Hwang Sun-hong as far as results against the top six.  Unfortunately, he lost to Daegu  twice (finished in 12th place) and Seognnam once.  Already hampered by a terrible start (a recurring theme), Seoul were never really in the title race.  They finished eight points behind Jeonbuk, but maybe if Seoul had won against Daegu and Seongnam, they could have made up ground on the champions.

In 2011, being a flat-track bully paid off.  Choi Kang-hee had abysmal results against teams in the Big Four, but cleaned up against the lesser competition and that is why Jeonbuk finished as champions that year.  Because teams in the Big Four and top of the table played each other only twice a year, getting a result against a title rival was not as important then as it would become in the future.  Obviously, it was still important, but there was another route to the championship.

As long as a team, say Jeonbuk, handled their business against teams in the lower end of the table and a rival such as Seoul and Pohang did not, then they could use that as a path to secure the title.  However, I would say that changed in 2012 when the split system was introduced.

2012 K-League Table
Rank
Team
Manager
Pts.
1st
FC Seoul
Choi Yong-soo
96
2nd
Jeonbuk
Kee Heung-sil
79
3rd
Pohang
Hwang Sun-hong
77
4th
Suwon Samsung
Yoon Sung-hyo
73
5th
Ulsan Hyundai
Kim Ho-gon
68
6th
Jeju Utd.
Park Kyung-hoon
63
7th
Busan I’Park
An Ik-soo
53
8th
Gyeongnam FC
Choi Jin-han
50

In 2012, the K-League introduced the split system and relegation.  To make the numbers work, the teams played each other twice.  After thirty games, the top 8 teams and the bottom 8 teams split and played each other two more times.  Therefore, the top teams played each other four times, which made the results against rivals competing for the title so much more important. 

Hwang Sun-hong & Choi Yong-soo: Records in 2012
       2012 vs. Big Four                                         2012 vs. Top Eight
Manager
P
W
D
L
GF (Avg.)
GA (Avg.)
Pts (Pct.)
Avg. Pts
P
W
D
L
GF (Avg.)
GA (Avg.)
Pts (Pct.)
Avg. Pts
Hwang Sun-hong
12
8
0
4
26 (2.17)
12 (1)
24 (67%)
2
28
13
5
10
47 (1.67)
32 (1.14)
44 (52%)
1.57
Choi Yong-soo
12
4
3
5
10 (1)
17 (1.7)
15 (42%)
1.25
28
15
8
5
42 (1.5)
29 (1.04)
53 (63%)
1.89

This was the year that Seoul crushed the competition.  Choi Yong-soo struggled against the Big Four teams, collecting an average of 1.25 points per game.  However, he improved significantly when you factor in the results against the teams in the top eight.  Conversely, Hwang Sun-hong cleaned up against the top four, averaging two points a game, but was only slightly above the mean against the top eight. 

I think context has to be taken into consideration though.  Three of the five losses against the Big Four for Choi Yong-soo were against Suwon and the fourth, a 5-0 thrashing from Pohang, came at the end of the season when Seoul had the title comfortably wrapped up.  If we eliminated the four games against the Bluewings, Choi’s average jumps up to a much more respectable 1.75 points per game.  It would be even higher if we did not count the meaningless 5-0 loss that Seoul had against Pohang at the end of the year when Choi sent out a team of reserves.  In other words, outside of Suwon, Choi performed at a much better rate against his title rivals than the numbers indicate.

2013 K-League Table
Rank
Team
Manager
Pts.
1st
Pohang
Hwang Sun-hong
74
2nd
Ulsan Hyundai
Kim Ho-gon
73
3rd
Jeonbuk
Fabio Lefundes/Choi Kang-hee
63
4th
FC Seoul
Choi Yong-soo
62
5th
Suwon Samsung
Seo Jung-won
53
6th
Busan I’Park
Yoon Sung-hyo
52
6th
Incheon Utd.
Kim Bong-gil
50

In 2013, there were 14 teams in the K-League.  Just like 2012, the system was the same, so after 26 games, the top teams split and played each other twice for a total of 38 games, which the K-League seems to believe is the gold standard. 

Hwang Sun-hong, Choi Kang-hee, Choi Yong-soo, & Seo Jung-won: Records in 2013
       2013 vs. Big Four                                          2013 vs. Top Seven
Manager
P
W
D
L
GF (Avg.)
GA (Avg.)
Pts (Pct.)
Avg. Pts
P
W
D
L
GF (Avg.)
GA (Avg.)
Pts (Pct.)
Avg. Pts
Hwang Sun-hong
12
7
3
2
19 (1.58)
12 (1)
24 (67%)
1.5
24
10
8
6
35 (1.46)
30 (1.25)
38 (53%)
1.58
Choi Kang-hee
8
1
3
4
6 (0.75)
12 (1.5)
6 (25%)
0.75
17
7
5
5
20 (1.18)
20 (1.18)
26 (51%)
1.53
Choi Yong-soo
12
4
4
4
16 (1.33)
15 (1.25)
16 (44%)
1.33
24
8
8
8
30 (1.25)
31 (1.29)
32 (44%)
1.33
Seo Jung-won
12
4
3
5
16 (1.33)
17 (1.42)
15 (42%)
1.25
24
7
5
12
26 (1.08)
31 (1.29)
26 (36%)
1.08

For Pohang, I would say this was the perfect season.  They collected 28 out of the 30 points available in their first 10 games, did not lose to anyone below the top seven all year, and lost just once after the league split.  In fact, they won their last six games, all against teams in the top seven, which is why they won the title. 

Jeonbuk were not much of a factor that year, as Choi Kang-hee did not return until mid-season.  However, in the eight games he managed against the Big Four, he did pretty poorly (collecting only 0.75 points per game).  Seo Jung-won’s first year as coach of Suwon was a bit of the reverse.  He did better against teams in the Big Four, but much worse against teams in the top seven (averaging just above one point). 

In my opinion, this is the year that Choi Yong-soo’s reputation as a flat-track bully began to develop.  Against teams in the Big Four and top seven, he collected less than 50% of the points available and only averaged 1.33 points per game, which is below the cut-off line of 1.5 as being the mean.  Against teams in the bottom seven, he did much better, collecting 71% of the available points and averaging 2.14 points per game.  

Nonetheless, if a team outside of the top seven had won the FA Cup, Choi would not have qualified for the ACL and probably would have been out of a job.  Therefore, I would say he was quite lucky in 2013 that Pohang and Jeonbuk, both above Seoul, contested one another in the final since it enabled the fourth place finisher a the final ACL spot.

  2014 K-League                                                              2015 K-League 
Rnk
Team
Mgr.
Pts.

Rnk
Team
Mgr.
Pts.
1st
Jeonbuk
Choi Kang-hee
81

1st
Jeonbuk
Choi Kang-hee
73
2nd
Suwon Samsung
Seo Jung-won
67

2nd
Suwon Samsung
Seo Jung-won
67
3rd
FC Seoul
Choi Yong-soo
58

3rd
Pohang
Hwang Sun-hong
66
4th
Pohang
Hwang Sun-hong
58

4th
FC Seoul
Choi Yong-soo
62
5th
Jeju Utd.
Park Kyung-hoon
54

5th
Seongnam FC
Kim Hak-bum
60
6th
Ulsan Hyundai
Cho Min-kook
50

6th
Jeju Utd.
Jo Sung-hwan
50

In 2014 and 2015, the K-League once again changed how the season would be contested.  Each team would play one another three times, then the top six and bottom six would split and play each other once, for a total of 38 games (again, the K-League Gold Standard).  The Big Four teams and teams in the top six played each other four times. 

Choi Kang-hee, Seo Jung-won, Choi Yong-soo, & Hwang Sun-hong: Records in 2014
  2014 vs. Big Four                              2014 vs. Top Six
Mgr.
P
W
D
L
GF (Avg.)
GA (Avg.)
Pts (Pct.)
Avg. Pts
P
W
D
L
GF (Avg.)
GA (Avg.)
Pts (Pct.)
Avg. Pts
Choi Kang-hee
12
6
3
3
15 (1.25)
12 (1)
21 (58%)
1.75
20
10
6
4
24 (1.2)
16 (0.8)
36 (60%)
1.8
Seo Jung-won
12
5
0
7
14 (1.17)
15 (1.25)
15 (42%)
1.25
20
11
2
7
27 (1.35)
19 (0.95)
35 (58%)
1.75
Choi Yong-soo
12
5
4
3
8 (0.67)
5 (0.42)
19 (53%)
1.58
20
8
7
5
19 (0.95)
12 (0.6)
31 (52%)
1.55
Hwang Sun-hong
12
3
3
6
11 (0.92)
16 (1.33)
12 (33%)
1
20
6
6
8
21 (1.05)
24 (1.2)
24 (40%)
1.2

The table in 2014 confirmed what I said earlier about the importance of getting results against your rivals.  Choi Kang-hee did well against teams in the Big Four and Top Six, thereby winning the title with a fair amount of ease.  The race between third and fourth however, is where things get interesting.

FC Seoul and Pohang were tied on points, but FC Seoul edged out Pohang on goal difference.  I would also say that Choi Yong-soo’s record against teams in the Big Four and Top Six is actually what helped them win the final ACL spot.  As evidenced by the amount of goals Seoul averaged (0.67 against Big Four teams and 0.95 against Top Six teams), one can discern that they were a dreadful team to watch.  Seoul were quite defensive and had difficulty scoring goal, but this approach worked against the top teams that looked to attack.  

Seoul could sit back, keep their shape, and spring a surprise. Slightly more often than not, it ended in a positive result.  Therefore, even though I would argue the team in 2013 was significantly better, this iteration had better results because of their offensive limitations.  Since Seoul struggled to score, it was in Choi’s best interest to defend resolutely and hope for a chance on the break.  For whatever reason, this approach seems to be rewarded quite frequently in soccer, which is why so many managers most likely adopt it.  

Hwang Sun-hong, Choi Kang-hee, Seo Jung-won, & Choi Yong-soo: Records in 2015
   2015 vs. Big Four                                             2015 vs. Top Six
Manager
P
W
D
L
GF (Avg.)
GA (Avg.)
Pts (Pct.)
Avg. Pts
P
W
D
L
GF (Avg.)
GA (Avg.)
Pts (Pct.)
Avg. Pts
Hwang Sun-hong
12
6
3
3
13 (1.08)
7 (0.58)
21 (58%)
1.75
20
10
5
5
25 (1.25)
16 (0.8)
35 (58%)
1.75
Choi Kang-hee
12
5
3
4
14 (1.17)
12 (1)
18 (50%)
1.5
20
10
4
6
26 (1.3)
18 (0.9)
34 (57%)
1.7
Seo Jung-won
12
4
3
5
16 (1.33)
17 (1.42)
15 (42%)
1.25
20
8
5
7
29 (1.45)
26 (1.3)
29 (48%)
1.45
Choi Yong-soo
12
3
3
6
14 (1.17)
21 (1.75)
12 (33%)
1
20
6
6
8
25 (1.25)
30 (1.5)
24 (40%)
1.2

Unlike 2014, I would say that Jeonbuk in 2015 were nothing special.  Choi Kang-hee was average against teams in the Big Four, but he did well against teams in the Top Six.  Hwang Sun-hong did well against teams in both the Big Four and Top Six, which means he probably did not win as many points against teams in the bottom of the table as he should have.  

Seo Jung-won did not do well against teams in the Big Four and Top Six and this, along with Jong Tae-se’s departure, was the reason why they did not win the league.  I agree with Scott Whitelock that Suwon would have probably won the league if Jong had stayed.  I think they missed his presence in games against the top teams and the results show.  

For example, in the last two games that Seoul played against them, Suwon were clearly a different team than the first two games that these two teams contested.  Suwon lacked his ability to hold up the ball and be the focal point for attacks, and I think it gave Seoul a certain amount of freedom to attack.  The back three CBs for Seoul could contain Mitsanski much easier than Jong, it negated Suwon's offense.  This was particularly evident in the game that finished 4-3.  Seoul dominated the first 70 minutes, but lost their head looking for a fifth goal (imo), and allowed Suwon to get back into the game.  The score is much closer than the game really was.   

Finally, I would say that 2015 is the year that Choi Yong-soo earned the label flat-track bully.  Seoul were dismal against the Big Four, collecting just a third of the points available.  They were not much better against teams in the top four either, collecting only 40% of the points available.  Contrasting that against teams in the bottom six, Seoul did much better.  They averaged 2.1 points per game and collected 70% of the points available. 


I feel this is why Seoul are perennial top four finishers.  They tend to do quite well against weaker opposition but struggle against the better teams.  That is good enough to qualify for the ACL, but not enough to become champions.  If they want to win the title in 2016, Choi Yong-soo must fix this immediately.  The game on March 12th against Jeonbuk would be a great time to start.    

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