2016: The Demise of Kwon Chang-hoon?
After a breakout year in 2015 that earned him numerous plaudits in Asia and also caught the attention of Europe, Kwon Chang-hoon has had a much quieter 2016. Here, our Suwon correspondent, Scott Whitelock, attempts to establish why the star man last year has suffered for form this year.
2015 will be a year that Kwon Chang-hoon will probably never forget. After tentatively being introduced to the Suwon first team in 2014, Chang-hoon was handed a starting roll in the 2015 season and, to be honest, not a lot was expected from a young boy who had only mustered 1 goal and 3 assists from his previous 28 appearances. However, Kwon Chang-hoon shocked every Korean football observer, bagging 10 league goals over the course of the 2015 season. His form earned him his debut cap for the Korean national team and he scored 3 more goals whilst wearing the red shirt of Korea. The overnight success made him the poster boy of Korean football and the linchpin of Suwon's 2016, new-look midfield.
To say that 2016 has been a contrasting year would be the understatement of the decade, as Chang-hoon has failed to live up to the hype one year on. To be brutally honest, he hasn't even shown half of the talent that he demonstrated last season and has been one of the reasons Suwon have performed so woefully this season. With only 5 goals to his name, he isn't even half way close to the 13 he grabbed last year. And although he has one assist this season (an improvement on his zero tally in 2015) the amount of attacking opportunities he has created has dramatically fallen. Moreover, after attempting an impressive 62 shots last year, he has only managed to register 47 this time around.
On the surface, those stats may not look too damning, but it's Chang-hoon's all round style and contribution to a stuttering team that exemplifies how much he has struggled this season. He started the season well, scoring 4 of his 5 goals overall, in the 1st month of the campaign. His trademark runs beyond the striker were paying dividends and he personified almost everything that was good with Suwon at that point. But by the time May came around, Chang-hoon had changed his game. Gone were the lung-bursting box-to-box runs, instead a more conservative and timid Chang-hoon lined up every Saturday afternoon to be a virtual bystander to the inevitable Suwon 2nd half collapse. And as the season has developed Chang-hoon has become even more withdrawn.
His year went from bad to worse as he traveled to Brazil to represent his nation at the Olympics, only to return hailed a loser and go down in history as a part of, perhaps, the worst U-23 squad of recent times. To be fair to him, he was asked to play from the right-wing for a large portion of the games played in Brazil, a position which most interested parties can agree does not suit a player of Chang-hoon's skill set. However, the fact that the manager was not willing to build a team around one of his star men is probably the biggest indicator of the midfielder's terrible performances this season. Behind Son Heung-min, Kwon Chang-hoon was probably the biggest, natural, goal threat in the squad, yet he was shifted to the right wing because Shin Tae-yong simply did not see enough from him to warrant a place in the spine of the team. Chang-hoon laboured in Brazil, and while effort and ambition was on show, he was unable to produce any real quality, aside from the wonder strike against Mexico.
The fact that Chang-hoon is now playing in a losing team may shed some light on his deficiencies this season. Last season he was playing in a team where the midfield, in particular, was really on top of their game. Yeom Ki-hun had the best season of his career, whilst Lee Sang-ho and Ko Cha-won hit new levels that not many thought they could reach. Add that with the attacking force of Cheong Tae-se and Santos, and it is easy to see how Chang-hoon was also able to raise his game also. This season has been a different story, as the 22 year old has struggled in a midfield that has been among the poorest in the league. The aforementioned Ki-hun and Sang-ho have been shadows of their former selves, and the additions of players like Cho Won-hee, Lee Yong-rae and an ageing Baek Ji-hoon, just haven't been up to par. Cho Won-hee and Lee Yong-rae, especially look out of place in the Classic and would probably feel more at home in the Challenge. In this respect, I have some sympathy for Chang-hoon, as at the tender age of 22, the impossible is expected of him almost every game. He is the only player in the centre of midfield who has any sort of attacking talent, and perhaps the pressure of being the only driving force in the middle of the park has got to him.
After his outstanding 2015 Chang-hoon started to receive a lot of attention from Europe, and over last winter transfer rumors of him leaving for Germany were rife. There have been rumors around Suwon that the attention of some German clubs went to the players head and he started believing in the hype surrounding him a little too much. It is certainly easy to see why some people might say that, as his all round play has been especially greedy. On a number of occasions this season Chang-hoon has opted for ridiculously difficult options rather than taking an easy option and passing the ball to a team mate. Because of this, Chang-hoon has been caught in possession of the ball much more than he was last season. Furthermore, his defensive work has been almost non-existent this season and most of the time he can be seen making a gentle and token gesture to get back and help out his defence.
If 2015 was a season that he will never forget, then 2016 should be the season that he removes all memory of. Infact, it is getting to a point now where some people are saying that it may be better for both parties if Suwon and Chang-hoon were to part company in 2017. Although the attention from Europe has cooled, there may be an out for Chang-hoon in the form of Jeonbuk. With Lee Jae-sung being coveted by China, Jeonbuk may well look towards Chang-hoon as a like-for-like replacement and I wouldn't be too surprised if he is sporting the vicious green of Jeonju this time next year. Wherever he is though, he has to improve on this disastrous season, otherwise, what started as a very promising career may well be crashing before it ever really took off.