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Winners Circle

2016 K-League Season Awards

After weeks of votes coming in from all corners of the globe, the results are in for the winners of K-League United's 2016 Season Awards. These are the most dynamic, profound, and thrilling players and moments of the season as voted on by you. 

With only the Promotion/Relegation Playoff left in the 2016 K-League Classic and Challenge seasons, we here at K-League United are looking back on the best and brightest of our second season covering Korea's top two flights. The winners of each category earned the most votes in polling in two different stages: a shortlist created by KLU Staff and members of the ROKfootball Forum, and fan votes open to all. This year we'll be announcing the winners one at a time starting with 2016's Newcomer of the Year.

The pre-season rumour mill had heard whispers of a Premier League footballer moving to the K-League Classic with Jeonbuk seen as the potential suitors. When Kim Bo-kyung finally arrived, most continued to wait to see who was really coming. The ex-Cardiff City and Wigan man was eventually forced to leave the English Championship due to his visa expiration, resulting in a very brief stint at J-League Matsumoto Yamaga before being picked up by the then K-League Champions. With his sights set on rediscovering his form and forcing his way back into the national team setup, Kim Bo-kyung quickly set to work on proving his detractors wrong.

The fans had to wait a while to see him play after an injury in his second competitive match ruled him out for six weeks, but on his return his impact was immediately noticeable. After he scored the winning goal in a 3-2 thriller against Seongnam, there was no looking back for the midfielder as he became integral to Jeonbuk’s impressive unbeaten run, title challenge and progression to the AFC Champions League final. He has played the 4th highest amount of minutes for Jeonbuk this season, scoring four league goals and claiming seven assists in the process. His control, technique and awareness is often excellent, complimenting his fellow central attacking midfielder Lee Jae-sung superbly. As this was his first season in the K-League, there is little doubt in my mind that he is fully deserving of the best newcomer award.

- Matthew Binns (@Matt_Binns)

There were other nominees who would've had a strong case any other year, but Jung Jo-gook was the only man that could take home Comeback Player of the Year this year. Though highly decorated domestically with FA Cup, K-League Cup, and K-League Classic medals in his trophy case, very little was expected of the former FC Seoul man when he signed with Gwangju this past off season. It was the epitome of a low-risk move for a club that needed some help up top, but mainly signed him for veteran leadership. What they got instead was a 20 goal scoring league MVP who almost single-handedly dragged Gwangju to Championship Round when many believed the team would be in a relegation battle in 2016. The 20 goals was not only his career high water mark, but was just one shy of matching the combined total he scored in his previous four seasons since returning to K-League after an unsuccessful stint in Ligue 1 in France. Perhaps even more remarkably, he scored his Golden Boot winning total this year playing in 31 of Gwangju's 38 league matches. An impressive efficiency rate yes, but also a formidable show of stamina from a 32-year-old who only made 11 appearances for FC Seoul in 2015. Bagging Golden Boot and MVP was not only well deserved for Jung in 2016, but helped prove there's still plenty of hope for those of us North of 30 to shine brightly. Cheers for that, good sir.

- Ryan Walters (@MrRyanWalters)

Jung Seok-hwa receives the ball, looks up and sees Popp make a run into the box. With his right foot he scoops a pass to the Brazilian forward who controls with his chest, flicks the ball over his head, spins and ends with a fine left-footed finish to put Busan up 1-0 over Gyeongnam. A fine pass from Jung Seok-hwa, but an even finer finish from Popp - three touches and the ball hits the back of the net before it hits the ground. It was Popp's 9th goal of the season, he would go on to score another 9 goals before the year ended to finish as Busan's top scorer. Unfortunately, Popp's goal(s) - both against Gyeongnam and on a whole - weren't enough for Busan as they went on to lose that match 2-3 and failed to gain promotion back to the K League Classic.

- Jae-Hyeok Lee (@ArmchairRegista)

The 2016 K-League season saw total of 18 managers leading 12 teams, but it's fair to say there were only a few who could be considered the best. Sadly, media and the K-League Association only considered managers of teams that sit at the very top of the table, but we decided to give Manager to someone completely different, Sangju Sangmu manager, Cho Jin-ho. Yes, Sangju didn't win anything, didn't really challenge for much, and only picked up 4 draws in 12 games since mid-August, but that's what makes his achievement even more astonishing.

To the people who don't know much about the K League, it's important to outline what kind of club Cho manages. Sangju are one of two military teams in Korea and all of their players are basically loanees from other clubs while completing their military duty. As such, they receive close to no money and it's fair to assume there isn't much “connection” between players and the club, the way it happens when players stay somewhere for numerous years. To motivate these players to give their best for the club they won't be at soon and that “pays” them very little must be one of the most challenging jobs in football. Their games were mostly very enjoyable to watch, with plenty of goals and incredibly open at times. It's clear he wanted his players to enjoy themselves on the pitch rather than follow some defensive gameplan, simply trying to grind out some points.

Perhaps their crowning moment of the season was their draw vs Jeonbuk on October 2nd to ensure Sangju would stay in the top 6 and effectively avoid relegation. At that point, Cho was without 17(!) players who were either key to the way team played earlier in the season or were regularly getting minutes. The exodus came in mid-September as all those players completed their military duty and were discharged back to their original clubs. Cho was left with players who rarely played before and clearly weren't as good as those who left. To deal with the departure of so many key and regular players at such a crucial part of the season would be very difficult for any manager and Cho certainly struggled too as Sangju only picked up 3 draws in the final 3 months. However, we're not judging his season by those final months. Looking at it from another perspective, he essentially had 3 months less than other clubs to secure survival and he managed just that. Sangju were as high as 2nd at one point and eventually wrote history as this was the first time club qualified for the Championship Round. So far, there's no word about Cho leaving for different club, but one wonders how he would do in charge of more established club with bigger resources and a chance to keep his squad together for longer time. He deserves a lot of credit for the job he did at Sangju in 2016 and while media and the K-League Association ignored his achievement, we couldn't!

- Miro Tramita (@FRsoccerMiro)

The first truly close voting contest of the Awards saw two Seoul-based foreigners going head to head with the captain of the Champions coming out on top with 40% of the vote. Though FC Seoul weren't exactly known for their defense this year, their eight game undefeated streak to end the season and claim the crown was anchored by an Osmar backline that held five clean sheets during the streak. Even more impressively, three of the five shutouts came against the two teams who ran away with the goal record this year with 71 a piece: Jeju and Jeonbuk. Jeju was victimized both at home and on the road, and Seoul infamously held Jeonbuk scoreless in Jeonju on the final day of the season. Osmar found himself at the center of each of those storms tasked with shutting down the most potent offenses in the final matches of the year when quite literally the entire season was on the line. As tall as the 28 year old Spaniard stoood at end of the season, it can't be overlooked that he was an absolute rock all year leading the team with 3,256 minutes through 37 league appearances. The accomplishment marked the second season in a row with more than 3,200 minutes logged, and the third in a row with more than 2,900. Whether it was as a true center back or defensive midfielder in a multitude of formations, Osmar proved versatile and steady the entire season. In a position that's often overlooked unless something goes wrong, that kind of consistency and reliance the rest of the team can place on him knowing he'll always be there can't be overstated.

- Ryan Walters (@MrRyanWalters)

For the second year running, FC Seoul's ruthless attacker takes home the title of Offensive Player of the Year. Even if we ignore the 29 year old Brazilian absolutely destroying AFC Champions League this year and tying former Guangzhou Evergrande striker Muriqui's single tournament record of 13 goals (which we have to for a K-League award), he still rates above some very serious competition. While his 17 goals weren't enough to steal the Golden Boot from our Comeback Player of the Year, Jung Jo-gook, they were arguably more impressive. Unlike the resurgent Jung, Adriano came into the 2016 season with a target on his back after a strong 2015 and every opposing defense aiming to shut him down. Even with that bullseye, he nearly claimed the scoring title while playing in one less match than Jung (30 and 31 respectively) and having to serve a six match suspension for an insanely stupid elbow. Had Adriano played in those six matches, we may be awarding him this title on top of claiming the Golden Boot as well. However, even without the Golden Boot on his mantle at home, Adriano is unquestionably the most proficient attacker in the league. Especially when considering he had to fight for goals alongside fellow marksmen Dejan Damjanović, and Park Chu-young, who also netted in double digits this year. To bag 17 goals while those two are also lurking around the net speaks volumes about Adriano's positioning and flat our artistry in the box, where the vast majority of his goals came from this year.

Admittedly having Dejan and Park Chu-young alongside isn't exactly a detriment, so let's consider the competition. In the final five games of the season Adriano scored 4 goals in the Championship Round against fellow top six teams while helping Seoul claim a title. Jung scored the same number, but did so against cellar dwellers including a brace vs the now relegated Suwon FC. This shouldn't suggest what Jung accomplished this year wasn't spectacular, because it most definitely was. And he could only play the teams that were in front of him. It certainly wasn't Jung Jo-gook's fault Gwangju couldn't find their way into the top six. He did more than could've been expected on his own to get them there. However, the fact remains Adriano scored at the same clip all season against more impressive competition and eventually helped lead his team to the promise land.

- Ryan Walters (@MrRyanWalters)

Taking on the mantle of the captain’s armband from club legend Lee Dong-gook was never going to be an easy task, yet Kwoun Sun-tae has been nothing short of professional in his new ambassadorial role within the squad, leading by example in terms of attitude, determination and consistent performances. While there is the argument from some quarters that he has the benefit of one of the league’s best defences in front of him (going by the table that is) and thus not likely tested as much, the visible frailty of the Jeonbuk defence at times this year has only served to enhance his goalkeeping reputation amongst their supporters. After all, the best teams do not tend to employ average goalkeepers  (even if FC Seoul are the notable exception to that rule).

- Matthew Binns (@Matt_Binns)

Leonardo has continued to impress annually during his five years at Jeonbuk yet has never claimed the most coveted K-League award, with the KFA often opting for the player who has scored the most that year or Lee Dong-gook. This is definitely not a slight on those who have won it however (Jung Jo-gook has certainly had quite the year), but it is a shame for the player that he has never quite been considered good enough as each year’s competition to be formerly recognised for his on-field efforts. This season saw his most-inspiring performances yet, scoring 12 league goals and creating 6, in addition to ten AFC Champions League goals.

Unceremoniously dropped once more by the manager at the start of the year for new signings, Leonardo took his opportunities when afforded them and reclaimed his starting spot with relative ease. A spat of goals from set pieces grabbed all the continental AFC headlines in May, but his crosses and the threat he poses from outside the box made him one of the best midfielders this year. In addition to this, his attitude and affection towards the fans seems genuine, and is reciprocated in kind by all those in the stands chanting his name. He is a firm fan favourite, a joy to watch, and, I am happy to report, this year’s K League United MVP.

- Matthew Binns (@Matt_Binns)

Love the choices? Think someone got snubbed? 
We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!


  1. Jung Jo-gook didn't win player of the year? I'm boycotting this website. Fixed!

    1. I'd have accpeted Jung Jo-gook winning although I voted for Leonardo. Why Adriano is 2nd though baffles me. Not even the best player in his team in my opinion (that'd be Dejan). The people have spoken though!

    2. Voted for Dejan, but I'd back Leo for MVP. Undoubtable Jung's most valuable to his team, but Leo consistently performed at a high level in much higher stakes than he did.

      Damn travesty Tomi didn't win Defender of the Year if we're on the subject.


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