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The #KleagueFM17 Challenges: Challenge Champs [Pre-season '16 Part One]

Challenge is our E-Land correspondent’s middle name, so when Martin Rennie pulls a midnight run from his cushy gig in Seoul and Stephen Waddell is surprisingly appointed as his replacement then it seems only right that he takes on not one but two of the K-league United FM2017 trials. The task before him is to fulfil the Challenge Champs task of winning the ACL while also 'matching the stadium' and filling Jamsil to the rafters. How will he get on? Sacked by Easter I reckon.

Day one in the job and the papers are on my back already. ‘A massive surprise’ is how my appointment is greeted by one. ‘A virtually unknown Scottish manager with no prior experience’ another one adds. I make a note of the journos in question and resolve that they won’t be getting any exclusive interviews in the months to come. My job is to win matches and put a few tens of thousands on the gate, not justify myself to some bloggers with delusions of grandeur. Anyway, Alex Ferguson was a virtually unknown Scottish manager one day, so shut it. I make my excuses and leave Kevin the translator to field the rest of the questions and head off to find the chairman who wanted a chat.

Fortunately the media conference hasn’t convinced the chairman to change his mind about the whole affair and instead he just wants to give me a bit of a potted history of the club. All 12 months of it. He makes a point of showing me the trophy cabinet, which is an empty Ikea bookcase.  I bump into my assistant Choi Tae-uk and luckily he speaks enough English to give me a bit of a rundown on the team.

He assures me we have a hard-working bunch with some good technical ability and a bit of leeway in the transfer and wage budgets to bring in a few more bodies. He points out that we could do with a new right-back, don’t have much depth up front and lack leadership throughout the squad. I feel like he’s been reading my match reports from last season. It’s good to see we are on the same wavelength.  
With the niceties out of the way, I retire back to my office with a can of Cass Lemon and take stock of what I have let myself in for. If I’m serious about keeping this job and building the fanbase then I’m going to have to hit the ground running and aim for the title in my first season. Ambitious but do-able. Filling the stadium is probably going to be the harder challenge. Jamsil holds over 69,000 people and, at last count, about 68,000 of those seats were untroubled by a backside for the vast majority of the season. We are going to have to pull something special out of the bag to get even a five-figure attendance let alone sell-out the stadium. Luckily I have a plan.

First order of the day then is to get Kevin on the phone to Starship Entertainment and make Sistar an offer they can’t refuse to join the newly inaugurated E-Land cheerleading squad. ‘Tell them we’ve got leopard print shirts and scarves with their names on them, Kevin’ I add. ‘Oh and Kevin, tell DJ Prhyme he’s fired!’

Checking out the team schedule I see we have half a dozen friendly matches pencilled in starting off in Mokpo and Paju before taking on quartet of Classic sides in the shape of both Suwons, Jeonnam and Jeonbuk. A pretty challenging set of fixtures leading up to a tricky road trip to Busan for our opening fixture. The first round of fixtures haven’t been too kind as we have difficult away ties in Gangwon, Daegu and Daejeon during April. If I’m to still be in a job by Children’s Day I might need to bring in some reinforcements.  

If I’m going to get the fans onside then bringing in a few well-known faces might be the way to go so I tell Kevin to hold off on hiring and firing the half-time entertainment and instead give me the list of Korean internationals who might be available to sign. It’s slim pickings and not one of them is under 34. The most experienced of them is Yoo Kyung-rul, a 37-year-old centre half with 17 caps and no game time since 2013. 35-year-old striker Ko Ki-goo is a possible but I doubt he would put 10,000 on the gate and the fact that he is carrying a niggling injury which is apparently ‘aggravated by playing in matches’ puts me off. Call me old-fashioned but I think playing in matches would be a minimum expectation of a footballer. I put him on the maybe list. I’ll have a chat with Dan Harris later and see if he has any recommendations to rejuvenate aging mediocre footballers.

The best of a bad lot seems to be ex-Incheon holding midfielder Son Dae-ho who is looking for a gig after being released by Thai side BEC. If his legs are still up for it he might be the ball-winning midfielder we need. I offer him a week’s trial to avoid committing to an expensive mistake.

The rest of the list of possible signings looks not so much a Who’s Who as a Who are You? of Korean football.  Danny Choi looks to be out of reach with a valuation of £200k and while Lee Sang-hyub of FC Seoul might be a decent signing I refuse to give any cash to that lot from across the river. Choi Jin-ho might add something to the team but Pohang are already sniffing around and I doubt I can compete with the lure of the Classic. I consider cracking open the case of soju I was gifted as a welcoming gift when the phone rings.

‘Hello….eez zat Martine?’ a voice asks.

 ‘Erm...no. Martin…has left.’ I reply.

‘Ha, you are zee joker Martine! I like zat. Anyway Martine...I have ze player justa for you. All the way from Brazeel. I senda you the details now. You like, you sign. OK, Martine’

Seconds later I am looking at a shortlist of six Brazilians all with dubious K-League histories. Ricardo, Lucas Douglas, Marcinho, Everton, Wagner Querino, Lukian. I have a feeling that the same list appears in the Sao Paulo Yellow Pages under the heading ‘window cleaners’. Still desperate times call for desperate measures. I swallow my pride, hit reply to ‘brazilianhandymen@hotmail.com’ and tell him to send the 5 free agents over for a trial. Lukian is under contract with Bucheon so I avoid causing any trouble on my first day in the job by trying to poach him.

If I’m going to get anyone decent in it looks like loans might be the only option. I check out Koreans listed for loan who might fancy a spell in the motherland. Kim Jin-su from Hoffenheim looks like a stretch but if you don’t ask you don’t get so I fire off an e-mail in my politest German asking if they might consider allowing me to borrow their left-back.

Lee Seung-woo from Barca is also listed and if nothing else I reckon the young starlet might add a dozen or so to the gate. Mostly those guys on Twitter who seem to stalk his every move. A quick phone call reveals that they don’t want any fee or wage contribution. That’s my kind of price and I jump at the chance to register my interest.  

The rest of the list of names mean nothing to me so I resolve to play a few friendly matches before making any more transfer moves. Maybe the squad I have will pleasantly surprise me. At least I’ve got Joo Min-kyu. We’ve a game in Mokpo tomorrow that will tell us a lot about how the season is going to shape up. I decide to call it a day at 10.15am, I’ve been working hard for nearly 45 minutes and I need to get up early tomorrow to catch a KTX.

Overnight the social media buzz is that we have made an official offer for Lee Seung-woo and it’s fair to say the reaction is mixed. A fan poll states that 62% think he’s not good enough. I resist the urge to respond to each and every Tweet with ‘It was either him or Ko Ki-goo and his dodgy back!’ and start sketching out some line-ups for our first friendly match. I haven’t even had the chance to meet the players yet.

A handful of names pick themselves. Glory in goals. Joo and Tarabai need to start. Kim Jae-sung will boss the midfield while Mitchell and Kim Dong-cheol will be the preferred centre-half pairing. Lee Kyu-ro and Kim Dong-jin take the full back slots almost by default. The rest I pick with a coin toss. Yoon Sung-yeul, Cho Woo-jin and Kim Chang-wook are the lucky winners. This ends up in a slightly awkward looking 4-3-3 which I’m not entirely happy with but should be enough to beat Mokpo. Surely?

With no time to work with the players I decide not to give any further instructions to the team. Let’s see how they get on with this one before we tinker too much. In any case, Kevin hasn’t turned up for the KTX and I’m not sure how many of the players speak English.

A text comes through that lets me know that Gwangju are trying to gazump my move for Lee Seung-woo but there’s no time to worry about that right now. The players are in the dressing room and fired up. I pass round the team sheet and they head out onto the hallowed Mokpo Football Centre astroturf ready to make me proud. ‘Show me what you can do, lads’ I shout as passionately as I can muster.

3 minutes into my managerial career things are looking up! Joo Min-kyu lofts a free kick into the penalty area which Kim Jae-sung flicks on for Kim Chang-wook to finish, beating the keeper at his near post. My lucky coin-toss team selection method is paying dividends already.

20 minutes in I suffer my first managerial set-back. Tarabai goes down and the physio informs me that he needs to come off. Apparently he’s suffering from a severe defaultinjury#1. I think something has been lost in communication there but nevertheless I call for the shiny-faced Choi Oh-baek to take his place. No point taking any risks this early in the season.

The rest of the half passes uneventfully. Quite frankly Mokpo are woeful and it’s slightly concerning that we haven’t created too many chances. I consider making a change but decide to give this line-up another five or ten minutes of grace. An assertive reminder to keep working hard is all they get for now.

On the hour mark my patience gives in and I make a triple substitution. The ineffective Cho Woo-jin is hooked along with Yoon Sung-yeul and Kim Dong-cheol. Yang Ki-hoon, Jo Yang-ki and Yoon Joon-tae replace them. Within seconds we are 2-0 up. Joo Min-kyu with a free-kick again and Choi Oh-baek is there to apply the finish without even messing up his hair. It’s easy street now.
The win is going to come at a cost though as Glory joins Tarabai on the injured list. A broken finger is surely going to keep him out for a good few weeks. Time to see if backup keeper Lee Sang-ki is any good. To avoid any more injuries to key players I substitute the remaining members of the first eleven and give some game time to the squad fillers. Mokpo finish the game the stronger looking side and manage to get an 89th minute consolation goal. We won the match but it was far from convincing and I’ve lost my goalie and star striker for who knows how long. Luckily we have a week before our next match at Paju. I hope those Brazilians turn up for their trial.

I pre-emptively decide to take Sunday off and head off to spend Saturday night hitting the fleshpots of Mokpo. It seems that managing E-Land has already driven me to drink. IN an effort to avoid the prying eyes of English teachers and football bloggers I end up spending the evening in a transgender bar discussing with the barstaff whether we can play Kim Jae-sung just off the strikers if we play one of our centre-backs as a holding midfielder. At some point during the night the physio texts me to let me know Tarabai and Glory will be out for a minimum 6 weeks. That’s the end of pre-season for them and puts a major question mark on whether they will be fit enough to face Busan in our opening match. Overweight Brazilian nobody Marcinho also gets in touch to let me know he’s rejecting the offer of a trial and my chief scout tells me he doesn’t have any information on Paju for our next game. I’m surrounded by amateurs! I hope Kevin has sorted out Sistar or there will be hell to pay.

First thing Monday morning I start ringing the changes in the backroom staff. Our chief scout doesn’t seem to know the difference between a footballer and a bricklayer so he’s first out the door. An advert goes in the Jungang Ilbo seeking someone qualified to be a Head Scout for a K-League team which presumably means he has a brother-in-law who lives in Brazil. In the meantime, I need someone to shout at so I hire a 20-year-old data analyst.   

The board aren’t happy with the size of my coaching team but Choi Tae-uk seems to be the only one who knows what he is doing and Dan Harris isn’t getting fired from his fitness role any time soon so I decide to fire the other two who turn out to be a head of youth development and a goalkeeping coach. No great loss. My physio doesn’t look the best either and given my luck so far with injuries I decide to advertise for a replacement without telling him. That seems like another successful day at the office so I decide to finish at 10am. Before I go home I leave a post-it note for Kevin on his desk which reads. ‘Kevin. Sistar. Sort it out.’

Tuesday brings better news. Working from home means checking my email in bed and I see Son Dae-ho has agreed to come on trial. Meanwhile there’s been an admin glitch at Daejeon and somehow Hwang In-beom has been listed for a fee of £425. I offer a more than generous £500 and Daejeon accept my offer. I suspect this offer is too good to be true and may in fact be a Nigerian phishing scam so I make sure to use to chairman’s credit card details to make the offer official. I offer a trial to Daegu’s Palestinian (honest) attacking midfielder Eder to complete my work for the day and go back to sleep. Still nothing from Kevin on the cheerleader front.

Wednesday sees the first cracks in my relationship with the chairman. He’s blocked the signing of the data analyst. Apparently the club don’t need a data analyst. Maybe he doesn’t need a data analyst but who am I going to shout at now? Who is going to go down to Starbucks for the coffee in the morning? Who is going to iron Bora’s name on the back of her E-Land shirt when she finally accepts the cheerleading offer? This is strike one for the chairman.

Bloody hell! I’ve only gone and stolen Hwang In-beom off Daejeon for £425! I don’t know who has signed that one off at their end but they’ll be looking for a new job in the morning. Welcome on board In-beom. If you see Kevin around tell him I’m looking for an update on the Sistar situation ASAP. I’m so happy with the news that I decide to take Friday off. I hope Choi Tae-uk has been preparing the lads in training.

Saturday morning springs more good news as Lee Seung-woo turns up at Incheon Airport and is presented with a bunch of flowers from the chairman. The news that overweight useless Brazilian Lucas Douglas has signed for Gyeongnam instead of coming on trial to us does nothing to dampen the mood. We’ve managed to get Wagner Querino in for a week to take a closer look. Overweight, two left footed Brazilian Everton has decided to sign for Daejeon on 2 grand a week. Someone else is getting sacked at Daejeon for that one.

With a handful of new faces it’s time for a change of tactics. The trialists will go straight into the starting lineup to show me what they have got. While new signings Hwang In-beom and Lee Seung-woo will get their first run-out. It’s an interesting formation to say the least and a stark reminder that I don’t really have any wingers at the club. Something that needs to be addressed I think in coming weeks.   This one is more about the individual performances of the new faces rather than the result though.

I’m slightly encouraged to see that Paju haven’t even managed to name a full squad for the match and their bench looks a bit threadbare. The pre-match previews suggest we should walk this one but then again they probably didn’t expect me to start with Wagner Querino up front as the lone striker in a formation that experts are calling ‘man in a top hat wearing big shoes’.

It pays off 12 minutes in though as Lee Kyu-ro sweeps in a lovely cross and the head of the Brazilian maestro nods the ball beyond the Paju keeper. Hwang In-beom’s career with E-Land lasts all of 20 minutes before he is taken off with a nasty looking injury. Since I have 5 midfielders all getting in each other’s way in the centre circle I replace him with Choi Oh-baek and stick him up front to play alongside Wagner.

We are getting all sorts of time on the ball in this game and our passing play is gathering some ‘Oles’ from the handful of fans watching the match but we still aren’t creating too many chances. Luckily for us someone pushes Wagner over in the box and the ref awards a penalty. He seems to be the only person in the ground that spotted the foul but we will take it.

Unfortunately Son Dae-ho hits a low trundler straight at the keeper. I’m not sure whose idea it was for him to take then penalty anyway but he’s blotted his copybook with that one. I was quite impressed with him till that point. He finishes the half by picking up a yellow card for a professional foul on a Paju player. Time to stick a couple of subs on at half-time to freshen things up I think.

The subs work again and this time it’s Ahn Tae-hyun who fires in a shot from 25 yards past the flailing Paju goalie. 2-0 is how it finishes in the end. Some shameful finishing by Joo Min-kyu and Choi Oh-baek means we don’t add any more goals.  We dominate possession but fail to create too many chances. A good data analyst would be able to tell me how many chances we failed to create but apparently I don’t need one of them. So let’s just say lots. For the sake of morale I pretend to be happy with the result.

My first 8 days in charge are complete. Played 2, Won 2. Scored 4 Against 1. Who is a virtually unknown Scottish manager with no experience now, eh?

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