The #KleagueFM17 Challenges: Challenge Champs [Pre-season '16 Part Three]
Newly appointed E-Land boss Steve Waddell is in the midst of pre-season preparations for his assault on the Challenge title. So far he's done OK but there are a handful of chaebol teams on the horizon looking to take him down a peg or two. His transfer policy of pursuing Brazilian trialists with nothing better to do and former Scottish internationalists with plenty of things better to do so far has not borne fruit. If he is to add to his squad he will need to try another approach.
Apparently I’ve been invited to attend a trial day to take a look at 40 free agents. This is the kind of thing that I would normally send the Chief Scout to but I sacked him. It seems like it might be a bit of a jolly so I agree to go along even though there was no mention of where it’s being held. I hope it’s not Daejeon.
The driver informed me it was Jeonju and the game would be taking place at the university stadium. Another one to tick off the list. On arrival it appears that I am the only one there other than the players. I take a quick scan through the lineups to see who to look out for. The whites seem to have the more interesting names. Yoo Byung-soo up front is definitely one to watch out for while I was interested to take a look at the distinctly non-Korean sounding Mario. If I am shopping for anything though it should really be a winger so I would keep an eye on the widemen from both sides especially since my assistant had already suggested former Bucheon man Im Kyung-hyun as a possible signing.
The first half is far from a classic and I am glad I’d remembered to stick a few beers in my bag before heading to the match. The whites seem to be the better side but are prone to the odd rush of blood to the head earning them 3 yellow cards so far. Yoo up front looks well off the pace, but eleven games in two seasons will probably do that to you. Mario did nothing except get booked. Lee Yo-han looks to be a good solid centre-half but I am already well covered in that department. When he makes a clumsy tackle to gift the reds a penalty and the opening goal I crossed him off the list. Maybe I needed that scout after all?
In the second 45 the whites play some lovely stuff. Kim Heung-il and Yoo Byung-soo were linking up well and showing some nice touches but it was Choi Dong-ho who pops up with the equaliser, curling a shot from outside the box round the reds keeper. Choi piqued my interest, though his history of former clubs was cause for concern. A season at Goyang then 3 at Chungju is hardly impressive.
After that, the subs start coming thick and fast and the reds begin to get more of the game. The whites teenage keeper looks rather wobbly and fumbles a few easy shots. It was no great surprise then when he was beaten by an Im Dong-gun effort to make it 2-1. The second half had definitely been more entertaining but hadn’t done much to convince me anyone was worth adding to my squad. Choi Dong-ho got the man of the match award and at least was worth another look. I go to find his agent to see what we could do but it looked as if he’d already left. I stick a post-it note with the address of our training ground on the outside of the dressing room door with a note that anyone who fancies a trial should turn up tomorrow morning and head off to find a bar.
The next friendly match with Jeonnam is rapidly approaching and we are no further on with our squad preparations. Anyang are persisting with their interest in Jeon Min-gwang but they aren’t offering enough money to get me excited so again I tell them yet again no deal. It looks like no new faces will be joining before the game so I’ll have to make the best of what I’ve got. I make a few changes in an effort to start narrowing down on my starting eleven but don’t go overboard.
Jeonnam look to be more or less replicating my formation with dangerman Cho Seok-jae up front on his own and Jair on the left wing. It doesn’t look like they have gone for their strongest team though so I fancy my chances a little. This is our first game at Jamsil so it would be nice to get a positive start. I give the lads a rousing teamtalk and send them out looking fired up. Probably a good thing as it’s started snowing!
45 minutes later there’s nothing much to say to them. Neither team have created any chances and my attacking players have barely touched the ball. Something needs to change so Min-kyu will come on. In the hope of getting a bit closer to the opposition goal I decide to sacrifice our holding midfielder. Nothing changes in the second half though and the game ends 0-0 with neither goalie being tested. It’s been a dreadful game and it’s lucky there was next to no one there to see it. Much improvement needed for next week’s game with Bluewings.
Still, somebody seems to have taken notice. Season ticket sales have broken the 1100 mark and the board expect to sell at least another 100. 20% above the initial estimate. The rumours of Sistar must be leaking out! Imagine how sales will rocket when Kevin confirms the booking! Where the bloody hell is Kevin anyway?
More good news comes on Sunday in the form of a bunch of trialists arriving. There must be a decent winger or two somewhere amongst this bunch. First to accept is Moon Dong-joo, a 25-year old right sided winger who is forgiven his former FC Seoul connection on the grounds he doesn’t seem to have actually played for them. In fact, he appears to have made it to 25 without ever playing a first team game for anyone.
It’s also time to start clearing the decks to make way for some of these new additions. So I let the world know that Yoon Sung-yeul, Gu Dae-yeob and Kim Ji-huenn are available if anyone wants them. Choi Oh-baek can go too. So can Cho Woo-jin.
Kim Heung-il from the trialist match also turns up in my office clutching my post-it note. I like his attitude already. I’m feeling on a roll now so I pick up the phone to Brendan Rodgers and see if I can tempt him to part with Stuart Armstrong on loan. He’s happy to do it but his £8k a week wages are going to be too much for us to swallow. When I ask if he’d take 10% of that, he instead points me in the direction of 18 year old Calvin Miller. He seems worth a look.
Craig Levein is next and a trial of Hearts young Canadian winger Dario Zanatta is agreed.
Another guy rocks up to the office at this point waving a photocopy of my post-it note. He tells me his name is Lee Sung-min, he’s a centre-half and he’s 16. He looks to be in his mid-thirties to me but I tell him to join training anyway.
The chairman pops his head into the office and says he wants to talk about money. I tell him if it’s about the expenses from Jeonju then they were all very much work-related and that the bikini bar staff had been very helpful in offering tactical advice. He looks as if he doesn’t know what I am talking about so I shut up quickly and let him do the talking.
Apparently his expectations for the season are that we don’t get outclassed too often. If I think I can win the league then he’s willing to up the wage budget. Don’t get outclassed? I find his lack of faith disturbing. Mind you I’d rather keep his expectations low at this point. But that extra money could put the deal for Stuart Armstrong back on. Or even Faddy. Or at least add AOA to the cheerleading squad alongside Sistar. How much are you offering?
An extra eight hundred quid a week? That won’t even get me an overweight Brazilian welder. “Don’t be outclassed too often” looks fair to me boss.
Anyang make yet another offer for Jeon Min-gwang but the numbers don’t seem to be going up so again it’s rejected out of hand. I briefly consider taking the offer and sending them Gu Dae-yeob instead but I reckon they’d notice that one eventually. I head off to check in on training instead.
Choi Tae-uk is none too happy with me when I arrive. In his view Cho Woo-jin has no business being transfer listed. I tell him I value his advice and will give it some thought later. Mentally I make a note to check if Brian Irvine fancies a job as an assistant manager. I was in a good mood until this point. This will teach me to set foot on the training ground. First and last time that will be happening. On the way out I have a chat with Dan and tell him to keep an eye on Choi and let me know if he causes any trouble.
For Saturday’s game I decide to start the three trialists to get a good look at them. This means Seung-woo will be stuck out on the left wing but he hasn’t impressed up front on his own anyway. Rumours abound that Gwangju scouts will be coming to take a look at Carlyle Mitchell so I decide to leave him out just to annoy them. Hwang In-beom has passed a fitness test but I don’t want to risk him. Tarabai also remains out.
It’s fair to say our opponents, on paper at least, look a bit good. The team has more than one player that can hurt us. We will have to keep an eye on Kwon Chang-hoon in the middle of the park and down the left Hong Chul and Yeom Ki-hoon looks like a class pairing. Santos up front is a worry as well. Even the bench looks full of quality with Johnathan, Baek Ji-hoon, Cho Dong-gun and Kwak Heeju amongst others. I have a feeling our unbeaten run is about to come to an end.
Our best bet is surely to rumble this lot up a bit so I remind the lads that is a physical game and that getting a few tough challenges in early doors wouldn’t go amiss. Putting Yeom into Row Z once or twice wouldn’t be a bad thing either.
15 minutes in and I’m dancing with joy on the sidelines. Two of my trialists combine to put us one up and I’m looking like a footballing genius. A free kick just outside the box on the left is floated in by Moon Dong-joo and sixteen-going-on-thirty-five-year-old Lee Sung-min powers a header into the top corner.
7 minutes later it’s more of the same when another trialist Kim Heung-il smashes one in from outside the box. Kim Jae-sung and Lee Seung-woo combine beautifully to feed him the ball and his finish is top drawer. Suwon haven’t had a sniff so far.
After that though Suwon start coming more into the game. Kwon Chang-hoon and Yeom are getting more of the ball and the inevitable comeback looms. Yeom skins Lee Kyu-ro on the wing and fires in a low cross for Lee Jeon-seong to finish. 2-1.
At half-time I try to rouse them up. If they play as well as they did in the first 20 minutes we can win this one. It seems to work. In an almost carbon copy of our first goal Moon swings a free-kick into the box and Lee leaps like a salmon to head home. This time though Lee is taken out by a Suwon defender and drops to the ground like a sack of rice. Penalty!
Unfortunately Kim Heung-il’s effort is saved. Our penalty taking is horrendous. I’ll need to get that looked at. From then on it’s backs to the wall stuff. I freshen up the side with a few changes but its only great keeping and an intervention from the woodwork that keeps our noses in front.
Magically though, somehow we manage to find a third goal. It’s Seung-woo who is the creator again and this left sided inside forward role seems to suit him. He lays the ball off for Yoon Sung-yeul and he smashes it into the net. He’s doing his best to convince me to keep him around it seems.
With two minutes to go the ref awards Bluewings a penalty for absolutely no reason. He seems to be pointing at Jae-sung suggesting he was he culprit but nobody has a clue what he has given it for. Suwon show us how penalty taking is done. 3-2.
Too little too late though. The ref blows his final whistle and we’ve done it! A fantastic showing from the lads today and a man of the match performance from Lee Seung-woo. It turns out that Yoo Byung-soo was watching the match and was so impressed that he wants to join in. He’ll come on trial next week and play in the Jeonbuk match hopefully. Time to celebrate with a night out in Gangnam. Even the news that neither of the trialists from Scotland are willing to come out to Korea can dampen our spirits. Bring on the Jeonbuk!
I’ve just about sobered up by the middle of the week and get round to sorting out contract offers for the trialists. Sung-min is easy enough to sort out on a youth contract and I don’t look too closely at his birth certificate to check he truly is eligible. Moon Dong-joo seems happy enough with a pay-as-you-play deal and Kim Heung-il accepts the same. Yoo Byung-soo wants a proper contract but at £950 a week it’s hardly breaking the bank. Since I’m on a roll today I offer a deal to Choi Dong-ho who impressed in the trialist match and also agree a £70k fee for Gangwon winger Seo Beo-min. Tarabai returns to fitness and everything is coming up roses.
The press conference the next day is an interesting one and the journos are again questioning my judgement. Gyeongnam have gazumped our offer for Yoo Byung-soo and he’s signed on for a few hundred quid extra a week down in Changwon. How many strikers do they need exactly? Still I have got four new players to unveil and I’m happy with them even if nobody else seems to be.
I’m even happier on the eve of our next match when Seo Beo-min completes his signing. £70k is a decent chunk of change to spend on him but he looks to be exactly what we need out wide and the fact that he can play on either side is a big plus. From having nobody to play out wide I now have four decent options and the next challenge will be keeping them all happy. That probably puts the tin hat on Choi Oh-baek’s career though. Time to move him on.
Since Yoo Byung-soo isn’t coming I make a move for Anyang striker Ahn Seong-bin and am surprised that it completes so quickly at a price of £40k. I’m fairly happy with my attacking options now. In fact I’m fairly happy with the squad overall. All that’s missing is the cheerleading contingent.
Still no word from Kevin on that front. I may have to explore alternative opens and develop my own talent. I drop an e-mail to the chairman and decide that ‘improving my youth facilities’ is probably the best way to describe my plans for a cheerleading academy. The chairman sees right through it and tells me to work with what I have for now. Kevin better come good.
I don’t want to make too many changes for the Jeonbuk game but Kim Jae-sung needs a rest and I feel as if I should give the two signings I paid fees for a debut in front of the home fans. Mitchell comes back in as well but Lee Sung-min keeps his place after an impressive display last week.
After last week’s heroics I’m slightly offended that Choi Kang-hee seems to be fielding a weakened team in this one. Kwon Sun-tae is on the bench along with Lee Jae-sung, Ko Mu-yeol and the Wookie. He’s even given Eric Paatalu a start. Mind you he still has a few big names in the side. With Lee Dong-guk up front, Leonardo on one wing, Kim Bo-kyung on the other and no doubt the referee in their back pocket Jeonbuk are still going to be a tough task here.
I’m not wrong in pre-match predictions and we find ourselves trailing fairly quickly. We’ve more than held our own for the first quarter of an hour but Leonardo hits us on a quick break and when Sin Il-soo dives in he leaves him for dead and cuts back for Lee Dong-kuk to fire home.
For the second half I decide to take the game to Jeonbuk and play a more attacking game. Leonardo and Lee Dong-gook continue to cause us all sorts of problems though. The second goal comes from the unlikely left foot of Eric Paartalu however. I think that’s game over so I make a hatload of changes to see if we can conjure up anything. Sadly not. It finishes 2-0 at full-time and I fall to my first defeat as boss. Still there’s no shame in losing to Jeonbuk and we gave a decent account of ourselves.
There is still nearly a month to get ready for the season ahead and the first competitive match vs Busan. Right now I have more questions than answers. Especially regarding the whereabouts of Kevin and the Sistar situation. I need to get to the bottom of this.