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Kwoun Sun-tae Parts Ways with Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

Kwoun Sun-tae, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors Captain, has left the K League club to join J League's Kashima Antlers
Captain of the Asian champions, Kwoun Sun-tae lifts aloft the AFC Champions League trophy for Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. (Photo Credit: Hyundai-MotorsFC.com)

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors’ captain, goalkeeper and one of their longest serving players has left the Asian champions and joined J-League side Kashima Antlers. After having been part of nearly all of Jeonbuk’s previous successes, the 33 year-old Korean international will now be looking to further his career overseas.

Kwoun Sun-tae made his professional debut for Jeonbuk in 2006, featuring surprisingly frequently under the then relatively new club manager Choi Kang-hee. In his first season, he wrote himself into the club’s history books as part of the side that would lead Jeonbuk to Champions League glory.

Kwoun would then feature prominently in Jeonbuk’s first K League title triumph back in 2009. He would continue to play for the club until 2011 when he was required to carry out his military duty, plying his trade at military side Sangju Sangmu Phoenix for the duration on loan for just under two seasons.

Upon returning to Jeonju midway through the 2012 season, he found the club under new management and his place in the starting eleven no longer a guarantee. He would start just a handful of times at the beginning of the 2013 season but was back on the bench by May.

Later that season, manager Choi Kang-hee would return to the club after a spell as the Korean national team coach. By the start of the 2014 season, Kwoun’s place was restored in the starting eleven. Jeonbuk would go on to win the title the next two consecutive seasons, being denied a third after KFA punishment. Kwoun would play a key role in each of these triumphs, claiming the league’s award for best goalkeeper from 2014 to 2016.

It is fitting that the goalkeeper leaves the club on a high. Kwoun Sun-tae would be crowned captain for 2016 and led a Jeonbuk team that was perhaps the best K League outfit in recent years to not have claimed the league title.

Disappointment in losing to rivals FC Seoul on the last day was soon to be quickly forgotten though when Kwoun would captain his club in the AFC Champions League final two weeks later. The keeper would feature heavily throughout over both legs, but none more so than the second leg where his standout performance earned him the gushing admiration of plaudits from across the continent.

Despite lifting the Champions League trophy for Jeonbuk and earning his second winners medal, scans afterwards would reveal he had picked up a hairline fracture on his shin for his troubles. He would therefore not be able to feature in the Club World Cup, a competition where his new team Kashima Antlers would coincidentally be included as hosts and make it to the final, holding Real Madrid to extra time before succumbing to a 4-2 defeat.

It was reported that Kwoun Sun-tae had initially rejected offers from the J League but, with Jeonbuk now denied the opportunity to defend their ACL title, and also the player having perhaps achieved everything possible with the K League outfit, he decided to move once an increased offer was submitted and manager Choi Kang-hee granted him permission to depart.

Kwoun will be hoping his move will also help him attract the attention of national team manager Uli Stielike. Despite having a strong reputation within the K League, Kwoun has rarely featured or made the national team squad. With other Korean national team keepers plying their trade on Japan’s shores, the 33 year-old will surely be hoping that this move will help add to his three solitary caps.

The loss of Kwoun Sun-tae may turn out to be harder felt by Jeonbuk than that of Leonardo just a few weeks ago. His professionalism and commitment to the club has been exemplary, and there will be few supporters willing to deny him his move that he so rightly deserves, despite the difficult situation it will leave the club in. His heroics between the sticks, his leadership as captain, but mostly his commitment to the fans, make him one of the standout players to have worn the green strip of Jeonbuk, and his absence will certainly be felt regardless of future results.

Jeonbuk will likely seek a replacement goalkeeper, although rumours are yet to circulate on who they may have lined up. With Hong Jeong-nam being the usual replacement within the squad, there is also the possibility that he could make the leap to the first team. Given the 28 year-old's lack of professional first team appearances however, this would be quite the risk by manager Choi Kang-hee, although you could argue he once afforded the same opportunity to Kwoun. Whatever the manager does decide though, Kwoun Sun-tae's gloves will certainly be incredibly difficult to fill. 

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