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The #KleagueFM17 Challenges: Challenge Champs [July '16]

After finding his way to the top of the league, hard times were visited on new Seoul E-Land boss Steve Waddell. His star striker is out for the rest of the season and June was an unmitigated disaster. Is this the start of a slow decline and an inevitable mid-season sacking or can he turn this around now that the Summer transfer window is open?

If you haven't been following you might want to start off at Part One
Or if you missed the last episode you can read what happened in June

We badly need a bit of a boost as we head into July and what better way to provide it than two shiny new Brazilians strikers added to the squad? Finally we have a goal threat again. Matty Alves and Gil should make a big difference. Now the tough decision will be which one of them starts or can I play with  both of them together? It’s like trying to choose between Bora or Dasom. Either way, I’m convinced that Ansan are going to get a shoe-ing in this one. Even without my midfield.

It’s always a good feeling when a new signing finds the net on his debut and that’s exactly what happens. It’s not Matty Alves though, it’s his replacement Gil that opens his account. It might only have been a penalty and it might have taken 80 minutes but it still counts.

Ansan aren’t happy with the decision but it does look as if little Kim Chang-wook was pushed in the box and Gil looks cool, calm and collected as he sends the keeper the wrong way. It’s a scorching hot and humid day in Seoul and the nervy last 10 minutes do nothing to help the sweaty patches on my shirt but we get away with it in the end. 1-0 it finishes. I’ll take that.

Some people are never happy however. Choi Chi-won comes to see me after the match and complains that he isn’t getting enough games. That’s easily fixed. His loan is terminated and he’s sent back on the first bus to Jeonju.

It’s time to start preparing for Chungju. I’m starting to think we’ve gone a bit stale and now that I have options I’d like to try playing two up front. This probably means a re-jig of the tactics though. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained. A 3-5-2 may well be the order of the day.

It’s safe to say the experiment fails. We aren’t able to get enough possession in the attacking areas of the pitch and even when we do both strikers miss chances that they really should have put away. As we push forward looking for the win we get caught with a sucker punch and lose the match 1-0. We’ll be back to a normal formation for the next match.

That next match happens to be the FA Cup quarter final. I try to pretend the last game never happened and switch back to a tried and tested formula. Hopefully the players will rediscover their form from the Spring.

90 minutes later the cup dream is dead. It was a pretty grim match but a lone goal from Lee Young-jae was enough to seal the match for Busan. Yet again we’ve struggled to pose much of a threat up front and though the team put in lots of effort there is little in the way of creativity. Another re-think is needed but I’m out of ideas. Where is Kevin when you need him?

On the way back I reflect on recent events. It’s all going wrong again. We need to get back to our roots. E-Land should be about passing our opponents to death, peppering the opposition goalie with shots and, more importantly a selection of K-Pop starlets dancing on sidelines. We have ten days before we go back to the Asiad for our league match. This needs to be fixed. Call out the big guns. Someone get me GaIn on the phone.

The phone rings as soon as I’m back in the office but it isn’t GaIn sadly. It’s the K-League office… what have I done? I’m already getting my excuses ready when they hit me with it. They want me to manage the Challenge select team in the All-Star Match! There has to be at least a 40% chance that Sistar will be doing the half-time show so I accept straight away. Apparently the fans have already picked most of the squad so I just get to add a few faces to the squad. As usual this means picking the foreigners that the fans ‘overlooked’. This should be a laugh. I even give Yoo Byung-soo a space in the team. Little does he know I plan to leave him sat on the bench for the entire ninety minutes, gently reminding him that he turned down the chance to play for me when it was offered.

I spend the next few days leaving messages with LOEN Entertainment making sure to drop in that the manager of the K-League Challenge All-Star team wants to offer a great opportunity to some of their talent.

Meanwhile Yang Ki-hoon is complaining that he hasn’t been loaned out as promised and isn’t getting any first team football. To be honest I haven’t been able to give him away. I tell him to stick in with the reserves and he will get his chance but I think we both know that’s probably nonsense.

Anyway, I have other things to worry about. In a startlingly typical bit of scheduling, the All-Star Match has been scheduled for the day before we travel to Busan to play the league leaders. Straight away it occurs to me that I probably don’t want to be picking any of my own team in this match. And I plan to include every Busan player I can for the entire 90 minutes. Dirty tricks? Absolutely. But the K-League only have themselves to blame.

I couldn’t care less about this game so as soon after the match kicks off as I think I can get away with I leave the dugout and head to the VIP area. Hopefully there will be some celebrities to meet. If not at least there should be some champagne and a finger buffet to pass the time. On the way up, I hear the crowd cheering a goal. That’ll be us one down then.

Security look a bit surprised to see me at the executive boxes but they wave me through anyway. As expected, nobody is paying any attention to the match but the champagne is taking a battering. I hear another shout from the crowd. I guess any hope I had of getting a draw here is gone now. Hand me a drink.

Another cheer. Bloody hell. Three down. This is potentially embarrassing. I briefly consider heading back down to the bench but I’m probably better being well away from things. Anyway the guy I’m chatting with tells me his brother-in-law works in GaIn’s management company and he might be able to put me in touch. He’s on his tenth glass of fizz and I’m on my ninth and things are going great. He promises me to do his best to get GaIn to the next match. “In a leopard skin bikini?” I joke. “Only if you win this game” says my new friend.

“Not much chance of that”, I mumble to myself, as I try to find a sandwich that doesn't have strawberry in it and a cake without any tomato. I guess it’s time to face the music. I grab another glass of champagne and make my way downstairs to the dug-out.

On the way people are oddly friendly to me. Giving me the thumbs up and shouting what sounds like encouraging noises. I guess they are just trying to cheer me up. How long have we got to go anyway? How many minutes gone in the second half? 21? No wait. That’s not the clock. That’s the scoreline. We’re only 2-1 down. That’s quite respectable. No, hang on. They’ve got us listed as the home team. Wait. We’re 2-1 up? Bloody hell! Someone get me caught up here. I have a chance to make a name for myself.

Time to start taking this seriously. Apparently we went in at half-time 2-0 up rather than 2-0 down but the Classic side have pulled one back and we’re now down to ten men after Ko Kyung-min picked up two yellow cards. We have fifteen minutes to hold out here and we have most of our subs remaining. But they are mostly E-Land players. What to do? I suppose I can risk them for fifteen minutes.

And we do it! 2-1 it ends. The Busan boys have done me all sorts of favours. I crack open a bottle and stick it under their noses. Let’s celebrate lads. Except the E-Land boys. You get home to your beds, you’ve a game in the morning. I give a wave to my friend up in the boxes and a little wink to remind him of our deal. By the looks of him he won’t remember anything tomorrow.

My masterplan means that all of my regulars are fit for the Busan match and although I jiggle with the formation a bit I don’t make too many rash decisions. The Chungju game taught me a lesson about that.

Surprisingly Busan manage to field their All-Stars as well. Ko Kyung-min’s sneaky tactic of getting sent off for a rest has worked and Popp and Stojanovic even make the team. Considering I left Milos less than 8 hours ago in a Seoul soju house I’m stunned that he’s managed to make it to the stadium let alone start the game.

It takes 4 minutes for Busan to score. Ko’s evil plan has worked and he’s opened the scoring early on. We look out of sorts. Yoon Sung-yeul manages to find an equaliser for us with a rasping shot but the game fritters out from there. I guess I should be relatively happy with a point at the league leaders given our recent form but we’re seven points behind them now and that’s going to be a lot to make up.

After the game I get a note that Milos will be out for the next month or so. I’m not surprised! My attention turns straight away to the Anyang game. It’s pretty much same again from us although a couple of suspensions mean I need to make some changes in defence. The Anyang team are lacking anyone notable. We need three points here to get things back on track.

Sadly the team seem to have different ideas and we look absolutely hopeless. It’s a surprise that it takes Anyang more than an hour to score but just a few minutes after that they double their lead. We’re looking completely lost. I push a few more bodies up front and Gil manages to find the net with a good goal but it’s not enough and Anyang add another in injury time to make the final result even worse. 3-1. Dreadful.

A line has been crossed here. This is unacceptable and I need to make it clear to the squad. I’m not sure another post-match hairdryer session is going to make much difference. Once we are back at the training ground I will hold a team meeting and make it clear to them that they need to sort themselves out. I need a good cop to my bad cop but I’m not convinced either of my Korean speaking coaches has the right stuff to motivate this side. I need to think of a plan…

When the day arrives I have calmed down slightly and the team meeting goes better than planned. I tell them that we have the ability in the squad to turn things around and they all seem to agree. My friend from the All-Star game has come through on his promise and I have a special treat for the lads arranged as well. Sporting leopard print and everything.

When the chairman hears of our visitor he’s at the training ground like a shot. I manage to head him off before he can get in and see if I can get some favours from him while I have some leverage. 2 minutes later I have a million pound transfer budget agreed all thanks to GaIn. I wish I’d thought of this earlier though. The transfer window is closing in 24 hours.

I get straight on the phone and see what I can magic up. I still have an Asian slot available in my squad so that’s an obvious opportunity. In terms of big names, Park Chu-young is still on the transfer list at Sangam. Other than that there isn’t a hell of a lot available.

I get onto Daegu about their Paleszian Eder and agree a fee but his wage demands are a bit steep and our attempt to negotiation sends him off in a huff. The same happens with Park. I held my nose and was willing to give FC Seoul a hundred grand for him but there was no way I was paying him five and a half grand a week in wages.

I have money burning a hole in my pocket right now and can hardly give it away. The only other Asian player available is the young Vietnamese guy at Incheon. If nothing else he might get us some telly coverage so I make an offer and negotiate a deal.

I also make offers for a handful of other players but nothing seems to be coming off. I manage to pick up a couple of teenagers with a lot of potential but they are definitely ones for the future.

In the end the window closes quite gently. I manage to get Luong in and also pick up Lee Woo-hyuk from Jeonbuk. Despite a very late offer from Incheon Kim Jae-sung also doesn’t leave so that’s a bonus. I just hope his heart is in it for the second half of the season. We will need him to be at his best if we are to recover things

With the new additions in place I turn my mind to the next match. Gangwon. Damn. I could really have done with an easier fixture than that to get things back on track. Still we will do our best. I’m going to switch for a 4-4-2 for this one but I don’t have many wide midfielders so a diamond is the best I can do. This will also let me play all my new signings.

At the end of this one I’m fairly pleased. We didn’t win but given how it was looking at one point I’m pretty happy with the fight shown by the boys. They were all over us in the first half and 1-0 down at half-time was probably going easy on us. When my debut man Lee Woo-hyuk was sent off in 67 minutes it looked like game over but we kept plugging away and my somewhat desperate decision to throw Choi Oh-baek on up front paid off when he bought us a penalty which Joo Min-kyu converted.

Serginho was sent off for the foul as well evening up the numbers. For the rest of the game we look the better side and we’re unlucky not to win it. I have to give the lads credit for that even though we have now slipped to fifth in the table.

July has been a mixed bag. On the field results have been poor and we’re quickly losing touch with Busan at the top. On the bright side we’ve made a few strong additions to the squad during July. Not least of all GaIn, who is now a fully signed-up E-Land fan. We’ll even get her a scarf with her name on it. 

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