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Transfer Talk: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

Jeonbuk manager Choi Kang-hee ponders new transfer signings for 2017
Having decided to stay at the club, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors manager Choi Kang-hee has already gone about moving on a number of players ahead of the 2017 K League Classic season. (Photo Credit: Hyundai-MotorsFC.com)

How active do you think your team will be in the winter window?

Having built a team that were crowned Champions of Asia in addition to ultimately losing the league through punishment, you would think Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors would not need to change too much of their team.

However, not everything has gone as predicted. With many expecting manager Choi Kang-hee to leave, especially as it was what he himself who had indicated that he would do so if the club were to be found guilty of bribery, the 57 year-old announced his decision to stay upon lifting the Champions League trophy. Sections of the support hoped that winning this accolade would have allowed him to resign on a high meaning a fresh face could come in and revamp the team in an image that would maximise each player's potential, also allowing the club to clear house after such a damning scandal. Instead, what has transpired given recent and impending departures, could possibly be a step backwards.

While I will elaborate about the players who have left in further detail below, Choi Kang-hee has proceeded to let his most talented players, and those with notable potential, leave the club whilst keeping incredibly well-paid ageing stalwarts and beneficiaries of route-one football for next season. The already frail defence has seen three players leave, two of which were strong performers, whilst keeping a centre-back whose ability has been regularly questioned. With little noise made about who they plan on bringing in at this moment, early signs would suggest Jeonbuk may have a difficult season ahead. Hopefully these next few months will also include some encouraging surprises.

Therefore, to answer the question, I think Jeonbuk are going to have to be very active in this window to balance out the many who are being ushered out through the exit door.

What's your team's biggest area of need? Who are some potential targets you'd like to see fill those holes?

Jeonbuk had arguably the strongest side last season in terms of both depth and quality, so it is alarming that defence, midfield and attack now all require an injection of talent quickly if they are going to have time to gel in pre-season. If rumours that captain and goalkeeper Kwoun Sun-tae would leave to Japan transpired, I think many would have already given up hope of reclaiming the league title.

In defence, with Kim Hyung-il (CB), Kim Chang-soo (RB) and Choi Kyu-baek (CB) all leaving the club, at least three new faces will be required. Whilst Lee Yong (RB) and Lee Jae-seung (CB) have been brought in from Ulsan, a higher calibre talent is going to be required to keep Lim Jong-eun on the bench. The club was previously being heavily linked to Hoffenheim defender Kim Jin-su, with reports of an offer being put in, but the Bundesliga-based Korean international is still yet to decide on his future.

Jeonbuk's midfield was highly praised last season both domestically and abroad, with all four of them being selected in the K-League Coaches Best XI. With K-League United's Player of the Year Leonardo now having left the club, Lopes nursing an injury until July, and Lee Jae-sung finally expected to make his departure to Europe, then there is very little left of this line-up that tore apart the likes of FC Seoul and Shanghai SIPG with relative ease. Furthermore, one of Jeonbuk's strongest defensive midfielders Lee Ho has moved to Thailand to worsen matters.

On a more encouraging note, both Arabian and Thai media are reporting transfer speculation of who is set to replace Leonardo; Brazilian Heberty. Having played the last sixth months in Saudi Arabia for Al Shabab, Heberty made a name for himself during his two and a half seasons in the Thai league, scoring 65 times in 90 league appearances. His brief spell in Saudi Arabia also saw him net 4 league goals in 12 appearances. Whether this would transfer to the K-League though is another matter, given that he started his career in the J-Leagues with minimal success. Hopefully those days are long behind him however as Jeonbuk will certainly need any new midfielder to adapt quickly in order to begin replacing the loss of Leonardo.

Then there's the attack. After the departure of highly-promising yet unfairly sidelined striker Lee Jong-ho to Ulsan, Choi Kang-hee has three attackers with a combined age of 100 left at his disposal, with all three of them in the K-League's top 10 highest earners for 2016. At 37, Lee Dong-gook continues to be the most potent threat in front of goal, but the end of the season saw him gradually replaced with last year's marquee signing Kim Shin-wook, a player who surprisingly commanded the third highest pay in the league with just a return of eleven goals across four competitions and 49 appearances to show for it. Most shockingly was the salary paid to Edu who received 1.01 billion won for the year, despite only joining in June. Having only scored one goal and effectively forced Lee Jong-ho out of the team, this money was wasted by the club who indulged the manager's blind nostalgia. This area needs the most strengthening as last season saw the midfield take on the majority of the goalscoring mantle. With that area of the pitch now looking severely depleted, it is time for Jeonbuk to employ a consistent, young, promising and available goalscorer. It is just a pity that they have already let the perfect candidate leave.

Is there someone on the team you'd like to see loaned out or sold?

It already seems that most of the players I would have liked to have left are staying, but if I were to pick one it would be Edu. As mentioned above, given the phenomenal amount of money being spent on him, he is currently operating at a net loss. Why the manager thought it would be a good idea to bring back a player who had spent the previous twelve months outside of top flight football (with the latter seven not playing at all) and make him the third highest paid foreign player in the league is beyond me and underlines the frustration towards Choi Kang-hee from some quarters. Edu encapsulates a large portion of the manager's shortcomings; a lack of faith in youth, a penchant for an old head, a significant lack of pace and incredibly expensive. Given that his arrival not only meant the demotion of a then in-form Lee Jong-ho, it also meant that Luiz was also allowed to leave the club, a player who had also been contributing heavily to the cause at the time.

I would also nominate Kim Shin-wook, but I have banged that drum to death by now. I will say though that, unlike Edu, he does sometimes contribute something. Whether that contribution is positive or negative often seems as random as which way the ball deflects off him, but at least he has had some moments in 2016. Still nowhere near enough moments to match his extortionate salary admittedly, but if Edu can earn that much then perhaps Kim's can be somewhat justified.

What transfers have already taken place and how do you see them playing out in 2017?

I've talked a lot about the players who have left the club so I will focus on a couple of the players who have turned up in Jeonju ready for the new season, in particular defenders Lee Jae-Seung and Lee Yong. The former will obviously cause confusion with the midfielder who shares a very similar name, but with that Lee Jae-sung likely moving to Europe, hopefully that will subside. Perhaps he could even be given the same shirt number in a bid to placate fans who already have the midfielder emblazoned on their replica kits. Defender Lee Jae-seung though performed notably well for Ulsan Hyundai last season, often proving a mainstay in each round's best eleven. He will no doubt be afforded the task of trying to replace Kim Hyung-il in central defence which he should be able to do on a skill level. It is whether the 28 year-old will be able to demonstrate the level of leadership his predecessor possessed in commanding that back line and leading in terms of commitment.

The same can be said for 30 year-old Lee Yong who was also included in this swap deal. Having spent the majority of last season on loan at military side Sangju Sangmu, helping them achieve their highest position in their history. this could also prove a decent signing for the Asian champions. He will already be familiar with Jeonbuk's Shin Hyung-min from his time in the military and should be more than capable of shoring up the back line. The defender is a "one-club man" and has featured heavily in every season since turning professional, playing a key part in the team that lifted the ACL Champions League trophy in 2012.

Who's an "ideal" signing that would do well in the K-League?

After the Champions League win, Choi Kang-hee deadpanned that Luiz Suarez would be an ideal candidate to come to the club. While Suarez would likely do okay in the K-League, like most world class names I do not envisage him getting on that flight to Korea any time soon. Most likely we will continue to see lower league Brazilians head to these shores with only a handful making an actual name for themselves.

I said in the summer I would like to see more Korean internationals head home once they feel their time overseas is up, particularly in terms of offering some better known domestic players to get people inside the stadiums. With this in mind, national team striker Suk Hyun-jun seems to be struggling in Turkey after having been loaned out by FC Porto, with rumours of his contract being terminated after just 6 months. While many would question his lack of ambition in heading to Korea, and it is almost certainly not going to happen of his own-free will (although impending military duty may suggest otherwise), it certainly would be a great move for the league. The same could be said for the previously mentioned Hoffenheim defender and Jeonbuk transfer target Kim Jin-su as well as the likes of Lee Chung-yong who was struggling at Crystal Palace (although he may fancy his chances under the new management of "Big Sam" Allardyce). Seeing how well it worked out for Jeonbuk's Kim Bo-kyung, I do not think the K-League is necessarily a bad move for those Koreans who are struggling abroad.

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