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Transfer Talk: Jeonnam Dragons

With two months left to go in K-League's extremely long winter transfer window, the Dragons look to be sticking with the 2016 core that earned the team its best finish in seven seasons. Barring any blockbuster moves in February, Jeonnam will start the season with the squad they released earlier this month. And that's a very good thing.
(photo via dragons.co.kr)

How active has your team been in the winter window?

The Dragons don't exactly stand out on the Transfer Tracker, but they've been slowly and steadily molding a 2017 squad that looks younger and ready to compete. They've cut a bit more dead weight than I would've expected (more on that later), but overall I'm not too surprised it's been a relatively standard window thus far. They're not likely to alter course before the season starts and reveals any glaring weaknesses they need to address before the window shuts on March 30th.

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

The defense absolutely fell to shambles playing against the top half of the table in Championship Round at the end of 2016. The Dragons defense averaged 1.21 goals conceded per game through 33 "regular season" matches and was a key strength during the summer surge that saw them jump to 5th. However, when playing against the top teams in the league, Jeonnam let in an astounding 13 goals in five matches; including back to back matches conceding five times. That's an average of 2.6 per game, or more than double their season long average. In fairness, standout keeper Lee Ho-seung only started two of those five matches before being relegated to the bench by temporary manager Song Kyung-seob for reasons I will never know. Instead the woefully inexperienced Han Yoo-sung got his first ever K-League start vs then 1st place Jeonbuk and promptly (and unsurprisingly) conceded five times. Han and the equally bad Kim Gyo-bin splitting time in the final three matches certainly added to the Dragons weak finish, but the defense was uncharacteristically bad at simple things like man marking and clearances. Though those five matches are a small sample size, competing against top teams was an issue all season and shoring up the backline has to be a top priority for Jeonnam if they're to compete in 2017.

As for defensive targets, I think the Dragons have gone about things in an intelligent manner with addition by subtraction. By transferring out the aging Bang Dae-jong and inconsistent Lee Ji-min to second division Anyang and Seongnam respectively, Jeonnam has cleared the way for youngsters Go Tae-won and U23 International Lee Seul-chan to earn their spot in the starting XI. Should the kids prove they're not up to the task after the first three matches, recent additions Kim Jun-su and Park Dae-han should prove capable enough. If not, there will still be time to make another signing before the window closes.

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

Yes, and they're both gone. After each having a strong 2016 for Sangju, both Park Gi-dong and Park Jun-tae were huge disappointments for Jeonnam. Gi-dong far more than his namesake Jun-tae as he instantly became the focal point of the Dragons offense and simply couldn't find his footing. A woeful first touch often put Gi-dong in immediate danger and an utter and complete lack of ideas in or near the box led to far more turnovers than shots on goal from the big man. Gi-dong's failure was disappointing not only because he couldn't score, but because his mere presence allowed manager Noh Sang-rae (who was unquestionably still calling the shots while an "assistant" at the end of the season) to revert back to his preferred target-striker offense though it had been proven ineffective. Gi-dong returning from the military and immediately slotting into the starting XI took away the fast paced short passing ground game Jeonnam had built their offensive success on. His departure allows them a chance to return to it in 2017.

As for Jun-tae, he was far too ineffective in the Dragons system. He doesn't have the speed of Ahn Yong-woo and therefore only slowed things down when dispatched on the wing. When he played inside, he proved far less effective on the ball than his midfield counterparts Han Chan-hee and Bae Cheon-seok, who also have a far better nose for goal. Again, Jun-tae's departure provides another opportunity for addition by subtraction with Han Chan-hee set to take a big step in the Dragons midfield this season.

What transfers have already taken place and how do you see them playing out in 2016?

As mentioned there have been more departures than arrivals in Gwangyang this off season, and all have been welcome exits. Starting at the back, goalkeeper Kim Min-sik will get a deserved chance to show he can handle a full season with FC Anyang in Challenge. And after proving themselves incapable of stopping a single shot or organizing a defense both Han Yoo-sung and Kim Kyo-bin are gone. The backline will be without the aforementioned Lee Ji-min and Bang Dae-jong, as well as the sparsely used and largely hesitant Hong Jin-gi. Speaking of sparsely used, whopping 83 minutes of service Song Chang-ho offered up in 2016 midfield will no longer be available. Additionally, the Brazilian Maurinho's loan ended and the Dragons let him walk. Rumor has it he's on his way to FC Seoul, which is a huge leap for a midfielder that showed promise, but was never able to settle into a specific role. Up top Park Gi-dong landed with Suwon Bluewings where he'll likely have a better season with service provided by the wizard Yeom Ki-hun. Park Jun-tae is in a much more appropriate place in the second division with Busan, but will have to fight for minutes on a side seemingly poised to make the jump back to Classic. Lastly, Cho Suk-jae's on his way back to Jeonbuk after his season long loan ended. For the first half of the season I had truly high hopes for Cho, but he failed to shine in the chances he was given and eventually I saw what the manager had known all along: he's just not that good. Hopefully Cho can find his way back to Challenge and rediscover his shooting boots. The newly formed Ansan Greeners would do well to seek his signature.

Notable additions are sparse this season, but a pair of 25-year-old defenders in Kim Jun-su from Pohang and Park Dae-han from Incheon are exciting. Both started over 20 matches for their teams last year and logged well over 1,500 minutes. While Incheon wasn't overly impressive defensively last season, Pohang showed quite well averaging just 1.21 conceded per match. Again, an ideal world would see Go Tae-won and Lee Seul-chan anchor the defense alongside Tomi Mrčela in Jeonnam's preferred three man backline, but Jun-su and Dae-han should prove more than capable subs. With five promising young Korean defenders in the rotation, facing down what's likely Choi Hyo-jin and Hyun Young-min's last season becomes a bit more bearable.

Easily the biggest signing of this window, and the man Jeonnam's pinning their offensive hopes on is the Hungarian Róbert Feczesin. The 30 year old forward comes to Gwangyang via Hungary's OTP Bank Liga leaders Videoton where he scored 20 times in 64 appearances. In addition to four seasons in Hungary, the ten year veteran also has experience in Italy's Serie B, and briefly in the top flight Serie A with Brescia Calcio in 2010-11. He's been capped for the Hungarian national team 9 times, but mainly in friendlies and the last call up came in 2011. More recently, he made six appearances and scored twice in Videoton's currently UEFA Europa League campaign. The exact amount Jeonnam paid for his services is unknown, but Transfermarkt has him valued at roughly ₩500m ($425k), which sounds about right.

With Jair and Ahn Yong-woo remaining on the roster, Feczesin should slot in nicely at the tip of Jeonnam's usual three man attack. At 185cm and 90kg it would seem he won't be used as an out and out target forward, which is extremely welcomed news. However, don't let his size fool you. As evidenced in the video below, he has a demanding presence in the box and is in no way afraid to put himself into dangerous positions to put the ball in the back of the net. Giving defenses someone else to focus on beyond Jair should free up both men and ultimately allow more time and space for the attacking midfielders to find their way forward and get off more shots.

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

24 year old Thailand international forward Siroch Chatthong... or honestly any of the Thai internationals. As Paul Murphy recently noted in his fantastic ASEAN overview piece for These Football Times, Southeast Asia is a hotbed for talent and the region is absolutely mad for the sport. Getting a national team hero like Siroch into a K-League kit would help the league get exposure in a country of 67 million die hards who would love to root for a local boy in a bigger league. At the very least, tens of thousands more eyes would be on the K-League and the pride of the sport would stay in Asia. Kit sponsors and TV deals from Thailand could potentially follow and K-League could position itself as the top Asian league focusing on Asian talent. With the CSL targeting overpriced European/South American mercenaries, and A-League almost completely ignoring Asian talent, signing Thai (and other ASEAN) internationals would set K-League up to be the destination for ASEAN talent before other leagues in the region. J-League may also be onto this sooner than later, so the time to strike is now.

But back to Siroch. Perhaps most importantly for him, he's roster friendly as an Asian passport holder who fits into the +1 category for any team that'd sign him. Additionally, he's currently plying his trade at Ubon UMT United and could likely be had for a far more than reasonable price. For a better rundown on his background and skill set, I'll leave it to Thai Goals:

"Lifted from the obscurity of Thailand’s second tier to play in the World Cup qualifiers in 2016, Siroch has quickly made himself a mainstay of the national team, impressing with his work-rate, muscular presence and surprisingly decent touch.

Has formed an excellent understanding with star-man Teerasil Dangda, ensuring his strike partner has more space in dangerous areas. Siroch has also found his scoring touch for the national team, netting twice in the second leg of the 2016 Suzuki Cup Final."

For a league consistently looking to foreign shores to score its goals, it's high time for Korean clubs to look a bit closer to home and take a chance on the rising stars in Southeast Asia like Siroch before another league beats them to the punch. It's an extremely low risk move that could pay high dividends on and off the field.

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