2017 Season Preview: Bucheon FC
(Photo Credit: 48 Shades Of Footy)
19-10-11, 3rd place
Seventh of eight in the Challenge's first season in 2013, tenth and bottom in 2014 and then fifth in 2015, Bucheon finally got it together in 2016 ending up in 3rd place, their highest finish in any league since the club re-founded in 2008. Yet it could have been so much better. While they boasted the joint-meanest defence in the division, the goals that they did gave away came at key moments with a string of leads turning into draws or defeats following the concession of late goals (home to Daegu and Gyeongnam being particularly horrific examples that cost them points). That left the club in 3rd place, three points away from automatic promotion. In the play-offs, Bucheon were beaten by Gangwon after which manager Song Seon-ho resigned. In addition to the league, they enjoyed a cracking run in the FA Cup, knocking out the then seemingly invincible Jeonbuk in Jeonju before ultimately falling to FC Seoul in the semi-finals.
Lukian: It's somewhat of a surprise that Bucheon's talisman from last year doesn't get a crack at the Classic but Bucheon will nevertheless be Lukian-less this year with the striker having headed for Busan. As is the way with K-League, it's one previously unknown Brazilian out and one in with 30-year-old Roger Gaucho arriving with the familiar resume of seemingly as many clubs and loan moves as playing minutes. Lukian netted 15 times in 2016 so he is a loss but along with Roger, other replacements have also been brought in, one of whom is...
Kim Shin: Haris Harba, who has earned one full cap for the Bosnian national team, is an eye-catching signing but it is perhaps another addition to the forward line who is most interesting. Kim Shin came through at Jeonbuk and spent a year on loan in France at the Olympique Lyonnais Reserve & Academy side. He returned to Korea and played last season on loan at Chungju, scoring 13 times in what unfortunately proved to be the final season in existence for the league's second worst team. He's only 21 and potentially has a bright future. His move from Jeonbuk is a permanent one.
Anthony Golec: As improbable as it sounds, Bucheon have signed an AFC Champions League winner. Anthony Golec has been to Korea before, lining up at left-back for Western Sydney Wanderers against FC Seoul at Sangam in 2014. Seoul failed to score against him over a full 180 minutes as WSW progressed on their way to winning the tournament. He played in the first leg of the final too but his career has seemingly stalled a little since and he arrives on Seoul Subway Line 7 by way of Moldova and Iran. He'll be part of a new look Bucheon defence this season.
There is a good reason for that new-look defence and that is that 2016 near ever-presents Kang Ji-yong (to Gangwon), Han Hee-hoon (Daegu) and Lee Hak-min (Incheon) have all moved on. Lee in particular was one of the stand-out players of the division in 2016 and is a tough act to follow but the fact that all three of them have gone to clubs who will play in the K-League Classic this year shows what a stiff task it is to replace them. The arrival of Golec, as well as the experienced Lee Jae-won (from Pohang) and Kim Han-bin (picked up from the remnants of Chungju) provides reassurance but it is still a big upheaval.
At the other end of the pitch, whether one of the new signings can emulate Lukian is the big question. However, Waguininho, who scored nine times last year and Jin Chang-soo, who contributed a valuable seven from midfield are still on the scene and can lighten the load on the strikers. Overall, despite the moves and the club releasing a number of fringe players, Bucheon do look prepared if a little light on numbers.
With the upheavals those mainstays from last season who do remain such as Moon Ki-han and the afore-mentioned Jin Chang-soo and Waguininho have plenty of responsibility while a lot could rest on Kim Shin up front. However, I'm not going to go with a player at all here. Instead I'm going for the Manager. Song Seon-ho's replacement is Jung Gap-seok, a man so well known he doesn't even have a picture on his Naver search profile (to put that into context, even my dentist has a picture on his Naver search profile). When the season kicks off, Jung will be unique among K-League managers in that he was never a professional player at any level - "The Korean AVB", as some in the local media have taken to referring to him.
Jung does, however, have plenty of coaching experience through the school system and has been on Bucheon's staff for some time having previously coached at the now defunct Goyang KB and with the youth set-up at Daejeon Citizen. This is his first time as the boss though and how he adapts will be key to Bucheon's success or otherwise.
Reason To Watch
If you want authenticity in your football club, Bucheon is perhaps as close at it comes in the K-League. After SK decided to relocate their team to Jeju in 2006, their supporters immediately set about forming a new club to replace them. They joined the K3 league in 2008 and spent several years slogging around semi-professional grounds - not even winning very much - until the opportunity arose to join the inaugural Challenge season. Many of those fans remain today and while small in number, their songs have a certain throaty quality to them that isn't always evident elsewhere.
On a practical note for those in Korea, the cavernous Bucheon Stadium, while blighted by a running track, is located conveniently next to Seoul Subway line 7 and with its small mountain behind, is especially fetching in cherry blossom season. It's also easy to do a double-header with an Incheon United game if both clubs play at home on the afternoon and evening of the same day. Don't put a visit to Bucheon on your bucket list, but don't miss it if you have the chance either.
Can Bucheon bounce back?
Anyone making a confident prediction about the K-League Challenge this year is braver than the proverbial cat showing up at Crufts and perhaps the only guarantee is that at some stage Bucheon will get a fine for their supporters doing something naughty, probably involving fireworks. On the pitch though, while Seongnam and Busan look to be standouts, it would be no great surprise for any of the others to either win it or finish bottom. With that in mind, Bucheon have as good a chance as any but there are plenty of unknowns.
Chief among them is a first-time manager who has had to completely rebuild his defence and replace his main striker. The close season acquisitions, both from overseas and closer to home do look promising and manager Jung has promised to play creative and aggressive football. With a good start to the season, in this league, anything is possible.
Did they blow their best chance last year? Perhaps, but one thing you can bank on with Bucheon is that they always come back.