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2017 Season Preview: FC Seoul

In dramatic circumstances, FC Seoul were crowned K League Classic Champions for the sixth time last November. A bribery scandal and points deduction for main title rivals Jeonbuk Hyundai opened the door for Seoul to come back from a 14 point deficit to win the league on the final day. (Picture courtesy of kfa.co.kr)

  • Last Season
P38 W21 D7 L10 - 1st
  • What Happened
With the return of Dejan Damjanovic, the pace and prolific goal scoring ability of Adriano, and with the likes of Ju Sejong and Takahagi in a midfield that was anchored by Osmar, there's no doubt that FC Seoul had a squad of players that, on paper, should have been challenging for the league title. And, this was exactly what they did; quite, FC Seoul are the reigning, defending K League Classic Champions, but that fact alone doesn't quite tell the whole story as to how the 2016 season panned out.

Seoul actually looked dead and buried at one stage of the season due to Jeonbuk's rampant form which had opened a huge gap between themselves and anyone who had dared to challenge the then holders for their K League Classic crown. That was until those clad in bright green were deducted nine points for being adjudged to have bribed referees during the 2013 and 2014 seasons. The gap was shortened to a mere five from fourteen points and notably impacted both Jeonbuk and Seoul. The former, who once had their sights firmly set on silverware, were left precariously looking over their shoulders at the latter who were spurred into life once again. However, Seoul still had ground to make up; they needed Jeonbuk to drop points and they needed to go and beat Jeonbuk in their own back yard. They duly did just that, and thanks to Park Juyoung's 58th minute winner at Jeonju World Cup Stadium on the final day, FC Seoul were crowned champions.
  • Notable Moves
Adriano - The departure of Adriano is an interesting talking point. His CV whilst on the Korean peninsula reads well; a K League Challenge title winner with Daejeon Citizen, an FA Cup winners medal and K League Classic title win with FC Seoul, not to mention Asian Champions League top scorer for 2016. But, it is worth pointing out that Adriano found himself playing second fiddle to Park Juyoung for the latter part of last season. His attitude and demeanour seemed to befit a player who was ready to leave and he generally looked somewhat disinterested. 

Adriano moved to Chinese side second division side Shijazhuang Ever Bright earlier in the window. (Picture courtesy of the K League Kilt)
Perhaps he had had offers from China midway through the season, perhaps it was for other reasons, all of which would be purely conjecture, but it was painstakingly apparent that the Adriano that finished the 2016 season was not the same Adriano who started the campaign. Any successful team plays as a team, Adriano wasn't a team player during his last few months as an FC Seoul player and his departure could actually have a positive effect on the dressing room.

However, on the other hand, there could be concerns about Seoul's lack of pace up front in his absence and so his departure would only make complete sense if a suitable replacement had been brought in which, to date, it doesn't appear that there has. Maurinho, the former Jeonnam Dragons winger signed during the close season but, if his goal record is anything to go by, he isn't the man to directly replace Adriano.

Takahagi Yojiro - If Seoul are going to miss Adriano's pace then they are certainly going to miss Takahagi's energy in midfield. The Japanese returned to his native land in the off season, signing for FC Tokyo after two years in Korea where he won the FA Cup and K League Classic title. The effervescent nature of Takahagi and his box-to-box mentality will be something that Seoul will have to get used to and could well sorely miss this season. Former skipper Ha Daesung has returned, a player notoriously stern in the tackle, but having not played in the fast-paced K League since leaving Seoul in 2013, questions will be raised of his suitability.

Lee Sangho - Winger Lee Sangho made the switch to FC Seoul from the old enemy Suwon Bluewings. Perhaps indicative of how FC Seoul performed in the transfer window would be summed up by the acquisition of Lee Sangho. In the words of our Suwon Bluewings correspondent Scott Whitelock, Lee, predominately a right-sided player, is "technically good, retains possession well but has no pace. He doesn't score goals and rarely does anything important in a game." Any transfer from Suwon to Seoul or vice versa would have to be regarded as notable given the rivalry, but what is perhaps most notable about this transfer is that Lee Sangho is no better than what Seoul already have. Additionally, he has left a side in Suwon Bluewings who can profess to have actually made significant strides in the transfer market this winter.
  • Needs
Quite simply Seoul need a player who can find the back of the net on a consistent basis. Dejan has many qualities; his link up play and ability to play as a target man bringing others into play is key, but he isn't the type of striker who will bag upwards of 15 - 20 goals - certainly not anymore. Neither is Park Juyoung, for that matter, who was only able to muster 10 goals last year. A pacey striker should be at the top of any shopping list for FC Seoul gaffer Hwang Sunhong. 

Seoul's ability to get the ball forward quickly and incisively from the back would be a concern of mine, also. Seoul have players such as Ju Sejong in the middle, who likes to operate in advanced positions, as do Yun Ilok and Go Yohan, then there's the Spaniard Osmar who likes to operate as a deep lying playmaker of sorts at times, but against the stronger teams in the league I'd be worried about how Seoul could win the ball back and make quick transitions from defense to attack. Thus, a box-to-box midfielder who can dictate the pace of the game is another area in which could be strengthened. 
  • Key Player
Even at the age of 35 years old, Dejan Damjanovic is an extremely important player for FC Seoul. Last season the Montenegrin found the net 13 times, which for a support striker is commendable. But, it's his all round game and ability to bring others into play that makes him so important for Seoul. His level of professionalism is also something that seems to inspire the players around him. He demands high standards of himself and in turn demands high standards from his teammates. Quite simply, if Dejan is playing well, so are FC Seoul. Dejan is the K League's Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Dejan returned to Seoul last year after spending two years in China. (Picture courtesy of DailyMail.co.uk)
  • Reason to Watch
It could be argued that the league will be a bit more closely contested this season. Only the likes of Suwon Bluewings and perhaps Jeju United have made significant improvements to their squad with the likes of Jeonbuk seemingly weaker than last year. As a result, what was a two horse race last year could well become a battle royal among four or even five teams. The onus then is on Seoul not to lose their crown. The club's marketing department came up with the slogan of "Champions Like Always", so if this is to be more than just a means of selling tickets and replica shirts, Seoul need to start the season on the front foot and positively assert their claim in the title race once again. The players will know that, and once they cross that white line, they will be determined to prove that they are worthy champions. Which, leads nicely into the biggest question one would have when talking about FC Seoul in 2017...
  • Biggest Question
If one can play devil's advocate for a moment, was FC Seoul's victory a hollow one? Given how strong of a lead Jeonbuk had prior to their points deduction, a second successive league title looked to be little more than a foregone conclusion. Seoul were well off the pace as late in the season as September.  Thus, the biggest question would be, "Are FC Seoul genuine Championship material or was last year's title marred by the asterisk against Jeonbuk's points total?"

An indication into how FC Seoul will fair this season will be later this evening when they kick start their Asian Champions League campaign against Chinese Super League side Shanghai SIPG.  Ryan Walters and Football Radar analyst Yixin Li's writer's chat can be found here.

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