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Writers Chat: Bucheon FC vs Seoul E-Land FC Preview

Opening Sunday in the Challenge brings together Bucheon FC, vanquished in the play-offs last season, and Seoul E-Land who missed out altogether. Both clubs have new managers and almost completely new look sides so who is going to come out on top when they face each other at the Bucheon Stadium on Sunday afternoon? Neither E-Land fan from Day 1, Stephen Waddell nor myself seem to have the faintest clue but we have a lot to say. 
(Header Pics from Bucheon FC & Seoul E-Land official sites)

Alastair Asks, Stephen Answers

Alastair Middleton: It has to be asked. We are about to embark on year 3 of the Eland project. They were nothing if not ambitious at the start and according to their initial plan, will be attracting 25,000 a game this year. Please update us on how it's going so far?

Stephen Waddell: We are completely on plan and I fully expect us to average 25,000 fans this season and win the ACL. Or maybe not. I think it's pretty fair to say that things haven't quite hit the targets set prior to the club being formed but those were always fairly pie in the sky. Maybe slightly more worrying is that the club is probably behind even where more reasonable expectations might have been set. As we head into season 3 we are now on our third manager and must have churned through a good 50 or 60 players. There appear to have been some significant changes behind the scenes as well. Whether this is the start of a successful E-Land 2.0 or not remains to be seen but as I think in said in my season preview there are a lot of question marks over the entire set-up right now. All we can do is hope that things come together in a positive way. Getting out of the Challenge seems to be getting harder and harder each season and I think expectations are fairly low this season. Maybe we will get a pleasant surprise come the end of the year.

AM: From an outsider's perspective and from reading your season preview, Eland's close season business seems rather underwhelming. Are we looking at a better or worse Eland this year?

SW: We are definitely looking at a very different E-Land this year. With no Joo Min-kyu, no Tarabai, no Kim Jae-sung, no Carlyle Mitchell, no Kim Dong-cheol, no Kim Dong-jin, no Kim Tae-eun and no Yoon Seung-yeul  all of whom you would say would have been in the likely starting eleven. Guys brought in last summer like Seo Jung-jin and Shim Sang-min have also gone. I've lost count of the number of players that have been signed but I think its something like 25 or 26 new faces in the squad.That's beyond an overhaul. I haven't done the count but it may be that Kim Byung-soo has signed more players this close season than Martin Rennie did when he put the team together in the first place!

On the face of it the guys who have come in don't look as good as the guys who have gone out but to be honest most of the names are fairly unknown to me. I couldn't even begin to pick the team line-up for the Bucheon game and other than the squad numbers have very little to go on in trying to guess what our strongest eleven might be. To me it's going to be a big ask to expect a squad with so many changes to hit the ground running so we go into the weekend more in hope than expectation. Whether the new coach can gel the side quickly and put up a serious challenge at the top of the table is anyone's guess. Ask me again ten games in.

AM: What can you tell us about An Tae-hyun and Yang Ki-hoon?

SW: Ahn is a player I really liked when he first came into the E-Land squad last season. He is a really positive and direct attacker with a bit of pace who was willing to run at the opposition and ask defenders some questions. He possibly didn't score enough goals but I thought he had great potential and was really surprised that E-Land let him go to a rival so easily.

Yang looked like a reasonably cultured defender who could also play as a holding midfielder. Never really got the chance to establish himself at E-Land when he was behind more experienced players in the pecking order but again looked like he had a bit of potential. Maybe he thinks he has more chance of getting regular first team football at Bucheon but I would rather we had held onto him, especially considering the player we got in exchange looks like a squad filler.

AM: I've been a fan of Baek Ji-hoon since his all too brief FC Seoul days over a decade ago. Will Eland build the team around him? How do you think they'll line up on Sunday?

SW: I notice he's been given the number 10 shirt so it looks as if he is going to be the key man this season. He's the only new addition that I'm excited to get a look at in an E-Land shirt so I really hope he puts his injury niggles behind him and manages to shine this year. You would have to expect he will be the lynchpin of the side and alongside Kim Young-kwang will be absolutely vital to the side. Big things will probably be expected of Lovinho up front as well and we can only hope he can replace the goals we have lost. Whether he plays up front by himself or with either Kim Min-kyu or Shim Young-sung alongside him I don't know. At the back I have no idea how we will line up. Toss a coin to decide between any number of players there.

AM: Swedish hot dogs, craft beer, leopards and (now gone) shipping containers, Eland do bring a certain something to the Challenge. Being in Seoul is potentially a huge advantage for any team but Eland are yet to make the most of it. Is this the make or (literally) break year?

SW: As with most chaebol clubs that seems to be driven by the whims of the corporate backers more than anything. We have seen with Samsung how fickle owners can be and the impact on the team. They've gone from almost getting relegated to one of the title favourites over the break. As for E-Land, it's not particularly clear what the long-term ambition for the club really is now. Things seem to have been scaled back quite significantly so the question is probably are E-Land happy to bankroll a team just to take part in the league without threatening to be too successful. Do they still harbour dreams of building a team to challenge the best in Korea and Asia? A period of stability certainly wouldn't hurt so we can only hope that the new boss turns out to be a good choice. If we are looking at yet another clearout and squad overhaul in the Summer then you do wonder just how long E-Land would persist and maybe more importantly how many fans will keep committed to the cause. A revolving door policy doesn't exactly do much to encourage fans to take the team and the players to their hearts. At the moment I am still struggling to remember their names.

Stephen Asks, Alastair Answers

Stephen Waddell: Bucheon seem to have made a few good signings over the break and I fancy them to be dark horses in the league. What do you make of their prospects? 

Alastair Middleton: I think with the exception of Seongnam and Busan who are very much live chances, everyone is a potential dark horse in the Challenge this season. Bucheon have made plenty of signings but that was as much necessity as anything else what with the entire defence upping sticks to Classic teams and of course Lukian heading down the Gyeongbu Expressway. Just like E-Land, Bucheon have a brand new manager and someone who is completely untested at this level in the shape of Jung Gap-seok. It is good to see a new face given a chance though and I certainly don’t see Bucheon as being any weaker than a lot of the teams around them so they’ve as good a chance as anyone of making the play-offs.

SW: I was disappointed to see a couple of promising young players in Ann Tae-hyun and Yang Ki-hoon leaving Eland as I thought they had some potential. Can we expect to see them feature regularly in Bucheon colours? 

AM: My guess – and it is nothing more than a guess – is that Ahn has claims to go straight into the team having featured in most Eland games last year and certainly looking like he’s able to do more than a job in the Challenge. I’m less familiar with Yang and position-wise he may have been brought in as cover although the sudden departure of Anthony Golec may change that.  Either way, at this moment in time, I’d rather be on Bucheon’s side of those transactions than E-Land’s. So thank you very much.

SW: I like Waguininho as a player but some of the other Brazilians have been a bit hit or miss. Do you think Lukian will be missed or do they adequate replacements

AM: Bucheon were lucky last year in that they managed the rare trick of having two Brazilian players settled and playing really well with neither being forced somewhere else by his “economic rights owner” in mid season . Waguininho impressed but at this level, any player who can bang in 15 a season, like Lukian did, is obviously going to be missed. First priority though had to be replacing the defence and accordingly a few have been brought in such as Lee Jae-won from Pohang and Kim Han-bin from the remains of Chungju. Also from the smouldering wreckage of Chungju (on loan there from Jeonbuk) emerged Kim Shin who I think potentially is a really good signing to go up front along with Haris Harba who apparently becomes Bucheon’s first ever European player.

SW: Bucheon have already lost a couple of their new signings who apparently changed their minds about playing for the club. What happened there then?

AM: Indeed, Bucheon announced towards the end of February that Anthony Golec and Roger Gaucho had been released from their contracts and you know what? Cracking bit of business in my opinion. When any K-league club brings in almost ten players, there is a fair chance that up to as many as half will leave without ever kicking a competitive ball so better to have a couple leave without kicking a ball now than in the summer! The Golec signing was intriguing, the Roger signing less so but now neither is to be. “Personal reasons” was cited for both. So “Personal reasons” it is.

SW: Bucheon have a tradition of starting the season with a half time KPop performance. Do we have one lined up for the weekend? Will Hello Venus be there again?

AM: Now we're getting down to the business end of things. As you said, Bucheon have traditionally done things right (although watching one-hit wonder Hari trying to sing the Gwiyomi song with a broken microphone at half-time of a lazy midsummer game in 2013 is one of the lower points of my life. In fact, I’m thinking of it now and getting depressed). That they got Hello Venus to not only come to opening day a couple of season back but also got them posing in Bucheon kit in local coffee shops was utter genius. This year well, you’ll have to come and find out! They are doing some kind of “Citizens Day” on Sunday though so who knows what goodies they might have in store?

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