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The #KLeagueFM17 Challenges: Citizens Unite! [June '17]

The K League Football Manager 2017 Challenges - The Incheon United Project

After signs of promise in April, Incheon United were winless in the league throughout May partially due to a lengthening injury list and the fielding of high school players who, given some of their performances, should really be focusing on their studies. Despite this, the club still find themselves in seventh and in the FA Cup. With nine matches in June, can Matthew Binns' men make it to the July transfer window relatively unscathed?

The Challenge: Citizens Unite! Stand up to the Korean Chaebols by leading a citizen club to title glory.

Previous Instalments: Pre-season '16 [Part 1], Pre-season '16 [Part 2], March '16, April '16, May '16, June '16, July '16, August '16, September '16, Post-Split '16, FA Cup Final '16 [Preview], FA Cup Final '16, Pre-Season '17 [Part 1], Pre-Season '17 [Part 2], March '17, April '17, May '17

The KFA has had a scheduling nightmare, somehow coming to the conclusion that eight league games per team plus the FA Cup in a single calendar month is what the public clearly desires, especially as Korea enters the start of its relentlessly hot summer spell.

With our deteriorating finances to take into account, our office air conditioning has been limited to a paltry thirty minutes per day, forcing a few of us to take up residence in the nearby high school's English classroom in exchange for taking part in an after school English program on the side. It makes sense seeing as half of our team recently has been made up of students from here.

Co-teacher Kim Byung-ji and I are in the process of teaching our students/potential line up "Football English" when a familiar looking student points out that the Korean U20s have been knocked out of their country's World Cup and he is back in class after a few weeks off, wanting to know what the homework is. As he lacks a self-constructed paper "name tent" on his desk (that also features his likes, hobbies and preferred on-field position), my co-teacher points out that it is in fact Nam Min-woo, a face I had long forgotten about after last month's inclusion of so many youngsters. I ask him if he fancies playing against FC Seoul tomorrow and he jumps at the chance.

Given the differing form trajectories of both teams, you could argue we were lucky to only lose 3-1. It could have been so different if we had not missed three point blank opportunities to level the score early on though. Velkoski did manage to equalise late into the match, but our inability to shut up shop led to Seoul's Joo Hyung-jun scoring twice in the dying minutes. To make matters worse, Park Jong-jin was taken off injured during the match and looks set to be sidelined for a couple of weeks.

Despite our financial insecurity, it is highly recommended that I sign a scout, and the option brought forward is bizarrely current Gyeongnam player Christian Danalache. Given my penchant for novelty backroom staff signings, and that he comes surprisingly cheap, I snap him up and immediately send him to South East Asia to look for talent. Before he leaves though, he recommends I take a look at Barcelona's Paik Seung-ho who has fallen out of favour at Camp Nou and is on a free. A quick call to his agent and it seem's Paik is very keen to take what can only be described as a side step at an optimistic best. My board doesn't like it though, pointing to the wage budget and denying me the opportunity. I could terminate Kevin Oris' contract prematurely to try and grab the deal, but the compensation would likely be too high plus Velkoski will be swanning off on international duty soon.

Any hopes Velkoski would score and lead us to a first win in six before his departure were in vein however, as he only managed to find the post in what can only be described as an absolute dross encounter against Gwangju. We gained a point in the goalless draw, but left a part of our soul that had undoubtedly died with boredom someway through the second half.

Along with Velkoski, high schooler Nam Min-woo has been called by the South Korean U19 squad for some friendlies, meaning I will once again be looking towards the youth system for our match against Jeju, plumping for the first teenager that passes the door.

Despite Jeju United currently being on a bit of a bad run, we are still considered huge underdogs for this encounter. It quickly becomes apparent early on though that 100% of their attacks are coming down the right wing via Ahn Hyun-beom. I quickly address this by commanding my players to hack the youngster to bits and we nearly end the half without conceding, until Jeju's Kim Shin-wook somewhat typically fires a shot straight at one of our defenders and the rebound falls to Ahn who accepts the gifted opportunity presented to him to give the islanders the lead.

Without Velkoski we are somewhat toothless, with Oris lacking in confidence and motivation to try and compensate. Jeju are also reduced to ten men late on but we do not have the personnel to capitalise as we fall to a narrow defeat. Seven league games without victory now. I have a feeling the board may start growing concerned.

Fortunately, the previously injured Jin Seong-wook has been cleared to play by the physio so, with any luck, we should fare better against Ulsan who have lost their last fourth and sit immediately below us in 10th.

The youth keeper has been bothering me for a while for game time so I naively opt to put him in so as to field a more aged lineup. Besides, he cannot be as bad as Cho. He will go on to concede two goals however, but the first will not be his fault. Nam Min-woo, having returned back earlier than Velkoski from International Duty, shows his jetlag by giving away a clumsy penalty which Ulsan are happy to convert. Han Seong-woon will then tap in from a few yards after a cross is pulled back. He will celebrate by waving at the three defenders who failed to track him, leaving our young goalkeeper in tears.

Ju Min-kyu does bag us a consolation late-on but we end up losing the match 2-1 and fall further down the table. Next up is second placed Jeonnam Dragons. Velkoski is finally back however and so is our centre back Ahn Jae-joon who seems to have been in the sick bay for an incredibly long period of time.

It quickly becomes apparent we are playing the Korean Barcelona, hardly touching the ball for the opening five minutes. Ju Min-kyu, a player who I prefer to contribute to attacking play, is called into not one, but two last ditch tackles against Park Gi-dong within the first ten minutes as the Dragons continue to press. Against the run of play, Velkoski somehow strikes the post in the first 20 minutes but we continue to mostly be under the cosh. We eventually fall behind before half-time but hopefully we can regroup and try and salvage something against this year's K League surprise package.

I tell the boys to not worry, and jsut go out there and do your best. Unfortunately they take my encouraging attitude as an excuse to slack and we are further behind within the first 60 seconds through a Park Gi-dong effort. Two minutes later though and we pull a goal back through a goal that makes us look like the Korean Real Madrid. Some intricate passing eventually finds it's way through to Jin Seong-wook who back heels it back to an on-rushing Ju Min-kyu who slots home to make it 2-1. It all proves in vein however when, twelve mintus later, Park Gi-dong scores from 25 yards to make it 3-1. We fail to muster any kind of reply, and Jeonnam aren't bothered to try and increase their lead at the risk of exposing their defence. Another loss takes our winless run to nine. Next up, the FA Cup.

I need to take stock of what tactics are feasible. Such is my will to get through this heavy slog of fixtures, my method of crowbarring in any youngster who raises their hand in class, for their confidence to be quickly shot to pieces after being thrashed has perhaps not been the most sustainable managerial and teaching method. If we crash out of the FA Cup this early also, then our season will be over and we will have to settle for mid-table mediocrity or, most likely, worse. With this in mind, I opt to experiment against our non-league opposition.

I seek the advice of the coaching staff I surrounded with myself way back in those optimistic days of January 2016 and we all come to the conclusion that less might be more. We strip the instructions to just an attacking mindset and I reluctantly agree to a 4-4-2 narrow diamond shape. I allow each player to play their position to their most preferred role. I opt for Kevin Oris knowing the reward for progression (a paltry £2.8k) can go towards his mutual termination package next month. We are further boosted by the return of Kim Dae-jung who I put at right back, but our plans our harmed slightly when keeper Cho Su-hyuk pulls up with a thigh injury in training. Looks like the young keeper Kim Kyo-bin will get another go.

Kevin Oris looks set to sabotage my plan to offload him next month via mutual termination by immediately giving away a penalty to the non-league side. Fortunately, Kim Kyo-bin stands tall and saves the shot. We break shortly after and take the lead after Song Si-woo's vicious shot is fumbled into the net by Gimhae's keeper. Ten minutes later and it's two. Oris scoring his first goal of the season to take the lead before the interval. We comfortably progress through the second half, with left back Park Dae-han picking up the third goal (and plenty of plaudits from the fans) ensuring we cruise into the quarter finals.

Fourth placed Suwon are up next, and I see little reason to change things too much. Of course, being a league game, Nam Min-woo has to start as he is a youngster, and I also drop Oris for the superior Jin Seong-wook, but I try my best to keep the team that comfortably saw off Gimhae together. Suwon are managerless after their fickle support lost patience with the man that claimed them the title last season. We could stand a chance here.

It's hard to criticise the lads after that. We fought admirably and the 4-4-2 diamond seemed to keep us relatively strong. Their midfielder Lee Sang-ho would break the deadlock though, picking up on a cleared ball by our defence and lashing it in from distance. Despite that moment of quality though, they are relatively underwhelming and we can feel aggrieved not to have claimed anything here.

While the performance may have been encouraging, the league table does not lie. We are hovering one point over the relegation spots without a win in ten matches. Our final game of the month sees us play the team directly beneath us also, Busan I'Park. A loss would see us dragged into the mire.

The coaches say we should be slightly more frivolous with our attacks here, telling me I should opt for a 3-4-3 diamond formation, pushing wider than in our previous two games. I am in two minds whether to accept their advice, as I think some stability would be beneficial, but they have been reasonably right in their assertions for the last two matches, so I follow their advice once more.

Well, I was certainly right to employ them as we find ourselves up within a minute via Velkoski. Perhaps I should've consulted their advice sooner instead of pursue my own brand of Tiki-Taka and we might not be in this mess. The team look so much stronger and should really be several goals up.

However, the additional goals never come and as we enter the closing stages, a haze of inevitability descends on the stadium. When an onrushing Willian Popp is picked out by a pass deep within the Busan half in injury time, everyone knows what will happen. Despite two defenders being in the vicinity, neither can get across to him in time, and the Brazilian equalises with moments to spare. Football is a cruel sport.

Oh cruel fate, we meet again.

And so our fixture heavy month finally draws to a close. I meet with Kevin Oris, knowing that Gavilan is in the process of apartment hunting in Songdo, and tell him his contract will be mutually terminated. He takes it as well as can be expected, but fortunately opts to kick some discarded shin pads across the dressing room instead of hit me. Good job as well as he had no idea that I had planned to push my assistant into him and make a dash for it.

Back in Incheon, I sit in the empty air conditioned English classroom, still waiting for Byung-ji to get back to me with the summer camp plan that must be submitted by 4:00pm, when an email comes in from the board. They are still satisfied despite my continued free fall towards the K League Challenge, yet concern is growing about the finances. A second email follows shortly saying the Kevin's compensation package is too expensive to match and the board will not release the player. Looks like I will be stuck with him, even if I have to deregister him from the squad to make way for our hopeful saviour Gavilan.

It's all going wrong.

Fancy having a go yourself? Why not sign up here and show us what you've got!

The form and style of this piece takes it's inspiration from the fantastic Championship Manager series written by Iain Macintosh on The Set Pieces website. You can read that particular series here.

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