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

The K League Football Manager Challenges - The Incheon United Project

Perched perilously close to the relegation zone, it has been a long time since Incheon United last tasted victory in the league. Fortunately the summer transfer window has arrived and the anticipation surrounding the arrival of a shiny new Spanish winger from Suwon FC has got Matthew Binns' side all excited that there may be good times ahead.

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, June '17

July once again starts with me barking directions at my players as we quickly go about setting up the conference room ready for Jaime Gavilan's arrival from Suwon FC. Never mind that we have a game against Sangju to prepare and play before the official opening of the window, this party has to be perfect. We have no money left and this player is our last chance at saving the season. We can't start things on a bad note. Besides, if we cannot get this welcome banner straight, there's no point even bothering drilling the defence on their offside traps.

We revert back to the semi-successful 4-4-2 narrow diamond formation that we employed a couple of times at the tail end of June. It all is seemingly going to plan until, as you can guess by now, it all went wrong. Kim "Gunny" Gun-hee, a player who ran rampant last time we faced Sangju, is picked out from deep in space and is chased down by not one, not two, but eight Incheon players who fail to catch up with him as he nonchalantly taps it past Cho Su-hyuk who effectively stands to one side to let the ball past.

Fortunately, after berating the players at the interval, warning them that "Gavilan won't be coming if we keep playing like this" as if they were naughty children in the run up to Christmas, they go out and find an equaliser within the opening five minutes of the second half. Song Si-woo played through a delightful pass into the path of Jin Seong-wook who made no mistake with just the keeper to beat. Despite our continued efforts though, a draw is the best we can muster, taking our winless run to twelve league matches. Luckily, Busan also lose so we are still tenth and above them.

I wake up early on the morning of the summer transfer window in preparation for Gavilan's arrival. The player won't be here until lunch but I have some unfinished business with our moping striker to take care of first. I call Kevin Oris to my office in the hope of finding a way around his unwillingness to leave. As I cannot afford to mutually terminate his contract, I inform him that he will be deregistered from the squad and would be best to seek out employment elsewhere in the hope of game time.

Rather than see the bigger picture that playing elsewhere would stop his career from stagnating, the now disgruntled striker sees no reason why he should move for lower pay and says he is happy to sit in the reserves and see out his £9k a week contract. The board are going to kill me.

I will not let this get me down though. Today is not about him, it's about a K League Challenge winger who I have signed purely on the basis of a two-legged cup final last December in an act of petty revenge, subsequently risking the financial stability of the club which employs me in the process...

Oh dear God, have I done?!

Still, Jaime (as he lets me call him) seems excited to be here and he does have an impressive playing career with various La Liga clubs cropping up on his CV. He was also by far the highlight of Suwon's ill-fated maiden voyage in the K League Classic, only staying with them to play in the Asian Champions League, which the club qualified for after defeating us in the cup final. Having crashed out of that competition, almost impressively, it is perfectly understandable that the player wants to get his K League career back on track.

With the welcome party over and done with, and hangovers nursed, we line up to face Pohang Steelers at home in a throwback to my preferred 4-2-3-1 formation, but this time with less instructions. With creativity on both wings, and an on fire Velkoski, this could be the moment where are run of bad results finally turn around.

Despite being goalless at half time, it does not take long for Pohang to break our resolve via an unmarked Cho Soo-chul in the 50th minute. I take Gavilan off to rest him after a decent debut and bring on Lee Jin-wook and Park Jong-jin to see out the one goal defeat.

But then, perhaps buoyed by the new found competition at the club, or perhaps the news feeding through to the stands that Busan are winning and we are heading into the relegation spots, something strange happens. Park Jong-jin sets up Velkoski to tap in a far post equaliser in the 81st minute before, deep into stoppage time, the striker grabs his second of the game and we claim our first three points since April. I'm running laps of my technical area, unsure exactly what to do with myself. This could be our turning point!

Next up is the FA Cup quarter final where we will play host to K League Challenge side Ansan Mugunghwa. Naturally we are overwhelming favourites for this, but odds do not seem to work in our favour most of the time.

I opt to play something very similar to the starting lineup against Pohang. Our new asset looked good in the time that he was on, but perhaps could do with a slight confidence boost to get his Incheon career on track. Some lower league opposition should be ideal for him.

And it certainly was! We cruise into the semi-finals with little issue, recording a 2-0 victory with the new man finding himself once on the score sheet and with an assist for the other. Considering we had 22 shots to their six though, we perhaps should have done better. It does not matter though, we continue on course for our third consecutive cup final. I can only hope the draw will be kind to us.

Jang Eun-soo can sod off and support someone else if all he is bringing to the table is negativity.
Having fell to Busan 3-0 in the previous round of league fixtures, Jeonbuk have parted ways with their recently appointed manager Park Kyung-hoon, despite sitting in sixth. After the way they prised Kim Chan-hee from me in the pre-season though, and then have to cheek to never play him, I have little sympathy. Despite the club speaking with Kim Hak-bum as a potential replacement, they will still be managerless when we verse them and we must do our best to capitalise on this.

After the recent high that was then Pohang victory, our league ambitions our quickly doused in the cold water of reality. Possibly freed from the shackles that was their previous manager, Jeonbuk go about their business in the manner that once upon a time saw them as regular title challenges. Our attack doesn't look too bad, but we are naive in defence, put to the sword twice by a criminally unmarked Luiz.

We opt to write it off though and move on. Our fifth and final game of the month sees us take on Seongnam in Tancheon, a side that has thrashed us on multiple occasions both this season and last. As we make hour-long bus ride around the edge of Seoul, I notice Gavilan, my shining beacon of hope and joy, dozing off on the team bus in his specially designated seat next to me. I should rest him here, he clearly needs it. Let the other lads slog it out and Gavilan can enter play later on when those nasty Seongnam players are all tired out.

Despite boasting Barcelona's Lee Seung-woo in their strike force, Seongnam look ineffective up front, creating very little against our paper thin defence. It takes thirty minutes before first blood is drawn and, given our recent performances against them, I am shocked that it us draw it. Seongnam defender Kwak Hae-seong has a lapse in concentration, under hitting a back pass to his keeper which Velkoski seizes upon and slots past the keeper. We make it to half time with our lead still intact. I look at my players faces, encrusted with mud and reeking of sweat, then glance across to Gavilan, who now seems well rested and somehow bathed in a ray of sunlight streaming in through the dressing room window, and I decide to hook Park Se-jik, move Jin Seong-wook over to the left and bring on the winger.

Fifteen minutes later and it's two. Gavilan has come on and had an almost immediate impact, threading a splendid through ball into the path of Velkoski who claimed his second with ease. Another quarter of an hour later and Velkoski has got his third. This time a low cross in from Jin Seong-wook is converted with ease at the near post. Seongnam struggle and ultimately fail to get themselves back into the game, getting a man sent off in the closing stages, meaning we move five points clear of the relegation zone, despite still being in tenth for now.

It may only have been a few games, but our prospects seem to be on the up. We have made it to the semi-final of the cup and have finally returned to winning ways as look to push ourselves up from the near the foot of the table for what would be an unlikely top half-finish. What's more, we have a new hero for the fans to take to.

The board don't see it like that though, complaining that the finances on the deal could risk damaging the already fragile sustainability of the club. When I tell them to think of the shirt sales though, they point to the fact we've made a paltry £500 on replica kits this month, with 4% being non-domestic (Thanks, Mum).

Still, it doesn't matter what they say. Our saviour has arrived.

You can read the next part here.

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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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