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2017 Season Review: Daejeon Citizen

After what was hoped to have been a successful season for the Purples, with promotion back to the top tier a realistic target, the 2017 season ended with Daejeon Citizen finishing rock bottom of the Challenge. Propping up the K League pyramid in 10th place for the vast majority of the year, Daejeon could not have had any worse of a campaign which saw the 2014 Challenge Champions muster just six league victories all season. Daejeon Citizen's 2017 season review.
(Image via DCFC.co.kr)

After a disappointing 7th placed finish last season, 2017 was supposed to be the year in which Daejeon Citizen made a more of a concerted effort to gain promotion back to the promise land of the K League Classic. As well as the seemingly annual upheaval of appointing a new manager, there were also several significant departures from the dressing room, some of whom proved too important to replace adequately. Kim Dongchan, Kim Sunmin, Gustavo Sauerbeck, Lee Dongsoo and Park Juwon to name but a few all departed and, arguably, were never properly replaced.

The much-maligned manager Choi Moonsik also left and former Gyeongnam assistant Lee Youngik was brought in and tasked with winning promotion. Accordingly, Lee was allowed to build a new team with the remnants of last year's side. More notably, last season's K League Challenge second-top scorer Cristian Danalache from Gyeongnam, Suwon FC's promotion-winning attacking midfielder Jung Minwoo and former Korea Republic international Kim Jinkyu all arrived through the door at Purple Arena, as did promising winger Levan Shengelia on loan from AFC Tubize. But, despite such talent in the dressing room, Citizen failed spectacularly, eventually going on to record their worst ever finish in the K League by propping up the K League Challenge.

What Went Well

Nothing, frankly. It is a genuine struggle to think of anything that could be deemed as a positive from this season. Apathy amongst supporters is at an all-time low and as a result attendances are dwindling. Just five home wins all season has left even the most ardent Citizen supporter questioning their loyalty. The 2017 season can only be described as an absolute disaster from a Daejeon Citizen perspective.

Taking the silver-lining from a mushroom cloud, the only positive that can be taken from such a disastrous season is that, from this juncture, the only way is up. Things can only get better from here on in. Until relegation from the Challenge, it cannot get any worse.

Since the season ended, the club have managed to snap up their former boss Kim Ho as CEO, taking up his place at the head of the boardroom table. Kim is a football man and so is well placed to make footballing decisions. Moving forward, this can only be a good thing for Daejeon Citizen. It was initially thought that Citizen had appointed a new manager in Lee Kibeom but it seem as though this is not the case and instead Lee will become Daejeon's reserve or youth team coach instead. On Friday 24th November, Daejeon appointed Ko Jongsoo as their 11th permanent manager. The fact that Citizen acted quickly to appoint a new manager is a positive step.

What Didn't Go Well

Whereas pinpointing what actually did go well didn't take up to much time, highlighting Citizen's faults this term could be written as some sort of thesis.

The Manager

Lee Youngik won just four games in charge of Daejeon Citizen
(Image via DCFC)

Lee Youngik was not the right man for the job. Yet again the powers that be at Purple Arena opted for a former number two, hoping that they would be able to replicate the successes of the late Cho Jinho's promotion-winning reign in 2014. The difference being is that, whereas Cho played expansive and exiting football, Lee didn't even know what his best XI was right up until the moment he cleared his desk. At one point in the campaign, Citizen had played with no fewer than eight different left backs. Eight. And, marquee signing Cristian Danalache had been flanked by eight different wingers. I dread to think how many it had become by the end of the season. How on earth a team is supposed to function as a cohesive unit when the manager doesn't even know which 11 players are the best ones he has at his disposal is a complete mystery. Furthermore, there was very little evidence of any sort of tactics being deployed, no clear pattern of play and a distinct lack of character. Frankly, Lee Youngik was out of his depth and now Daejeon Citizen are paying the price for appointing a manager on the cheap.

A Lack of Continuity 

The tone was set as early as the first few weeks of the season, shortly after Daejeon Citizen's curtain raiser which took them to newly formed Ansan Greeners. Despite decent spells in the game and a spirited showing in the second half, Citizen fell to a late goal that gave Ansan their first ever win in their first ever competitive match. It wasn't a particularly bad performance, it was unlucky. Granted, warning signs were there about concentration and character but, these things happen in football and at that point it was too soon to judge. In goal that afternoon was Jeon Suhyun, who was making his debut for Daejeon Citizen and for the most part he performed well, a good basis to build upon for a custodian who will have been delighted to be playing first team football for the first time in his career. Or so he thought, as for the home fixture with Seongnam a week later, he was then dropped. Former Chungju Hummel 'keeper Lee Youngchang started between the sticks instead and kept his place for three games before Jeon Suhyun was called up on again only to be dropped after two games in favour of Lee. By June manager Lee Youngik had fielded all three goalkeepers on Daejeon's books with Kim Kiyong brought in from the cold for a short stint between the pegs for the Purples during the summer.

'Keeper capers, Jeon Suhyun eventually became Citizen's number 1.
(Image via DCFC)

The goalkeeping situation was just the tip of the ice berg as it was a similar story in most areas of the pitch with Lee made wholesale changes, seemingly, on a weekly basis in a desperate attempt to find a winning formula. A manager who makes so many changes to a team is the sign of desperation and indeed an indicator that they aren't quite sure what they are doing. The back backline didn't see any sort of consistency right up until the summer when Lee brought in Park Jusung and Jeon Sanghoon from Gyeongnam but by that point in the campaign it was already too late.

A Sum of its Parts, Not a Team

When Daejeon signed pacey winger Lee Hoseok and striker Cristian Danalache, the Purple Arena faithful were salivating at the prospect of these two former Gyeongnam stars rekindling their double act from 2016. Such a good understanding the pair had allowed the latter to net 19 league goals and the former to have a heavy hand in supplying said goals laying on 11 assists for the season. Lee Hoseok made a decent start to his Daejeon career, scoring on his debut against Ansan Greeners on the opening day then and then making it two in two with a goal against Seongnam a week later. Lee was ushered around the team, however, and sometimes played in a midfield three, despite his strengths as an off-the-shoulder style winger/outside forward.

Danalache, meanwhile, was unable to hit double figures with service up to the big Romanian poor at the best of times. The 35-year-old isn't the most mobile of strikers and needs the ball into feet but with a manager who played team selection bingo every week, it's hard to criticise Danalache who must regret making the switch from Changwon to Daejeon. It was a similar story all over the park, however. Even wonderkid Hwang Inbeom had a tame season by his standards. Frankly, the inability to get the best out of what was arguably a better squad than last year will remain the biggest problem of this truly forgetful campaign and is unforgivable.

No Leadership

Despite the player's best wishes Jean-Claude Bozga was allowed to leave and so Citizen needed experience at the back; a calm head, someone who had been there and done it. Kim Jinkyu arrived, a player who had played for his country 42 times and racked up over 250 career appearances, winning the K League Classic twice with FC Seoul as well as two FA Cups and was also part of that FC Seoul team that made it to the Asian Champions League Final in 2013. Unfortunately, injuries hampered Kim's time with the Purples, limiting the 32-year-old to just 12 starts. Vice Captain Jang Wonseok hardly featured and so the captain's armband got handed about like a bag of sweets. There was no consistent captain, no leaders on the pitch and so Citizen looked mentally very fragile at the best of times. Leadership is vital, especially in a defence of young players but the Purples never had that and never looked comfortable holding onto a lead. Testament to that is the fact that in 2017 Daejeon dropped no fewer than 17 points by conceding goals in the last 10 minutes of a game or in the last five minutes of the first half, that figure would become 20 if the 2-0 half time lead over Gyeongnam is taken into account, Citizen then went on to concede four in the second half with three of those goals coming in the space of six minutes. Another 17 points would have put Citizen 6th. Granted, it's not promotion but it would have been an improvement on last year.

See also: Jean-Claude Bozga: I Want To Come Back

Team MVP

No one single player could possibly justify the title of MVP for Daejeon Citizen this year. Some players have performed better than others, but to finish bottom of the league it would be pure folly to offer up an MVP. A good number of players have been decent in spells but not for prolonged periods of the campaign. Frankly, the MVP is the hardcore Daejeon Citizen support. They support the team, they keep turning up at Purple Arena and they travel the length and breadth of the country and for very little reward. Daejeonistas, you are the real MVPs this season.

Most Disappointing Player

Reluctantly, two players ought to be considered for being the most disappointing for Daejeon this year but both qualify for the unwanted accolade for different reasons.

The first is Cristian Danalache, the Romanian striker who was heralded as a fantastic signing when he arrived at Purple Arena. And, considering that Bucharest native had bagged 19 league goals and finished as the K League Challenge's second highest goal scorer in 2016 this was to be expected. In 2017, however, Danalache only mustered 9 goals. It would be easy to pin this on the player because he wasn't even able to hit double figures but, in doing so, it would be a massive oversight and, frankly, unfair on the player. It is not necessarily the player's fault that he has been pinpointed as one the most disappointing players for Citizen this season, the manager did not know how to get the best out of him which is strange given that they worked together only last year. The disappointment stems from that and the high hopes that the Daejeon fans had when he first graced the field in a Citizen shirt. Danalache isn't as mobile as he used to be but given the right service, he can score goals. In a Daejeon shirt he seldom ever got the right service and often cut a lonely figure up front by himself.

Kim Jinkyu managed just 12 starts all campaign
(Image via DCFC)

The other is another winter signing that actually really excited me, former FC Seoul and Republic of Korea international centre back Kim Jinkyu. Kim was supposed to be the level-headed and cultured defender that Citizen needed after Bozga's departure. But, judging my his injury record and how laboured he looked, he didn't look fit from the very first game of the season. He looked uncomfortable and cumbersome and I think this was down to persistent injury problems. Given his CV, I was expecting former gaffer Lee Youngik to build a spine of a team based around him, Hwang Inbeom and Cristian Danalache. But, for the most part, Daejeon were spineless.

Most Important Decision of the Off Season

Quite simply, Daejeon need to recruit intelligently. New manager Ko Jongsoo ought to use his contacts at Suwon to nab some of the Bluewings' young stars on loan. Ko was well decorated as a player and will no doubt have contacts from his time as a Korean international. From the 1998 World Cup squad, Ko played alongside two current K League Classic managers in Kim Dohoon (Ulsan Hyundai) and Hwang Sunhong (FC Seoul). If Ko can convince his former teammates to allow some of Ulsan Hyundai and FC Seoul's youngsters to join on loan then Daejeon might just have a chance next year.

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