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The #KLeagueFM18 Challenges: The Road to Russia [Episode 1]

K League Football Manager 2018: The Road to Russia

It's the start of 2017, and Korea is ringing in the changes, with disillusion and discontent amongst the masses making way for new leadership. The question now is, who replaces Uli Stielike? With the Korean Football Association wanting to try an alternative route to revitalise interest in both the national side and the domestic league, they decide to approach an inexperienced 28 year old from the UK to lead the Korean national side to the 2018 World Cup.

The Challenge: The Road to Russia! Lead the Korean team to the 2018 World Cup and then put in a respectable performance. However, only players plying their trade in the K League can be called upon to represent their country.

"You look tired, Matthew. Are you still not sleeping well?"

Since being offered the position, the nightmares have been increasing in ferocity. Barely a night goes by where I do not find myself waking up in a cold sweat, having envisioned managing a citizen club into the relegation abyss whilst I watch on from the sidelines, sporting a Kim Byung-ji-styled haircut.

If only I had been approached by Incheon United though, then perhaps I could at least take comfort in only disappointing thousands of supporters. This task could see myself become a target of hate for a population of 51 million and some of the most vicious netizens around.

“I will be fine,” I reply unconvincingly.
“No second thoughts?” another assistant asks.
“None at all.”

With ticket sales dwindling in the domestic league, and faith in the national squad at an all time low, the Korean Football Association have made a bold and financially-astute move to try and resolve both these growing concerns in one fell swoop.

Having recently wandered into a lavish banquet at one of the country's premier golf clubs whilst seeking out a bathroom, I was accosted by a number of soju-fueled men in suits, all holding the firm belief that I, at the age of 28 and with only spectator experience, could take command of the Korean national team in their upcoming World Cup qualifying campaign.

The catch? To bolster the dwindling league figures, I must also create national icons that people within the country can go to watch weekly within one of the countries' empty behemoth stadiums. The likes of Son Heung-min and Ki Sung-yueng who boast lofty career aspirations should be punished for their betrayal of the domestic division. I must only consider players plying their trade within the K League, with those moving back to the league being reconsidered for call-up and those who seek pastures new removed from the national pool.

After the initial press conference, where journalists mostly seem to be taken aback by both my age and lack of managerial experience, I crack on with meeting my staff. Assistant Choi Keun-ho introduces me to the team, with them too boasting a wealth of international experience. In fact, the least skilled coach seems to be Choi himself, who I promptly sack and then ask my personal assistant to start the hunt for a highly qualified replacement capable of pretty much running the team for me. I immediately send out job offers to the out of work Carlo Ancellotti, "Big Phil" Scolari, Ronald Koeman and, in a desparate bid to win round the people of Korea, former-national team manager and honorary citizen Guus Hiddink.

Somewhat expectedly, they all decline. I have my personal assistant post adverts in The Korea Times for the roles of assistant manager, Korea B team manager and U19 manager and await the response.

Fortunately my predecessor Uli Stielike has left me in a decent enough position within my World Cup qualifying group. After five games, we are joint first with Iran on twelve points apiece, with ourselves edging top spot on goal difference. The other teams in the group are Qatar, China, Uzbekistan and Syria. Whilst Iran will certainly prove a difficult test, especially for the first game in charge, if I look to see off China, Uzbekistan and Syria, I should have no problem qualifying for Russia.

It's reassuring to see that no game is yet slated to be televised.

My first game is in just over sixty days. I take a look at my current squad and begin removing all the talent that had the cheek to go and try bolster their careers abroad. I then turn to tactics and begin deciding how I want this team to play.

With an idea of the type of K League players I want to bring in, it seems only right to maximise the number of attacking midfielders in the squad given that is where I expect most the talent to lie. I intend for our default tactics to be a 4-2-3-1 in shape, with a focus on shorter passing and the retaining of possession.

I also sketch out a back up plan for higher level opposition. It mostly consists of multiple retreating arrows towards our own goal scratched into the page in screaming red biro with a number jotted in the bottom corner for an on-call getaway driver to steer me clear from the ensuing mob at full time. However, there are also some more useful notes about closing down opponents quickly and keeping a target man up front to hold up the ball in case of a rare counter attack. This more conservative approach though will most likely be saved for if we do make it to the finals.

I receive replies to the coaching adverts I had taken out, but no names particularly stand out so I am forced to actually read their CVs and qualifications. Applicant Lim Jong-hun is handed the Korea B job and I also hand the Korea U19s position to Kim In-soo a member of the Ulsan coaching staff, due to his supposed ability to work with youngsters.

Finally, I designate the role of assistant manager to Lee Young-ik, an LG Cheetahs regular throughout the late 90s and a coaching career that boasts positions at Ulsan Hyundai Mipo Dockyard, Daejeon, FC Seoul, Sangju Sangmu and, most recently, Gyeongnam. Rumours suggest was he was considering taking his first managerial position at Daejeon Citizen this year for what was set to be a long and fruitful career. Fortunately, I have nabbed him and most likely left Daejeon fans distraught at the loss of a future they will never get to witness...

Shortly after, I'm given a number of games to choose from, which I can opt to watch for free (one of the perks of the job). While the temptation to fly back to the UK in business class to take in some Premier League action is certainly tempting, I will stick to my remit of just watching the K League teams. I head to Guangzhou, China to see reigning Chinese Super League champions Guangzhou Evergrande take on Jeju United in the Asian Champions League group stages, with the hope of getting a closer look at centre back Oh Ban-suk and midfielders Yoon Bit-garam and Lee Chang-min for my squad.

The K League side are dire though, losing 3-1 and never really looking as if they could make an impact on the game. To make matters worse, Lee Chang-min was anonymous and midfielder Yoon Bit-garam was taken off injured making him a slight doubt for my March fixtures. As we reach the final fifteen minutes, I sneak out early and bag myself a late night boat ride along the river to take in the city lights instead.

I also make the decision to take in the Jeolla Derby on the opening day of the season. Not only is it free travel down to see my beloved Jeonbuk, but there should be some potential talent on show. With Jeonbuk being the reigning Asian Champions, building a core around Asia's supposed best team would seem like a sensible option as I find my feet in the role. Assistant Lee Young-ik annoyingly suggests that perhaps "the Supermatch" between FC Seoul and Suwon Bluewings could be more beneficial but I waive away his advice as I take my seat in Jeonju Civil Stadium and squint from beyond the race track

Unfortunately, Jeonbuk proceed to lose 2-0 to their South Jeolla rivals and prospect Kim Min-jae is taken off injured, but I will not be deterred, proceeding to highlight the names of Hong Jeong-nam, Kim Jin-su, Lee Yong, Choi Chul-soon, Lee Jae-sung, Lee Dong-gook and Kim Shin-wook all for call up as we peruse the Hanok Village for somewhere to eat. Young-ik wants a word with me after the meal but I will have none of it and inform him I am ready to announce my squad for the games against Iran and China.

Korea Team to face Iran and China
GKShin Hwa-yongSuwon Bluewings
GKCho Hyun-wooDaegu FC
GKHong Jung-namJeonbuk Hyundai Motors
DCOh Ban-sukJeju United
DCKoo Ja-ryongSuwon Bluewings
DCLee YongJeonbuk Hyundai Motors
DCShin Hyung-minJeonbuk Hyundai Motors
DCKim Jin-suJeonbuk Hyundai Motors
DCChoi Chul-soonJeonbuk Hyundai Motors
DCKim Min-wooSuwon Bluewings
MFLee Myung-jooFC Seoul
MFHa Dae-sungFC Seoul
MFYoon Bit-garamJeju United
MFJoo Min-kyuSangju Sangmu
MFYeom Ki-hoonSuwon Bluewings
MFLee Jae-sungJeonbuk Hyundai Motors
MFKim Han-gilFC Seoul
FWLee Keun-hoGangwon FC
FWLee Jong-hoUlsan Hyundai
FWLee Dong-gookJeonbuk Hyundai Motors
FWYang Dong-hyunPohang Steelers
FWKim Shin-wookJeonbuk Hyundai Motors

As you can expect, the media do not take too kindly to my experimental line up. Not only have they not been informed of my K League only remit, but they also draw into the question the age of some of the players selected. The return of 'The Lion King' Lee Dong-gook irks most people, with a barrage of criticism concerned with why I think bringing along a 37 year-old who was thought to have retired from the international stage could possibly benefit this team. I mumble something about the wealth of experience he brings and how he might be an ideal role model to the younger players, before slipping out of the press conference at earliest opportunity and barricading myself in an unoccupied conference room.

As I wait until all the car park has emptied, I consider myself fortunate that nobody has seemed to have noticed my squad includes five registered strikers, plus Joo Min-kyu who I have snuck in as a midfielder. I am not sure why I selected so many attackers. I swear it was less when I hashed this out with Young-ik in the Jeonju Makgeolli restaurant after the Jeolla Derby. Still, I probably will just choose around fourteen players and many won't see time away from the bench so not to worry.

What's the worst that can happen?

Fancy trying your own #KLeagueFM18 adventure? See what ten K League specific challenges we suggest and register your best efforts by clicking here.

This piece draws it's form and inspiration from the FMProject by The Set Pieces. You can read their latest series here.

Gaming on K League United is proudly sponsored by Retro Gaming Bar in Hongdae, Seoul. Make sure you follow them on Facebook and Twitter

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