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Transfer Talk: Jeju United

By finishing as runners up 2017 Jeju United recorded their highest ever finish in the K League but, with a nine point gap to close between the Orange-clad side from the island and League Champions Jeonbuk Hyundai, manager Cho Sunghwan will hoping that a successful transfer window can ensure of a closer title race in 2018. Jeju will also be looking make progress on the continent and so, should they have aspirations of reaching the latter rounds of of the AFC Champions League and compete with Asia's elite, will be looking to bolster their squad accordingly.
(Image Credit: Jeju United)

How active do you think Jeju United will be in the winter window?

Manager Cho Sunghwan recently put pen to paper on a new contract, extending his stay until the end of 2019 so clearly the hierarchy at Seogwipo believe he is the man to take the team forward. Replacing the players who have departed will be Cho's first port of call, after which quality additions will be needed to really challenge Jeonbuk Hyundai and to ward off any competition from Suwon Bluewings. If Jeju United have ambition then it is in 2018 and in the transfer market where they need to show it.

The 2017 season represented progress for the Islanders and so they'll be hoping to continue in a similar vein this season. United ran Jeonbuk close but, in the end, the battle-hardened Green Warriors, lead by their magisterial General Choi Kanghee, won the league with three games to spare. Interestingly though, against the top four in 2017, Jeonbuk and Jeju had a similar points haul: Jeonbuk accumulated 27 points, Jeju 21. United aren't a million miles away but Jeonbuk have already strengthened as too have Suwon Bluewings; quite simply Jeju cannot be seen to be standings still. Some big names have left such as Frederic Mendy, Yoon Bitgaram, and goalkeeper Kim Hojun and so the need to strengthen is as doubly as important. Jeju do have the backing of telecommunication giants SK Telecom and, although not having the biggest budget in the K League, certainly won't be short of a few quid either should the right targets become available.

What's Jeju's biggest area of need? Who are some potential targets you'd like to see fill these holes?

French-born Guinea-Bissau striker Frederic Mendy left the club after just a year in the orange of Jeju United, opting to move to Thai Premier League outfit Bangkok Glass. Mendy's physical presence made him hard to deal with and was a different option to have in attack. Earlier in the campaign another powerful forward, Brazilian Marcello Toscano also left, and whilst Jeju managed to carry on without him, there is no doubt that his loss was felt.

Magno Cruz (centre) was Jeju United's top scorer in 2017 was 13 league goals
(Image Credit: Jeju United)

An out and out goalscorer, a proper number 9 who can score upward of 15 league goals ought to be considered a priority. In truth, Jeju's need for a goalscorer has been evident for a number of years. United's top scorer in 2017 was Magno Cruz with 13; in 2016 it was Marcello Toscano who got 11; in 2015 it was eventual Jeonbuk Hyundai star Ricardo Lopes with 11; the year before Hugo scored 10; and the year before that Pedro Junior got 17. Jair, now of Jeonnam Dragons, remains as Jeju's highest goal scorer in a single season with a total of 18. A prolific goalscorer could be the missing piece of the puzzle.

Another area to strengthen would be in the goalkeeping department, especially since Kim Hojun has departed to sign for Gangwon. Two potential targets could be Daegu FC's Cho Hyunwoo or Seongnam FC's Kim Dongjun. Cho would perhaps be too hard to prise away from Daegu but Kim Dongjun, who may see another season in the Challenge as a hindrance to his chances of making the plane to Russia. In addition, reports of further financial trouble at Tancheon may also be a factor should Jeju make a move for the 23-year-old.

Is there someone on the team you'd like to see loaned out or sold?

Young striker Lee Eunbeom made his professional debut for Jeju in 2017 after signing from Seonam University. The 21-year-old netted his first professional goal in the 3-0 win over Pohang Steelers in June, his second came a month later against eventual Champions Jeonbuk Hyundai in a 2-1 home win. But, with the need to keep up with the other title contenders, it may not be the time to start blooding youngsters. A short term loan move to a Challenge team may be a way to acclimatise the Korea Republic U23 international to the rigours of first team football before assessing the situation come the summer. Of course, in the K League there is the U23 rule of which to take into consideration which stipulates that a team must have an player under the age of 23 in the starting 11 to ensure that they can make full use of their substitutes. Lee may well be used for such purposes should the situation arise.

What transfers have already taken place and how do you seem them playing out in 2018?

From our 2018 Winter Transfer Tracker

Tiago Marques (FW, Juventude)
Roberson (FW, Internacional)
Kim Seon-woo (MF, Gyeongnam, End of loan)
Jang Eun-kyu (MF, Seongnam, End of loan)
Kim Kyung-min (GK, Busan, End of loan)
Kim Sang-won (DF, Gwangju , End of loan)
Kim Bong-rae (DF, Suwon FC, End of loan)
Jeong Tae-wook (DF, Ajou Uni.)
Lee Chang-hoon (FW, Suwon Uni.)
Moon Kwang-seok (GK, Hanyang Uni.)
Lee Dong-hee (MF, Hanyang Uni.)
Park Han-keun (GK, Jeonju Uni.)
Kim Ho-joon (GK, Gangwon)
Mailson (FW, Criciuma)
Frederic Mendy (FW, Bangkok Glass)
Ahn Hyeon-beom (MF, Asan, Military duty)
Kim Bong-rae (DF, Asan, Military duty)
Baek Dong-kyu (DF, Sangju, Military duty)
Yoon Bit-garam (MF, Sangju, Military duty)

The two more significant signings thus far for the purveyors of "Gamgyul Taka" (Tangerine Taka) are Brazilian forwards Tiago Marques from Brazilian Serie B side Juventude and former Brazil U20 international Roberson from Internacional, also of Serie B.

Tiago Marques, 29,  got 11 goals in 32 appearances last year, his highest scoring season in his career. Meanwhile, Roberson, 28, was part of the Brazilian U20 squad in his younger years but, according to Soccerway, has never hit double figures in a single season throughout his career. In fact, in 138 career appearances the former Gremio forward has only scored 24 goals. With Mailson also having left Jeju, I would expect to see further movement from United to build a team that is capable of battling on three fronts.

Who's an "ideal" signing that would do well in the K League?

Someone who I feel would benefit from a return to K League and would certainly benefit Jeju United is winger Lee Chungyong from English Premier League side Crystal Palace. Lee has been starved of first team football during his time at Selhurst Park and could do with a move to revitalise his career in a World Cup year. He is from Seoul and he began his career with FC Seoul and so a move to Sangam may be seen as his preferred destination should be move back to his native Korea but given Jeju's ambitions of silverware and progress on the continent, an approach for Lee should at least be considered.

Acquiring the services of Lee Chungyong may be somewhat far-fetched, especially given that any notion of the former Bolton Wanderers winger was to return to K League was quickly rebuffed by the player's representatives. However, players of his ilk and in similar situations would be a good way to boost attendances, increase merchandise sales as well as improving the team. Someone like Ji Dongwon, who is another player who is suffering from a lack of first team football in Europe, would also fit the bill. The Augsburg man is yet to start a game this season and has made to make do with just three appearances from the bench. Ji is actually from Jeju-do, having grown up on the Chuja Islands and will be worried about his World Cup chances having found himself out of the national team picture somewhat of late. A permanent move would most likely be out of the question but a loan deal do help Ji play his way into Shin Taeyong's thoughts before heading to Russia in June wouldn't be altogether impossible.

(Image Credit: Getty Images)

Rim Changwoo (pictured above - number 15), the former Ulsan Hyundai and Daejeon Citizen right back, who will be fondly remembered as the player who scored the winner in the 2014 Asian Games Final against North Korea, has been plying his trade in the Middle East with Al Whada. Predominantly a right back who can operate in a back four or as a wing-back in a five, Rim is still fairly young at 25 years old and is military except on account of the aforementioned Asian Games Gold Medal. Rim impressed whilst on loan at Purple Arena and had a good follow up season the year after with Ulsan Hyundai. Rim is a player whom I would like to see make a return to the K League and play for a big club like Jeju United.

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