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Transfer Talk: Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

Lee Dong-gook signs for Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors for one more year, seeing him out until the end of the 2018 season

As they make their return to the AFC Champions League next month, K League Classic champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors enter the transfer window with a view to transforming their squad into one that can compete for a continental crown that they will feel still belongs to them. With room in the squad for foreign signings, and a strong framework to build upon, the North Jeolla side could prove even more formidable in 2018.
(Photo Credit: Hyundai-MotorsFC.com)

How active do you think your team will be in the Winter window?

With the highest wage budget by far, and the strongest team domestically for the last few seasons, Jeonbuk should have a side capable enough to compete for the title yet again without the need for major surgery. That said, the squad was stripped down due to lack of Champions League last season and there is a need to rebuild it back up to a side able to fight successfully on multiple fronts. With three of the four foreign spots now available, plus a very small strike force, there is certainly room for some imaginative signings in attack. Elsewhere, the team mostly needs to add depth to areas already high in quality, with ideally a central defender and midfielder to bolster the ranks.

What’s your team’s biggest area of need? Who are some potential targets you’d like to see fill those holes?

As alluded to, the strike force is severely lacking, with goals for the last two seasons mostly arriving from elsewhere in the team. Last season’s top goal scorer for the club Edu has now retired and soon-to-be 39 year old striker Lee Dong-Gook, despite extending his contract by a year, was mostly reduced to substitute appearances last season. Kim Shin-wook, the league’s highest paid player, is Jeonbuk’s only viable strike option at present, yet had an underwhelming season in a green shirt throughout 2017 and is in desperate need of competition for his place.

One name that has recently been touted is that of ex-FC Seoul man Adriano. The Brazilian left Jeonbuk's rivals at the end of 2016 for a hefty sum to play in the second tier of Chinese football for Shijiazhuang Yongchang. With rumours swirling that he is interested in returning to Korea, and given his proven track record in both this division and also the Champions League, the 30 year-old could prove to be a useful asset. Elsewhere, Daegu have already began to sign replacements for their Brazilian attackers Evandro and Junior Negao, despite no club having yet come in for them with an official offer. As a fan of both of these players, and with murmurs of interest supposedly coming from other K League teams for their services, I feel one of these would certainly be a capable addition if they were to turn up at Jeonju this winter.

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

Jeonbuk made their intentions clear at the end of the 2017 season in regards to who they wished to move on, with Éder being released by the club and Edu retiring. There are also five players listed for free agency, although defender Choi Chul-soon and goalkeeper Hong Jeong-nam are reportedly in negotiations for a new deal, which is a wise move by the club, certainly in the case of Choi at the very least.

As always, I would like to see some of the younger players loaned out for playing time, whether that be in the Challenge or in the National League. It certainly did a then 18 year old Kim Min-jae no harm by heading to non-league Gyeongju in 2016, only to come back and then return as a first team regular for Jeonbuk last year. Whilst he may very well be a special case given his ability, his move will hopefully let other youngsters at the club know that there is a path through to first team football.

What transfers have already taken place and how do you see them playing out in 2017?

Jeonbuk have signed four younger players, headlined by Korea's U20 goalkeeper Song Beom-keun, a prospect who supposedly was also attracting interest for the Bundesliga for his U20 World Cup heroics last summer. Whilst avid national team followers will be concerned about Song missing out on valuable playing time, what we did see last year is that Choi Kang-hee's first move when Kim Min-jae was sidelined was to replace the goalkeeper, thereby ensuring to meet the U23 quota in place in the league whereby one player in the starting eleven must be under 23 so the team can use three substitutes (otherwise only two). With last year's reserve goalkeeper Hwang Byeong-keun having now turned 24, the chances are Song will be first in line to fill the gloves of whoever the first team goalkeeper may be if Kim Min-jae faces injury or suspension.

While it is still yet to go through, Jeonbuk are currently in negotiations with 25 year old Pohang Steelers central midfielder Son Joon-ho. Son, racked up fourteen assists in the league last season, the highest in the division, and would be a welcome alternative in central midfielder if Lee Jae-sung leaves after the World Cup. That said, talks have stalled somewhat with the midfielder apparently only wanting a one-year deal as he harbours his own ambitions of playing on foreign shores, a deal that league rivals Suwon Bluewings are reportedly willing to offer him, but cannot yet negotiate with him due to league rules.

Who’s an “ideal” signing that would do well in the K League?

He may not be the most ideal, but seeing as there are numerous rumours linking him to Jeonbuk, Jiangsu Suning and former Bundesliga defender Hong Jeong-ho could do very well in this division. Not only him, but other Korean national team players who are facing a lack of game time at their club in a World Cup year should consider the peninsula. With the Chinese Super League boasting a number of international Korean players who have suffered due to last year's changes to China's foreign player quotas, and will face more problems with this year's alterations, K League clubs should be hoovering them up, even on loan deals, with the promise of much needed playing time and a chance to claim their seat on the plane to Russia. Whilst Korea's World Cup outlook looks pretty grim given their group, the national team needs to give itself the best possible chance as, when they do well, there's always the hope it will trickle through to the domestic league. This means players who boast the talent but are not receiving minutes on the field need to move now. The window is open in the K League, why not come home for a while?

Not only could it benefit the Korea squad, but having more Korean international players in the league could even catch the interest of a nation that, at times, feels like they are falling out of love with the game. While their return would certainly not fill the stadiums, it would at least give loyal fanbases a needed shot of optimism and the hope that their team can put in a better performance this season with the help of quality signings.

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