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2018 Season Preview: Busan IPark

After a heartbreaking end to 2017, Busan IPark have assembled a new-look team for a fresh crack at promotion back to K League 1. Led by new manager Choi Yoon-gyum, can they succeed where they fell so agonisingly short last year?
(image via Busanipark.com)

Last Season

W19-D11-L6, 2nd place (eliminated in play-off final)

What Happened?

Busan IPark enjoyed a consistent 2017 that promised much. While Gyeongnam had the title and automatic promotion wrapped up for months, Busan were always a shoe-in for a play-off place, and they finished second with a healthy cushion of points. Coach Cho Jin-ho, the mastermind behind the promotion charge, tragically passed away with the season coming to its close, and unfortunately the team couldn't finish the job, losing the promotion-relegation play-off final in a penalty shootout to Sangju Sangmu. To rub salt into the wounds, they were also defeated in a two-legged FA Cup final to Ulsan Hyundai, leaving the team without promotion, a trophy, or anything to show for their mostly impressive campaign.

Notable Moves

Farewell to the Old Guard

After managing to keep hold of the core of the team for two years after their relegation from K1, this winter finally saw the exit of some of the squad's longest serving and most talented players. Wingers Lim Sang-hyub (to Suwon Bluewings) and Jung Seok-hwa (Gangwon FC) will be missed, as will talismanic forward Lee Jung-hyub (on loan to Japanese team Shonan Bellmare). Brazilian centre back Danny Morais, arguably the team's most consistent performer in 2017, is another notable departure.

New Old Heads

New coach Choi Yoon-gyum is no stranger to this league, having guided Gangwon FC to promotion via the playoffs in 2016. Two of his first signings for Busan were veteran full backs Kim Chi-woo from FC Seoul and new captain Lee Jong-min from Gwangju FC. Both 34 years old, they have experience in bags and will be valuable assets to this heavily reshuffled squad.

A Controversial Front Line

With top-scorer and most bankable asset Lee Jung-hyub away across the East Sea, Busan have brought in two new Brazilian strikers to fill the void. First is the tall and speedy Jonathan Balotelli, a man whose last goal came in the qualifying rounds in the UEFA Champions League while playing for Macedonian team Vardar.

The second is Alemao Junior, a more traditional centre forward who also comes with experience in Europe, having scored goals in the Mexican league, Italy's Serie B, and the Dutch second division. Alemao announced his move to Korea by posting an Instagram photo of himself making a racist facial gesture, and as yet there have been no explanations or apologies from the player. As a footballer he may prove to be a successful signing, but after such a controversial entrance this man already comes with a huge point to prove.


One of Busan's shortcomings last season was the lack of a clinical finisher, so perhaps the most disappointing move of the window from Busan's perspective is Bucheon's signing of Willian Popp. He scored 18 goals for Busan in 2016, a proven marksman, but Busan will instead have to rely on two Brazilians who are untested in Asia. Fans will hope that they make the sort of impact that Marcao made for Gyeongnam last year, but if not, expect changes to the front line come the summer.

At the other end of the field, Busan boasted a mean defensive record last year. There has, however, been an exodus of centre-backs in this transfer window, with Lee Kyung-ryul (Jeonnam Dragons), Danny Morais, Lim You-hwan and Cha Young-hwan (Sangju Sangmu for military service) all departing. The only new blood is former Korea U-23 captain Yeon Jae-min, who impressed while on loan at Busan in 2014 but played little for a struggling Jeonnam side last year. Jeong Ho-jeong, Hong Jin-gi and the promising Kim Jong-hyuk are the other options in the centre of defence, but given that these players were essentially back-ups last year, a big experienced Aussie would be a welcome late signing.

Key Player 

Lee Jae-kwon

Older brother of national team and Jeonbuk midfielder Lee Jae-sung, central midfielder Lee Jae-kwon is a classy performer who pulls the strings in the middle of the park. Signed from Daegu midway through last season, Lee is neat and tidy in possession, can pick a pass and also get forward when the situation calls.

The signing of veteran holding midfielder Song Chang-ho should give Lee more freedom to create, and alongside Brazilian youngster Romulo, signed permanently after impressing on loan last year, Busan will hope that they have a midfield heart that can create chances and dominate matches.

Biggest Question 

Will this be the year Busan finally achieve promotion?

One of Korea's biggest clubs, Busan have invested heavily in the squad since their relegation in 2015. Now in their third season in K League 2, they'll have a fight on their hands just to match last year's achievements. Several teams in K2 have strengthened in this window, most notably Asan Mugunghwa and Suwon FC, while Busan, on paper at least, look to have a weaker squad than last year.

With Gyeongnam out of the picture, can IPark step up and dominate the league, or did they miss their big chance last year? We can expect a much tighter top half of the table this year, and I'd be surprised if Busan had such a comfortable ride into the promotion places this time around. However, there is still enough quality there for a serious challenge.

Reason to Watch

Last year Busan were one of the league's more entertaining teams to watch, and they gathered a lot of support from neutrals even before Cho Jin-ho's passing. Despite losing some big names, there's a lot of talent still in this squad; exciting young wingers Kim Moon-hwan and Lee Dong-jun are two especially who could really shine this year.

If they can play similar football to last year, Busan will be fast and aggressive, and they will score goals and control games. It will be fascinating to see if Choi Yoon-gyum can get the team playing like Cho Jin-ho did. Those are some big shoes to fill.

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