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2018 Season Preview: Daejeon Citizen

A completely revamped Daejeon Citizen squad, lead by fledgling manager Ko Jongsoo, will be hoping that the 2018 season is a much more successful year than that of 2017. After finishing rock bottom, new CEO Kim Ho has ruthlessly gone about building a squad for his protegee manager to lead Citizen back to the top flight but can Ko do what his last two predecessors couldn't?
(image via K League)

Daejeon Citizen were once a stalwart of the top tier; 2001 FA Cup winners and a club who once boasted of talented players such as legendary goalkeeper Choi Eunsung, who in terms of clean sheets, is bettered only by Kim Byungji,“Sharp” Kim Eunjung, the 3rd highest goal scorer in K League history and fifth highest appearance maker, and in more recent times, Brazilian ace Adriano who fired the Purples to promotion in 2014. But, even since that promotion-winning season four years ago, the Purples have fallen on hard times. With the inclusion of relegation and a second division in 2013, Citizen were seemingly starting to become somewhat of a yo-yo club of sorts. However, at present the Purple Arena faithful are still waiting for the inertia to reach its maximum and propel their beloved club back up again and into the promised land of the K League 1. But, having hit rock bottom and recording their lowest ever K League finish (bottom of the 2nd tier), the citizens of Daejeon’s expectations will be extremely low. Propping up the entire K League pyramid was an extremely bitter pill to swallow, attendances were down, and apathy levels were at an all time high. But, after a winter of hibernation and rebirth, 2018 may just be the year in which the Purples propel themselves back into relevancy, back into the top tier and go some way in repaying back the hardcore fans for their unwavering faith.

Last Season

W6-D11-L19, 10th (last place)

What Happened?

Quite simply, last season was nothing short of an absolute disaster for Daejeon Citizen. Whatever it was that the hierarchy at Purple Arena wanted to achieve during the Club's 20th anniversary year, by finishing bottom of the second tier, it can be deduced that they failed spectacularly. The previous year was underwhelming but one doesn't believe that many people were expecting Citizen to be quite so hopeless last term. No leadership, no standout players, and not enough experience meant that Citizen endured a torrid year.

In the dugout, life as a manager seemed to be overwhelming for Lee Youngik who never got to grips with the job nor the players he had at his disposal. The former Gyeongnam number two lasted until the end of summer before he was eventually sacked. By then, though, the damage was already done and Citizen were staring at a dog fight to avoid finishing bottom. A lack of direction at board level seemed to filter its way down to the players and Daejeon Citizen finished rock bottom of the, what was then the K League Challenge (now K League 2).

Notable Moves

As has been the norm in recent years, certainly for Daejeon Citizen, a relatively new squad of players has been assembled with those readying themselves to don the purple jerseys his year bearing little resemblance to that of 2017.

One of the more notable incomings is Slovakian winger Filip Hlohovsky who scored four goals in 13 starts for Seongnam last year and looked set to continue his K League career with the Magpies this term. However, much to the surprise of many, the 29-year-old signed for Citizen over the winter and, given his impressive CV, could be a really shrewd acquisition for the Purples. Hlohovsky has won league titles and domestic cups in his native Slovakia and has international caps to his name, too. In 2016/2017 season, prior to the Handlova native's move to Seongnam, Hlohovsky was the Fortuna Liga's top scorer with 20 goals as MSK Zilina went on to win the Championship, the third of his career.

(Image via Seongnam FC)

Kim Jinyoung is goalkeeper who has represented Korea at U17 and U20 level arrives at Purple Arena with great promise. Kim Jinyoung spent three years at the Steel Yard after being selected in the 2014 draft and made his debut for the club in the AFC Champions League, a 1-0 defeat away to Sydney FC. The 25-year-old custodian made three appearances in the ACL that year and went on to make 20 appearances in the League but has largely been used as an understudy to Shin Hwayong and Kang Hyeonmu but will feel as though he is ready to make the step up and be a number 1.

There should also be mentions for Seongnam FC trio Ahn Sunghyun, Ahn Jaejoon and Oh Jangeun as well as former Gangwon FC skipper Baek Jonghwan who should add some much-needed quality. Korea under 23 defender Ko Myeongseok, who joined from Bucheon 1995, could also prove to be a shrewd signing.

In terms of outgoings, Hwang Inbeom is the most notable after the Korea U23 international decided to begin his mandatory military service early and join the police team Asan Mugunghwa in K League 2. Hwang Inbeom burst onto the scene in 2015 and made 14 appearances in what was then the K League Classic and scored four goals, including an absolute screamer at home to Jeonbuk Hyundai. The Daejeon-born midfielder has been touted as a future star and has been a first team regular for the Purples for the last three years. His absence will be felt and it will be down to manager Ko Jongsoo, once a flamboyant midfielder himself, to find someone to fill that void.

Needs

Quite simply Citizen need a leader on the pitch, or several leaders rather, as a distinct lack of character last year attributed to their bottom-placed finish. A cultured centre back is also what Daejeon have been crying out for every since Jean-Claude Bozga was allowed to leave in 2016. Given how busy Daejeon have been in the transfer market, particularly with defensive recruits, seems as though this areas have been addressed by new manager Ko Jongsoo. Before setting off for their winter training camp in Antalya, Turkey Ko was quick to announce who his captains will be this season, namely Oh Jangeun and Ahn Sanghyeon who will be captain and vice captain respectively.

Citizen lacked character last year but they also lacked a pacey striker. Pedro Henrique has arrived from ASC Poli Timisoara of the Romanian Liga 1 and so Ko will be hoping that the Brazilian can be the man to fire Daejeon into the playoffs. Last term Pedro scored five goals from 10 starts and had his most prolific season in 2014/2015 where he netted 11. But, if Citizen are to challenge for promotion then they are going to need a striker who can bag upward of 15 league goals.

Key Player 

Filip Hlohovsky

Hlohovsky will be seen as Citizen's marquee signing of the winter thus far and will certainly be one of the players that the Purple Arena faithful will be looking forward to seeing in action. The former Magpie has been in Korea for sixth months and so will have had ample time to adjust to life south of the 38th parallel. A flair player like Hlohovsky is someone who could excite the fans, wade in with some important goals, as well as provide assists for the likes of Park Daehoon, Kim Chanhee and Pedro Henrique up front.

Biggest Question 

Can Daejeon Citizen become relevant again?

Languishing in the second tier for the past two seasons, whilst seldom looking close to returning to the top flight has almost rendered the Purples irrelevant, as harsh as that may sound. Clubs with similar or even smaller budgets have gone on to mount playoff challenges whilst Citizen peaked at mid-table mediocrity. The gap between the top of the second division and the bottom of the first is getting narrower every year meaning that teams like Daejeon, Anyang, Ansan and the such like are in danger of being cut adrift into an irrelevant existence that Goyang and Chungju had experienced before both clubs eventually folded. Teams like Busan, Bucheon, Suwon FC and Seongnam FC have strengthened their squads with some smart acquisitions, players with proven K League pedigree. Have Daejeon recruited well enough to keep up with those teams? That remains to be seen but it was clear that a complete rebuild was needed.

(Image via Sports Today)

Reason to Watch

Daejeon have a fledgling manager in charge once again but in Ko Jongsoo, they haven’t had a gaffer with such a medal-laden career. In his playing days Ko won two K League titles, an FA Cup, two AFC Champions Leagues, was in the K League best XI in 1998 and 1999 and in 1998 was voted the K League MVP. All eyes will be on Ko Jongsoo to see whether the 38 capped former Korean international can make the transition into management like many of his 1998 World Cup teammates have like Kim Dohoon, Seo Jungwon and Choi Yongsoo.

But, frankly, it simply cannot get any worse that last year. In the second tier Daejeon Citizen are a relatively big club and were perhaps seen as a bit of a scalp by the likes of Anyang, Ansan and Seoul E-Land but 2018 needs to be the year where Citizen become hard to beat. No doubt, eyes will be on Citizen to see if there is a reaction to last year and can restore some pride and dignity by ridding themselves of their recent reputation as being the league's whipping boys.

K League 2 Fixtures: here

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