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2018 Season Preview: Gwangju FC

Gwangju enter the new season having been relegated from the top flight after a dismal showing in which they managed only six wins and only 30 points.  The last time the team was in the second tier, they finished second.  The goal is to get back to the the Classic next season, but with the Challenge looking quite competitive this year, a lot of work needs to be done for that goal to be achieved.
(Image via gwangju-infos.com)

Last Season

6-12-20, relegated

What Happened?

Everything that could go wrong last season, did.  After winning their opener against newly promoted Daegu to start the season, they went on a seven game winless streak, before recording their second victory, a 1-0 success at home to Jeonbuk at the end of April.  They would have to wait just over two months for their next win in July, going eight matches without success in the league, while back to back victories in October were of little solace as they were destined to bow out of the top division at season's end.  One thing is for certain - newly appointed manager Park Jin-seob, who joined the club in December, will have a huge task on his hands to bring the club back to respectability.

Notable Moves

The status of Niall McGinn in the squad will leave questions in attack.  The Northern Irishman left the club as a free agent after spending only half a season in the K League, coming over from his current club, Scottish Premiership side Aberdeen FC on a free transfer last July.  He appeared eight times for the team last season, and although he did not register a goal, his value was felt more in the fact that he played both wings in attack, with his main position being on the left, and also played as a striker.  However, he wasn't used often when caretaker manager Kim Hak-bum took over, so what his role with the club will be this season is up in the air, but he didn't look effective in a recent friendly.

Japanese attacking midfielder Minori Sato joined the club in the off-season.  Although a well-traveled player throughout his career, he has competition experience in Europe and the Middle East on his resume, and could be key to the club's offensive ball distribution as an assist man.  The brunt of his experience comes from playing in the Latvian Virsliga, where he won a championship with FK Ventspils in 2011.  There is hope that his European experience in particular can have a positive effect on his new teammates. 

Brazilian center forward Gil arrived from Serie B's Esporte Clube in January, replacing fellow countryman Wanderson, whose loan spell ended.  It is hoped that he will be able to provide the offensive spark that the team needs, but he will first need to adjust to the league and how the game is played here.  Brazilian players have had a great degree of success playing in Korea, and that is what the club is banking on, having paid a 75,000 pound fee for his services.

Needs

The most obvious need is up front, as the team needs to greatly improve its goal output if it wants to even consider making a return to the Classic next season.  With some experienced talent coming into the fold, the hope is that the team will be able to gel quickly and get off to a much better start compared to last season.  Consistency and continuity, albeit in a positive way, will be crucial to the team's hopes this season.  The time is now to put last season's debacle behind them.  The sooner they focus on the job at hand, the better chance they have of staying down in the second tier for only one year.

The defensive scheme also has to be revamped in a big way, as Gwangju surrendered 60 goals in the 2017 campaign.  However, there were not many additions to the back line, as Kim Tae-yun was the only notable name on the arrivals list, coming over from Seongnam FC.  Ryu Eon-jae also came over from Suwon FC, but it remains to be seen how much of an impact both players will have.  If Gwangju fail to shore up their defensive corps, it could be another long season, and could signal a lengthy spell away from top flight football.

Key Player

Ahn Yeong-kyun

The 28 year old defensive midfielder is the captain of the side this year.  He returned from a loan spell at Asan Mugunghwa in September of last year after completing his military service.  Upon his return, he was put into the leadership role, so a lot will be expected from him on the pitch and his performances will be closely scrutinized.

He appeared for the club already in the 2015 season, so he is already familiar with the organization, which will be a plus for him in terms of acclimatizing his new teammates to the club.  He will surely be aware of the importance that having a good 2018 will mean for the club's immediate future, but there is obviously a lot of confidence in him to get the job done.  

Biggest Question

Can this team be any worse than it was last year?

It could be said that midway through last season, it was almost a foregone conclusion that Gwangju would be the team to be relegated, and that proved true as they finished five points clear at the bottom when November finally came.  While some upgrades were made to the attack, there is no guarantee that the new signings will work out, although the club has high hopes they will.  The problem is that it seems not enough was done in the transfer window to strengthen one of the league's most porous defensive units from a year ago.  With this in mind, it's hard to see them making any considerable strides when they kick off next month.  

One bright spot is that they are coming into the season with a young coach, 40 year old Park Jin-seob, who steps in following the departure of Kim Hak-bum, who patrolled the sidelines for the second half of last season.  It seems there is a bit of a trend going on in Korean football these days with the introduction of younger coaches, and Gwangju certainly hope it is a move that pays off.

Reason to Watch

Gwangju is one of the youngest teams in Korean football, having only been established in December 2010.  They were relegated after their first season but completed a turnaround to finish runners up in the Challenge in 2014.  The same kind of effort will be needed this year to improve on last year's misfortune.

The positive is that there is some foreign content in the side, so it could make them a bit more attractive to watch as opposed to last year.  Other than that, there is little reason to get excited about them ahead of the new season.  It will be interesting to see what the players' motivation levels are following relegation, as it will ultimately define their season.  But, even the second tier could prove tricky for them to navigate, as there are clubs in the division which have not been promoted in a few years, so going back up will be no easy task.

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