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playoffs

2018 Season Preview: Gyeongnam FC

After strolling to promotion from the K League Challenge last season, Gyeongnam FC make their return to top flight football. Having been unchallenged for so long, how will they fare against top tier opposition?
(image via Gyeongnam FC Facebook)

Last Season - Played 36, Won 24, Drew 7 and Lost 5.  Champions.

What happened?

Promoted side Gyeongnam FC romped to the title last season in the Challenge by eleven points over nearest challengers and local rivals, Busan IPark.

They finished with a record points total in the second division with 79 points. The key factor here was the Reds scoring prowess in front of goal. They bagged 69 goals for the season and at the forefront of this was the league's top scorer, Marcao; who finished with 22 goals in all competitions. The whole team from the attack all the way back to the goalkeeper excelled way beyond expectations last season. Gyeongnam conceded only 36 goals in the whole of the campaign (3rd best in the league) which says a lot about how well drilled and organized the defense was as a unit. The spine of the team was superb and the camaraderie throughout the squad was brilliant.  They go up as Champions into K League 1 looking to build on their superb success in 2017.

Notable Moves

Two moves out of the Gyeongnam side which will undoubtly hurt them is losing key midfielder Jeong Hyeon-cheol and winger Jung Won-jin.

Hyeon-cheol is a player I personally loved watching last season. A box to box midfielder who is good in the air, loves a tackle, and pops up in the box to score some very important goals. He was stand in captain if Baek In-jo was out of the side. However, he moved up north and joined FC Seoul earlier this winter. I expect him to be in the national side in the not too distant future.

Jeong Hyeon-Cheol happy to be plying his trade with FC Seoul. (Picture courtesy of Naver images)

Jung Won-jin was on loan from Pohang FC and what a key asset he proved to be for Gyeongnam. A dead ball specialist who scored 10 goals and set up 10 more in his debut season for the Reds. A truly remarkable return. He scored some wonderful free kicks and his delivery in general was a menace for defenders. He returns to Pohang as the fee they offered Gyeongnam to buy him was too expensive.

Notable exits aside, there have been some very positive players that have come into the side and the shake up has definitely improved Gyeongnam's already strong squad. We let 22 players go and brought in 21 with seven of them making the grade up from university and high school.

The winger from Brazil, Negueba, has joined from Brazilian side Ponte Preta, and leads the notable moves. A Brazilian U20 international whose main assets are his pace, trickery, and delivery from wide areas.  He hasn't set the world alight in the clubs he has played for in the past, so the jury will be out on him as the season gets underway.  It has to be noted that before joining Gyeongnam, Marcao also had a very average record for the clubs he had previously played for.  Look how that move turned out!

Within the league, Kim Shin, a winger/striker has also signed from Bucheon FC; a player I was always impressed with when we played against them last season.  He is a menace for defenders with plenty of tricks in the bag and an eye for goal. He had to shed a few pounds from last year though, and from looking at pictures of him in pre season, it would appear he certainly has lost a few kilos!

Additionally, Jo Jae-cheol has returned to GFC. The graceful midfielder comes back South to again play where he played for two seasons between 2012-2014. A crowd favorite who will be welcomed back with open arms I'm sure.

Other moves of interest would be the Japanese winger/forward Takahiro Kunimoto. An exciting prospect at just 20-years-old, he will have to adjust to K League quickly if he's to succeed. Bags of talent, but I have heard his attitude can come into question at times.

Exciting winger Kunimoto with the Gyeongnam Chairman after signing for the reds.
(Picture via Gyeongnam official Facebook group)
Special mentions must go to Kim Hyo-gi, who signed from FC Anyang with a prolific goalscoring record at high school and university level. He started his professional career playing for Ulsan where he never really made the step up, but has remained a great natural finisher if given a sniff in front of goal.

Lastly, winger Lee Jae-myeong will make his return from Jeonbuk this year. A local lad who started his footballing life with Gyeongnam before being snapped up by Jeonbuk back in 2013 due to his impressive displays in Changwon. He played a few games before completing his mandatory military service for Sangju. After an injury plagued stint with the army outfit, he signed on a free over the winter. He operates well as a left back and can fill in at center back when called upon as well.

Needs

This was a tough one for me to answer as the whole club is on a natural high from winning promotion. But if I was to answer what Gyeonganm's needs are it's definitely a better way of keeping a clean sheet and how to see out a win.  In the Challenge league last season they had the mentality of "if you score 2, we'll just score 3 to beat you." Even with that mentality, Gyeongnam conceded the 3rd least goals in the second division last season while only recording nine clean sheets. It didn't help that the manager didn't know his best goalkeeper until a season ending injury to Lee Bum-soo after a dozen games forced his hand to turn to Lee Joon-hee as first choice. The strikers in K League 1 will be much better than K2, so this is an issue that needs to be addressed.


Another issue to be addressed in the step up to K1 is the need to feed Marcao from both flanks. GFC will need to continue to get crosses into the box and onto his head. Losing the aforementioned Lee Won-jin and fellow countryman Bruno who signed for Suwon FC in K2 will hurt Gyeongnam. They both formed a great understanding with the big man and assisted the leading goalscorer with a high majority of his goals. New signings Kunimoto, Negueba, and club captain Baek In-jo have big shoes to fill.

Key Player

Marcao


It's the obvious response, but it's just so hard to overlook the hitman. He was a marked man last season in Challenge, but still terrorized defences with his sheer pace and power. He is a 195cm man-mountain who – if given the right delivery into the box – will beat anyone in the air if he gets a run on you.  He scored some breath taking goals last year with both his head and his feet.  He now needs to up his game further and pit his wits against much better defenders who will know all about his game after the devastating season he had last campaign for the reds.  I for one can't wait to see Marcao in K1.

Marcao celebrating one of his twenty two goals last season. (Picture courtesy of google images)


Biggest Question

Can Gyeongnam establish themselves in amongst the best in the K1 for years to come?

The fans here deserve a top flight football team. Gyeongnam are proud to have a football specific stadium, which in my eyes is deserving of the best teams and players coming and playing here. The Reds don't want to become a "yo-yo" club and be up and down the divisions. Relegation became a reality back in the 2015 season and it hit the club hard financially with the loss of sponsorship and all the main players moving on to pastures new. The first season up is going to be tough of course, and everyone at the club are under no illusions about it. I personally think just staying up would be a good achievement.

To bring the crowds back and to make Changwon as a city fall in love with football again,  Gyeongnam have to be pitting their wits against the best in the country and staying in the top flight for years to come. The crowd figures over the last few seasons have dipped dramatically for this reason and the NC Dinos (the local baseball team) becoming very successful in such a short space of time hasn't helped either. The locals would rather venture out to Masan to watch a successful baseball team than Gyeongnam.  Bringing K League 1 football back to the area will see an increase in crowd figures from home and away fans alike.

Reasons to watch

Goals, goals, goals! The Reds found the net with a swagger last season and some of the football to go along with it was sublime. It was K league 1 standard. Can Marcao continue his amazing goalscoring feats at a higher level compared to last season?

Manager Kim Jong-boo's tactics last season were bordering on genius at times. He is a ruthless gaffer and isn't shy of bringing a player off it they are having a stinker. I lost count how many times he made a change tactically at half time last year and it paid off. Seeing his transition to K1 should be interesting as well.

The masterful tactician that is Kim Jong-boo. (Picture courtesy of google images)
For away supporters, have a nice day out down south in Changwon, and come and see Gyeongnam's football specific ground. To be so close to the pitch is brilliant. After having a few seasons in the Challenge and needing binoculars to see if you have scored or not wore very thin very quickly.  Gyeongnam's stadium is a state of the art complex and in my eyes one of the best stadiums in the whole of Korea!

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