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Column: How Much Longer Does Hwang Sunhong Have Left at FC Seoul?

How long does Hwang Sunhong have left at FC Seoul?
With just three games played of the 2018 season, already the pressure is mounting on under-fire FC Seoul manager Hwang Sunhong. To talk of a manager losing his job so early in the campaign may appear a little premature but, frankly, the problems stem much further back. With an expectant and frustrated fan base mounting the pressure, how long does the former Korean international striker have left at the helm at FC Seoul?
(Image via K League)


Although last year was somewhat of a disaster for FC Seoul, finishing fifth in the league, exiting the AFC Champions League at the group stage, as well as being eliminated form the FA Cup by K League 2 side Busan IPark, there was at least one or two things worth salvaging form the wreckage. FC Seoul had a core of players who knew the club well that could be used to build around. One of whom was military exempt and the Club's leading assist maker in Yun Illok, they also had the league's second highest goalscorer in Dejan Damjanovic, proving that even at 36 netting upward of 15 goals is still within his capabilities, and they had Osmar Barba Ibanez, a versatile and composed midfielder who made the most interceptions in the league. All of whom, however, were allowed to depart. The most shocking, of course, was Dejan's move to Suwon Bluewings.

However, during the off season Hwang Sunhong was adamant that there was method to his madness. The reason why the former Pohang Steelers manager was allowing the likes of Dejan and Osmar, who were, frankly, treat shoddily and left rather unceremoniously, to leave was all in the name of rebuilding with an emphasis on youth, using the likes of promising youngster Cho Youngwook as an example.

However, it is worth noting that in November last year Hwang Sunhong went on record to state that he "absolutely wants to keep both Park Chuyoung and Dejan for next year" (Source: Naver) but this was dismissed out of hand by Dejan himself. It was spin. It was suggested that Dejan ought to hang up his boots instead.

FC Seoul did keep 32-year-old Park Chuyoung, however, and was given a new, three-year contract, despite producing a mere three goals from open play last season, eight in total which included for penalties. The former Arsenal and Monaco man didn't offer too much in the way of assists either, offering up just one in 34 appearances, 14 from the start. In addition, veteran defender Kwak Taehwi, who endured a torrid 2017 season, remain in the squad and the likes of Cho Youngwook (19), Yoon Seungwon (23), Kim Hangil (22) have barely featured this, certainly for Cho and Yoon who have had to make do with cameo appearances in the closing stages of games. 

It takes time for a new team to gel and Seoul are notoriously slow starters to seasons but Hwang has shown little to dispel the fears of FC Seoul supporters with the way that he has approached games and managed games when he has needed to make tactical adjustments. Ultimately, already there is little to indicate that it is going to get much better. 

FC Seoul have had three tough games to start the season; Jeju away, an exciting-looking Gangwon side at home, and the trip to Jeonju Castle on Sunday. But, one point from three games is a worry no matter who you face, especially for a team like FC Seoul. Incheon United at home after the international break which now is a must-win game because the fixture that follows is the first Super Match of the season. I said in my season preview and on our season preview show that if FC Seoul failed to get at least one result against one of the big clubs in those first five or six games then questions ought to be asked of Hwang Sunhong. 

In-game Management

Whilst Hwang Sunhong's team selections have been baffling throughout his tenure at Sangam, his tendency to dither when it comes to making tactical adjustments in the game is a cause for concern as well. In the 0-0 draw away to Jeju United, which was a good result it has to be said, Hwang made a double substitution on 76 minutes, bringing on Yoon Seungwon for Go Yohan and Park Heeseong for Park Chuyoung in what were like-for-like substitutions. Quite why Go Yohan was playing left wing is another matter but it wasn't the personal that was the problem against Jeju, it was the system. Then, with just four minutes remaining, Hwang brings on Cho Youngwook; that's not enough time for a young debutant to make an impact. Credit where credit is due, Hwang wanted to go for the win rather than settling for a draw and that has to be commended, but his inability to change the system or have a plan B, and to do so at the right time is a worry.

Against Gangwon in the following game, Kovacec started on the left wing but was eventually substituted. His replacement, Lee Sangho, was ineffective but then Hwang waited until the 77th and 82nd minutes to make adjustments. Evandro came on to make his debut, and looked dangerous it must be said, replacing for Park Chuyoung before Cho Youngwook, a young winger/forward then came on for defensive midfielder Jung Hyeoncheol with just eight minutes left; that's too late especially when you take the timings of Gangwon's goals into consideration - 51 and 59 minutes. The Kovacec substitution was a reaction to going 2-1 down but the game needed opening up not slowing down which Lee Sangho has the tendency to do. Again, Hwang dithered and by the time any further changes were made it was too late. Evandro looked dangerous but wasn't even in the squad the following week.

Against Jeonbuk away on Sunday it was a similar story. Hwang Sunhong waited until the 82nd minute to finally make some tactical changes, introducing wingers Yoon Seungwon and Cho-Youngwook who replaced striker Park Heeseong and defensive midfielder Jung Hyeoncheol respectively. But, again, it was too little too late and, and in the end it was only down to a superb free kick from Kim Seongjun that allowed Seoul to halve the deficit. The players on the pitch won the game for Jeonbuk but the manager lost it for FC Seoul.

With Jeonbuk's first goal coming after 53 minutes there was still plenty of time for FC Seoul to get back into the game. On the bench Hwang had attacking options to choose from such as Ivan Kovacec, Yoon Seungwon and Cho Youngwook but dithered and waited far too long to make any tactical adjustments. Choi Kanghee, however didn't dither and that was the difference. Managers like Choi Kanghee know when to make changes; on Sunday despite being 1-0 up he brought off a defensive midfielder and brought on Adriano who then went on to score.

How Long?

So, how long does Hwang Sunhong have left? That remains to be seen as the board clearly have faith in him. After last season his position seemed to be untenable but those making the decisions upstairs have backed him and he has remained in charged. Now, after some unimaginative and lifeless performances in the final third in particular, the fans are becoming restless. The team, bar goalkeeper Yang Hanbin, were booed off for a second consecutive game on Sunday and that in itself is telling because even when Seoul unceremoniously exited the AFC Champions League, the fans were still with the manager and the team. Luckily for Hwang, the international break may take the heat off but Incheon United is a game that Seoul simply must win. And, the Super Match at Big Bird is now a game that Seoul must not lose. 

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