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Column: An Ode to Lee Heungsil

Lee Heungsil resignation Ansan Greeners K League 2
After nine straight defeats, the resignation of Lee Heungsil, Ansan's long-serving manager, comes as no surprise, but he does leave a significant imprint on football in the city of Ansan.
(Image via K League)

The resignation of Lee Heungsil as manager of Ansan Greeners did not come as a complete surprise, and had a sense of 'jump before being pushed' with the Greeners languishing at the bottom of the K2 having suffered nine straight defeats. How then, should Ansan Greeners fans view Lee’s era? There is a strong case to put Lee into the spot of being Ansan’s greatest manager, but to understand why, we need to look into Ansan’s and Lee’s past.

Career History

Gyeongnam-born Lee represented Hanyang University in his youth career before going on to become something of a Pohang legend, scoring over 40 goals from midfield for the then-POSCO Atoms, and winning the Young K League Player of the Year award in 1985. He also won six caps for the full Korean National Team between 1982 and 1990. Lee would reappear into the Korean football spotlight in 2012 with a brief stint as caretaker manager of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, a team he had ‘sort of’ represented as a player after turning out for Wansan Puma for a short spell. Heungsil guided Jeonbuk to a second-place K League finish but crashed out in the group stages of the AFC Champions League. He would then come back on the K League radar when taking over the national police team Ansan Mugunghwa in 2015.

Success or Failure?

It is this appointment that stands at the juncture of how Lee is remembered in Ansan. Do we see football in Ansan as originating in 2007 with Ansan Hallelujah, the first franchise to play professional football in the city? Or, certainly given the explosion in the fan base, is the third franchise to play in the city, Ansan Greeners, a total cut-off from history? Those who have followed  football in Ansan from the early days would argue for the former, with the Green Wolves being something of a 3.0 team. The club also see it this way, proudly displaying the only major honour for the club in its trophy room, the K League Challenge title, now the K League 2, won by Lee Heungsil at the helm of Ansan Mugunghwa. In 2017, it was announced that the police franchise would be moving on to Asan, and a new citizen franchise would be opening up with investment from Hyundai Mipo Dockyard, with the dissolved third division team team Ulsan Dolphins moving their squad to the new team in Ansan. Lee Heungsil was chosen to guide this new side into a new era for Ansan football history, and for fans, the appointment could not have been better.

Lee guided Ansan Mugunghwa to the K League Challenge title in 2016 (image via K League)

Ansan 3.0

The Greeners' maiden season under Lee can be judged as something of a small success, guiding a team mostly made up of third tier players to ninth place out of ten teams, but with some memorable victories, and in touching distance of mid-table. It looked as if Ansan would kick-on in 2018 after an explosive start, taking fifteen points from the first eight games, but things would soon fall apart. A constantly changing formation, each game being a surprise in that respect, along with seemingly meaningless rotation as a potential throwback to what Lee would have had been forced to do in his time as the police manager, left fans frustrated. Incidents such as taking Conneh off the penalty in Busan which was subsequently missed, even after Conneh had buried one in the prior home game smacked of indiscipline. Not settling on the first choice goalkeeper also confused matters, with Lee Heeseong and Hwang Sungmin being seemingly on rotation, coming in for several games before switching out again. Some blame must also be laid at the door of the players, though. Jang Hyukjin, a creative maestro last season has had an indifferent season, while the early season promise displayed by Choi Hojoo and Lee Geon has faded. A lengthy injury to last season’s top scorer Raul has also not helped matters.

Ansan Greeners players celebrate the clubs first ever win, 4th March 2017 (Image via K League)

The End

The run of nine straight defeats, beginning on June 30th, and including the extra time FA Cup defeat to Asan, marked the end of Heungsil’s tenure. Ansan scored just twice in this run, both goals coming in the most damning defeat of all, a 3-2 defeat at Anyang, with Ansan’s Line 4 Derby rivals climbing off the bottom of the K2 and dumping Ansan there in their place and a  contrast to Heungsil’s greatest managerial triumph, the 3-2 victory at Anyang on the last day of the 2016 season to secure the league title. It is also with some irony that Heungsil decided to leave after a 1-0 home defeat to Asan Mugunghwa on August 26th.

The terrible run of form over the summer inevitably spelt the end of Lee Heungsil’s three-and-a-half year stint as Ansan manager, however he also leaves a legacy of being the man who delivered Ansan’s only ever triumph, and it for this he should be remembered in the hearts and minds of Ansan fans, as it is embodied in the K League Challenge trophy in a room overlooking the Wa Stadium pitch.

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