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2018 Season Review: Busan IPark

2018 saw another season of exciting football and playoff drama for Busan IPark. After a solid third place finish in the K League 2, Busan missed out on promotion after an entertaining two-legged tie with FC Seoul. Now facing a fourth consecutive year in the second division, Busan IPark have a long winter of rebuilding up ahead, but they'll be doing it without manager Choi Yoon-gyeom, who stepped down at the season's close.

What Went Well

Busan IPark always looked likely to be involved in the playoffs, even from very early in the season. On the whole Busan had a consistent 2018; they put a few decent runs together, and there was even a point towards the end of the season when automatic promotion was in their own hands. Statistically they had the second best attack and the second best defence in the league, and at times they played some excellent attacking football that was a pleasure to watch.

Coach Choi Yoon-gyeom has to be given credit for developing young players like Kim Moon-hwan, Kim Jin-gyu, and Kim Myung-joon, all of whom became vital components of Busan's promotion attempt. The midfield pivot of Lee Jae-kwon and the outstanding Romulo was a formidable partnership, and the attacking talents of the likes of Ko Kyung-min and Han Ji-ho provided plenty of memorable moments.

What Didn't Go Well

This was the third year in a row that Busan stumbled in the playoffs, and the second year that they lost out in the playoff final. After acquitting themselves well early on in the first leg of the final with FC Seoul, Busan had a 1-0 lead and looked to be cruising into K1 until a rash challenge from Kwon Jin-young resulted in a red card and turned the tie on its head. Unfortunately for Kwon, who was stepping in after a string of injuries to Busan's central defenders, the foul will be remembered by many as the moment that defined the club's season.

Of course, it would be naïve and unfair to blame one player for Busan's failure to get promoted, or even to suggest that Busan deserved promotion at all. The disbanding of Asan Mugunghwa afforded Busan an advantage in the playoffs that they didn't make count, and it should be remembered that the seasiders finished the regular season in third place and 16 points off the military side.

Mental strength has been questioned at times, not least in the vital home match with Ansan Greeners at the end of October. With automatic promotion in their own hands, Busan didn't turn up for the game and let Seongnam take the honorary top spot for themselves. Throughout the season there were also far too many points dropped at home, especially through late goals.

Choi Yoon-gyeom, who stepped down from his position after failing to achieve promotion, has to take some responsibility for Busan's failings this year. He will ultimately be judged by his signings, which were almost uniformly poor. Apart from Kim Chi-woo at left-back, almost every single one of Choi's signings flopped. It speaks volumes that all of the team's most impressive performers were already at the club before Choi's appointment, and of his signings only Kim at left-back was involved to any real extent in the vital playoff games.

Young Player of the Year

Kim Moon-hwan had a stellar year personally, earning his first callup to the Korean national team and winning military exemption after his part in the Asian Games triumph. His contribution to the Busan IPark season was arguably eclipsed, however, by the importance of 21 year-old Kim Jin-gyu.

This was the year that the youngster stepped up from promising squad player to integral cog, with coach Choi reinventing the central midfielder as a winger. With quick feet, intelligent movement and composure in and around the box, Kim notched up 9 goals in all competitions and by the second half of the year was one of the first names on the team sheet. Keeping hold of him will be a priority this winter.

Team MVP

Anyone who saw anything of Busan IPark this season couldn't have failed to notice the influence of their Brazilian playmaker, Romulo. He showed talent in fits in bursts while on loan last year, but improved immeasurably this year and became one of the league's outstanding performers.

Despite operating from a deep position, Romulo scored 13 goals in all competitions and no player provided more assists (9) in K2. His set pieces were a regular menace for opposition defences and his composure on the ball in the middle of the park, not to mention his passing range and vision, often belied his 23 years.

Honourable mentions should go to centre-back Kim Myung-joon, who was dependable and consistent at the back, and Romulo's midfield partner Lee Jae-kwon, who brought class and a level head to a young, exciting team.

Most Disappointing Player

You could point to any one of Busan's strikers for this dubious honour. While goals were generally not a problem for the team, many will point to their lack of an out-and-out goalscorer as a contributing factor to their failure to challenge Asan to the title. The statistics make poor reading for the high-earning and big name forwards. Kim Hyung-sung (1 goal in 22 games), Choi Seung-in (5 in 19), and Kim Dong-sub (1 in 7) all disappointed once again, and foreign imports Alemao Junior, Jonathan Balotelli, and Sherjill MacDonald barely saw the Gudeok turf.

Perhaps the most disappointing of all, though, was Arsenio Valpoort. Much was expected of the flying Dutchman after he scored 16 goals last year for Dutch second division side Almere City. Although he showed flashes of talent in the red shirt, his first touch was simply not good enough and he quickly fell down the pecking order behind the more trusted Han Ji-ho and the more exciting Kim Jin-gyu. He finished the season with 1 goal in 10 games.

Most Important Decision of the Off Season

First of all, the board will need to appoint a new man at the helm after Choi Yoon-gyeom's departure. The calibre of the appointment will of course hold the key to Busan's transfer activity this winter, and a few players may well be waiting to see who the club appoints before deciding on their futures.

To stand any chance of mounting a serious title challenge next year, Busan will need to quickly determine the futures of Romulo, Kim Jin-gyu, and Kim Moon-hwan, all of whom are sure to attract attention from teams in the top tier. If any of them are sold, the money will need to be invested more wisely than it was last year, when the likes of Lim Sang-hyub and Jung Seok-hwa were replaced by mediocrity.

One interesting sub-plot to keep an eye on is the future of forgotten man Lee Jung-hyeop. The Busan-born striker spent 2018 on loan at Japanese side Shonan Bellmare after scoring 10 league goals for Busan last year. Lee endured a disappointing campaign, however, scoring only twice, and he has fallen behind the likes of Hwang Eui-jo and Suk Hyun-joon in the pecking order for the national team. A return to Busan IPark next year could suit both parties perfectly; you only need to look at the goalscoring records of the Busan strikers this year to see how much he was missed.

The K League Untied Podcast

In the latest edition of The K League United Podcast, we review all ten K League 2 teams in depth with the help of our writing staff. You can tune in using the player below, or subscribe via iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts or TuneIn Radio. You can also catch the show on Football Nation Radio, every Thursday at 5pm Sydney Time (3pm KST).

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