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2019 Season Preview: Busan IPark

2019 K League 2 Season Preview: Busan IPark

Having suffered more playoff heartbreak last season, Busan IPark return for another crack at promotion from the K League 2 in 2019. Having added to an already talented pool of players with some exciting new signings and a new coach in Cho Deok-jae, Busan look to be in good shape to put in a strong title challenge. 


Last Season

W14, D14, L8

3rd place in K League 2 (lost to FC Seoul in the playoff final)

What Happened?

Busan IPark enjoyed a solid if unspectacular 2018 season that ended with another heart-breaking defeat in the final round of the playoffs. Busan had a solid defensive record throughout the year and were second only to Asan Mugunghwa in goals scored, but a number of dropped points from winnable games, especially at home, never really put them in contention to be champions.

The controversy over the future of league leaders Asan Mugunghwa gifted Busan an opportunity at automatic promotion as the season neared its conclusion, but they stumbled where Seongnam succeeded, and eventually had to settle for a playoff place. They brushed aside Daejeon Citizen to set up a two-legged final with FC Seoul, and looked to be on course for promotion when winning 1-0 at half-time in the first leg, but a red card turned the tie in Seoul's favour and the capital club ended up winning 4-2 on aggregate.

You can read the full season review here.

Notable Moves


Busan have been one of the more successful K2 teams in the transfer market this winter. Not only have they kept hold of key players such as Rômulo, Kim Moon-hwan, Kim Jin-gyu, and Han Ji-ho, but they have also added much more quality in depth in midfield and attack.

New signings: Lee Hoo-kwon, Park Jong-woo, Diego Mauricio, Kwon Yong-hyun, and Han Sang-woon


[IN] PARK JONG-WOO
Park is already a crowd favourite on the south coast having played for the club between 2010-2013. A hard-tackling holding midfielder with an excellent passing range, he has 15 caps for the Korean national team and was a member of the 2014 World Cup squad and the 2012 Olympic bronze-medal winning team. After spells in China and the United Arab Emirates, Park's return to Busan looks like a real coup. If he can stay fit, he could be one of the K2's standout performers.

[IN] DIEGO MAURICIO 
Signed from Gangwon FC, Diego is a powerful and direct forward who, despite predominantly featuring on the left side of a front three, averaged a goal every 176 minutes over two seasons in the K League 1. Despite having something of a journeyman career with spells in the top divisions in China, Portugal, and Russia, among others, Diego is still only 27 and comes to Busan arguably in the prime of his career.

[IN] LEE JUNG-HYEOP
Lee spent a disappointing year on loan with Shonan Bellmare in the Japanese top division last season, scoring only twice all year. However, his return to hometown club Busan looks like a great piece of business. Lee scored 10 goals and was named in the K2 team of the year for Busan in 2017, and it wasn't too long ago that he was a regular in the national team set-up under German boss Uli Stielike. Lee doesn't have the cleanest injury record, but at this level there aren't too many better target men.

[OUT] LEE JAE-KWON
Last year's vice-captain, Lee is a composed central midfielder with a great deal of experience. As one of the club's top performers in 2017, Lee's transfer to Gangwon FC looked to be a real loss, but the signings of Park Jong-woo, Lee Hoo-kwon (Pohang Steelers), and Han Sang-woon (Suwon FC) should more than make up for his departure.

[OUT] KO KYUNG-MIN
One of the K2's most consistent goalscorers, Ko scored 25 goals for Busan over three years from an attacking midfield position. His move to Gyeongnam FC in the K1 will be his first time in the top division since starting his professional career with Incheon United back in 2010. After several years of scoring regularly in the K2, it's a deserved move for the 31 year-old, and his departure puts more pressure on the likes of Lee Jung-hyeop and Diego to find the back of the net.

Needs

While Busan have recruited sensibly in the midfield and forward positions during this window, they are yet to announce any defensive signings. They have quality in the full-back positions in Kim Moon-hwan and Kim Chi-woo, and a central defender of real promise in Kim Myung-joon, but they lack quality in depth in the centre. Park Tae-hong has departed and Jung Ho-jung and Yeon Jei-min both struggled with injuries last year so another signing in this position would be sensible. With a foreigner spot and an Asian spot still open, could another high-profile signing be on the way before the window closes?

Key Player

Despite only being 23, Brazilian playmaker Rômulo is already proven as one of the league's best players. The left-footed maestro is extremely resourceful with the ball and his set-piece deliveries are one of the team's most potent weapons. Last year he scored 10 goals and recorded 9 assists to win a place in the league's official team of the year, and this year he will be playing alongside international midfielder Park Jong-woo. Their partnership in the middle will rival the Asan combo of Lee Myung-joo and Joo Se-jong as the league's top pairing.

Young Player to Watch

While all eyes will be on national team right-back Kim Moon-hwan, teammate Kim Jin-gyu is just as important to this Busan team. The 21-year-old scored 7 goals in 32 appearances last year and looks like a future star. While he was mostly utilised as a wing forward last season, the set-up in pre-season friendlies suggests that he will more likely feature as part of a midfield triangle with Park Jong-woo and Rômulo this year. It could be a huge year for the youngster.

Busan IPark squad at their training ground in Jeju.


Biggest Question

Can Cho Deok-jae repeat his promotion heroics with his new club?

Busan IPark are still one of Korea's biggest clubs but they are now entering their fourth year in the second division. They have made the playoffs in each of their three years in the K2, but they have stumbled each time and have never really come close to topping the league to gain automatic promotion. With more high-profile names arriving during this window, as well as another new manager with experience of being promoted to the top tier, you wonder how patient the owners are going to be if Busan fail to get promoted again.

Key to their success will be new manager Cho Deok-jae, already a fan favourite in Busan having spent his entire playing career with the club (then called Daewoo Royals). Cho spent five years as manager of Suwon FC and achieved promotion with the club in 2015, ironically beating Busan IPark in the two-legged playoff final to secure it. Although Suwon were relegated the following year, Cho has a more talented squad at his disposal this year and his experience of getting out of the K2 will stand the club in good stead this year.

Reason to Watch

This has been Busan's best transfer window for several years and, on paper, this team shouldn't have a problem getting promoted. They have several players with international experience and two of the K2's best foreign imports in Rômulo and Diego. They have a number of quick, exciting players in the final third and an exciting batch of youngsters with outstanding potential. They have been in the top two for goals scored in each of the last two seasons and with the new additions, that shouldn't change this year.


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