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Interview: 'I believe in this team', Daejeon's Park Juwon

Interview: 'We will recover', Daejeon's Park Juwon K League 2
Daejeon Citizen got themselves off to a good start to the 2019 K League 2 season, winning their first two matches for the first time since 2001. However, since the 0-0 draw with Seoul E-Land in round three, the Purples have won just once and were dumped out of the FA Cup against university opposition. First choice goalkeeper Park Juwon is remaining calm however, insisting that Citizen can arrest the slide.

Daejeon Citizen Goalkeeper Park Juwon returned from military service towards the tail end of the 2018 season having spent just shy of two years with police team Asan Mugunghwa. With Park Junhyuk being the recognised number one last term, 28 year-old Seoul-born Park Juwon had to make do with a place amongst the substitutes for five of the last seven matches of the season as the Purples went in pursuit of the playoffs.

However, having reclaimed his place between the sticks for the Purples, Park says that it is good to be back at Purple Arena:

"I am really happy to be back at Daejeon. Also, personally, it is great to be able to help the team. Even when I was at Asan, I always watched Daejeon’s games and was always thinking about when I would return because I missed the team."

Park, who joined Daejeon in 2012 from Hongik University, found game time hard to come by whilst at Yisunsin Stadium and, prior to Park Hyungsoon's return to Suwon FC, was left watching on from the sidelines.

"When I first joined the team I felt confident and thought that I would get the opportunity to play but because Park Hyungsoon had already joined from Suwon FC I didn’t get much game time. Park Hyungsoon has a lot of experience and is a very good goalkeeper and so I had to wait for my chance. But after watching him I learned a lot and when the chance came, and I had the trust from the manager and coaches, it gave me belief to go out and perform.

"I didn’t get the chance to lift the K League 2 trophy but without playing a part in that [the Asan team] there perhaps wouldn’t have been a championship to win. The players and staff at Asan were nice enough to show me gratitude as well as present me with a league-winners medal."

It wasn't just Asan Mugunghwa's games which Park was watching as the 28 year-old also watched on as his parent club finished bottom of K League 2 in 2017, something which was not easy to do says Park:

"Honestly, after watching every game that Daejeon lost I was upset too. The Daejeon team looked as though it was hurt and falling apart and that was not easy to see. Whilst at Asan I always felt that I should improve so that when I return I would be able to help out the team."

During his absence, Daejeon manager Ko Jongsoo brought in Kim Jinyoung from Pohang Steelers, as well as Lim Minhyeok on loan from Jeonnam Dragons, before Park Junhyuk arrived on a free transfer last summer. The latter two are no longer with the club but Kim, who suffered an ACL injury last June, is back to full fitness and competing with Park for the number one shirt.

"We have a really good working relationship. On the pitch we compete for the same position and our relationship has formed from that. He’s a laid back and witty guy and he’s a player I respect and can learn a lot from.

"Essentially, I try not to think that I am the main goalkeeper for this team. However, there is the thought that there may come a time when I may no longer be in the team if I'm not motivated by the younger players who are improving, and if I'm not improving myself whilst I am either in the team or by training well, recuperating and adopting a daily lifestyle that is that of a professional footballer.

"There is also a positive impact for the younger players as they will be able to grow by seeing me becoming more motivated, improve and put in good performances on the pitch. I’m not saying that I am at that stage where I can be that sort of influence to other players around me yet but I am doing my best to be an example in terms of performance and professionalism."

In 2019 Daejeon got off to a decent start, winning their first two matches before drawing 0-0 at home to Seoul E-Land in round three. Since then, Daejeon have been on somewhat of a sticky patch of form with just one win. Park also suffered an injury and temporarily lost his place in the side to Kim Jinyoung but isn't concerning himself too much and insists that the team will bounce back:

"It is still early in the season. Recently, I’ve not been in the best condition and haven’t been able to help the team. We lost three in a row and are in a bit of a difficult situation but, we I have recovered well and whenever I can play I want to help us to get good results again.

"In football there are often situations like this and because we have been through them before I know that we can do so again this time. To get ourselves back up the table we need to get over the worst of it and I believe in our team and our players and I am sure that over the course of the season we will do our best."

The Purples have been under the stewardship of Ko Jongsoo since the beginning of last season. As a former MVP and somewhat of an enigmatic player, Park is full of praise for the fledgling gaffer. Under Ko, Daejeon have played some exciting and attacking football and so, as a goalkeeper in the modern era, there has been an onus on playing out from the back.

"When Ko Jongso was a player he had fantastic ability and experienced a lot, all of which he brings to us as a leader. There’s lots we can learn from the coach and the direction we are heading in football-wise is a good one.

"Rather than individual’s ability, it’s a tactic that is to be worked on [playing out from the back]. With the rest of the squad we work on build-up play every player including myself works on build-up play in training. Personally, I prefer the build-up play as it suits us in terms and game management and physical fitness."

What was perhaps his best performance to date, Park earned a second cleansheet of the season in a 0-0 draw to league leaders Gwangju FC. His performance was enough for a place in the K League 2 Best 11 for that round.

The Gwangju game was really difficult for us as a team, we tend to be defensive in our playing style, thus it was a game where the defenders and myself would be in the spotlight. However, I do not think that we kept a cleansheet just because of me; there were some differences in terms of team strength against Gwangju FC, however, our players came off with the pitch having put in a good performance, worked hard and defended well and so I was included in the Best 11.

For Park, what happens beyond this season remains unknown. His contract is up at the end of the season which could path the way to a dream move to Japan:

"My contract with Daejeon expires at the end of the season. My first thought more than anything, my only concern is to focus on what my role in the team is - that’s my biggest goal. The J.League is a fantastic league and if I was to go then I am sure it would be a great experience for me. Since I was young, playing in the J.League is what I’ve wanted and dreamed of, so it would be nice to make this dream a possibility."

In the meantime though there is still plenty to play for in K League 2 for which the Daejeon fans can help get the team back up the table.

Park says: "To our fans who continue to support us, we just want to bring them good results. In order to do that we need to find a better version of ourselves in training and we will continue to work hard to make sure we have done enough preparation for us to do so and then hopefully we can attract more fans to come and watch us. This season too and moving forward, be the twelfth man for us!"

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