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Interview: 'We Want ACL Spot', Daegu FC's Kim Sunmin and Kim Dongjin

Since the return of creative midfielder Kim Sumnin and wingback Kim Dongjin from their military spells with Asan Mugungwha in mid-August, Daegu FC have gone unbeaten in K League and made it to Final Round A. K League United's Daegu FC Correspondent Muyeol Jung had a chance to talk with the pair about their experiences in Asan and their thoughts on Daegu FC.

Profile: Kim Sunmin 
-D.O.B: 12.12.1991
-Height/Weight: 166cm/64kg
-Number: 88 (Daegu FC)
-Position: Central midfield

Profile: Kim Dongjin 
-D.O.B: 18.12.1992
-Height/Weight: 177cm/74kg
-Number: 92 (Daegu FC)
-Position: Left wingback

Kim Sunmin (L) and Kim Dongjin (R) are warmly welcomed by Daegu fans before the warm up (image via Daegu FC)

Muyeol Jung (MJ): Welcome back to Daegu FC. It has been a little while now since you rejoined Daegu from the military spell in Asan Mugungwha. How are you feeling?

Sunmin Kim (SK): It’s been around a month since I rejoined Daegu and I am glad that Daegu are doing well and without defeat. When I returned to the team, all the squad and manager Andre gave me a warm, kind welcome and helped me on and off the pitch. I believe I have now completely settled in.

Dongjin Kim (DK): I can tell now that awkward atmosphere has gone and I feel part to the team more. I was astounded that Daegu now have such a massive fan base. I am also more than happy to become a civilian again.

MJ: While both of you were away, Daegu FC have taken some historic steps including the advent of nationwide star Jo Hyeonwoo from the 2018 World Cup, lifting FA Cup trophy, playing AFC Champions League, a brand-new football stadium and club house. How did that feel from the outside of the club and what are your thoughts?

SK: To be honest, I watched every single Daegu game while on military duty. Those huge successes gave me a lot of pride that I was the part of the club with so much improved facilities. Also, I was just thinking about how I really wanted to return and play for the Sky Blues as early as possible.

DK: From the outside, every situation is genuinely unbelievable and frankly speaking, I was always thinking about how I wish I was part of the historic scenes [winning the FA Cup, and AFC Champions League] with Daegu. As you know, Daegu FC had been nowhere near the top places in any competition, but I was chuffed that my team made such history, which gave me so much pride. Also, other K League players saw Daegu as being one of the bottom sides, but that [Winning the FA Cup] has changed the perspective and team's reputation.

MJ: It must have been the hardest time for you, Kim Sunmin, not getting a lot of minutes at Asan for two years. Nevertheless, unlike the fans’ concerns on you due to lack of match experiences, you have been the standout on the pitch for Daegu. How could you manage to keep you in shape and in what way do you think the military service did make impact on you?

SK: In fact, I was also worried that I could contribute to helping Daegu when I return because of the lack of game time. However I made a huge effort to get in shape and gave 100% in training. So, that's how I managed to maintain the fitness.

I totally understand the fans' concerns. From their point of views, they might have believed that I had some problems. However, even though I didn’t play many games in Asan, but I find it very helpful as I was able to have a training on a daily basis with top quality players and I learnt a lot from it. I have been always answering "Yes, I would go Asan" in a question about “Would you go Asan again if you knew that not much opportunities were given to you?”. Throughout the time in military, I learnt how to take control of myself as professional footballer and train by looking at the top players in a controlled life. As a result, I had no regrets left behind me in Asan as I had worked hard every day with them in a close distance.

Thanks to the teammates, Kim Sunmin (middle) made three caps for Asan before he returned to Daegu FC
Regarding game time, which could have been a major issue, but fortunately, I played three games prior to the end of my time with Asan. Frankly speaking, it’s all thanks to Ju Sejong, Lee Myungjoo, and Ko Muyeol who spoke up to the manager to give me a chance. Once again, I would like to express my gratitude to them for that. As a result, I was able to return to Daegu fitter with some match sharpness and confidence. Also, my teammates helped me.

MJ: Kim Dongjin, you must have been uncomfortable seeing Kim Sunmin not getting any minutes, while you were playing regularly?

DK: Regarding Kim Sunmin, we have been good mates as a teammates and as flatmates. I have no doubt on his quality, but it’s the manager’s role to make the team selection. But I always believed he would be given a chance to play with me sooner or later. I was delighted when he got a few chances before we finished our military duties.

Kim Dongjin immediately took his place since he returned to the Sky Blues

MJ: Kim Dongjin, your strong performances for Daegu also caught the fans' eyes. How did the military service affect you?

DK: Haha, before I left for Asan, I would play either left centre back in back three or left wing back in turn, which sometimes gave me confusion on the pitch. But since my time at Asan, I had been playing left wingback which I find much more comfortable, those experiences helped me to develop in that position. Moreover, playing with national team players was definitely beneficial as well.

MJ: What comes first when you reflect on your time in Asan? Which players did you miss most from Daegu?

SK: The most memorable moment back then was obviously when Asan Mugunghwa were crowned K League 2 Champions in 2018, and the memory of having time with all 14 players who started the service together remains unforgettable in my mind including Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Hwang Inbeom who finished the service earlier thanks to the gold medal in Asian Games. Also, Kim Dongjin and Jeonnam's Kim Juwon are my closest friends from Asan. From Daegu, I missed Hwang Soonmin most.

DK: I believe staying in Asan was a turning point in my football career. Spending the time with quality players significantly helped me to develop more. It will be unforgettable that I contributed to K League 2 title win last season as well as the team being allowed to join the league again this season despite the police team set to be dismantled. During my time, I missed all Daegu players that I have started to watch from my first year in Daegu 2014.

Kim Sunmin (front row, the second from the manager in suit) and Kim Dongjin (front row between Kim Sunmin and the manager) helped Asan Mugungwha sealed K League 2 title in 2018 season.

MJ: Since your return in August, Daegu FC have been doing well. How do you find the current squad compared to the previous squad in 2017?

SK: As you said, since then, we are unbeaten, but that wouldn't have been possible without our teammates. Compared to the past, I think the level of performances we try to play is at a higher level, and I can say we are getting stronger and stronger in the league with a well-organised defence and a dangerous attack.

DK: Like he said, it wasn’t possible without collective work from our teammates rather than me or Sunmin who recently joined the team. Compared to the previous squad, I think there is real quality in the squad.

MJ: Which player do you think improved most from Daegu?

SK: I think Kim Daewon, Jung Seungwon, and Kim Wooseok have improved significantly. They didn't get a chance to play for the first team back then, but they have now become the regulars in the line up. Also, I believe Hwang Soonmin has developed the most. He is good as a central midfielder, but him playing as wingback literally made me speechless. I am not exaggerating, but I thought he could receive a call up for the national team if he can continuously play like that.

DK: I also would choose Kim Daewon and Jung Seungwon. I found them much improved through experience in Reserve League since they were 20-year-olds [2016 season]. Particularly Jung, who went to Andong High school as I did, looked nervous and daunted in his first year, but I am glad that he went got through those hard time well.

In addition, I am glad that Jo Hyeonwoo became one of the most popular footballers in Korea. I have been with him in Daegu since we were in the second division in 2014 and I am glad that his hard work paid off in the end.

MJ: Final question. What's your goal for Daegu this season?

SK: Our primary goal was to get into the top six but also win an ACL spot in Championship Round (Final Round A). I don’t have a personal goal in specific figures, but I’d like to be a player who could contribute to the team to successfully achieve those goals.

DK: As he said, our goal was to get into top six, and then third place in Championship Round for another ACL football next year.

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