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2019 Season Review: Jeju United

Final whistle JEJvSSB 11.24.19

Jeju United have hit an all-time low after the season they had in 2019, as they will be playing in K League 2 for the first time in club history come next year.  The 2019 calendar year is certainly one to forget for them, as they recorded single digit wins following back to back appearances in the ACL.  Sadly, there was an inkling already before the campaign began, when necessary changes were not made at the end of last season.  The islanders face an uncertain future going into this off-season, and will need to transform the current structure in order to stay relevant.  KLU's Branko Belan looks back on where it all went wrong.

What Went Well

There was very little that went well for the islanders this season.  Nevertheless, there were some admirable individual performances that are worth noting.

Yun Il-lok came over on loan prior to the season, and his addition helped the team as he staked his way to leading the scoring charts for the team in 2019.  For all intents and purposes, he was the team's best overall player during perhaps the most difficult season in team history.

Magno Cruz vs INC 11.2.19
Magno Cruz scored the winner against Incheon United in November.

Magno Cruz found the net eight times for the islanders this year, and also became part of a very select group, as he earned his 100th cap in the K League, all with Jeju United.  He had been linked with a move away from the club after last season, but it fell through in the end and he stayed with the tangerine orange for one more year.  Whether he will continue with the team next season is yet to be decided, but if he does intend to move on, one thing is sure - he has been one of the most loved and respected players in the league since coming to Korea three years ago and his contributions to the club are always held in high regard.

Elias Aguilar was the first big signing to come to Jeju last winter after a stellar first year in the K League with Incheon United, where he scored three goals and added ten assists.  He added a few more goals to his tally this season with five overall, but he should have been used more effectively.

After his return from international duty with Costa Rica at the Gold Cup, he played a full ninety minutes only once - against Suwon Bluewings in his first match back, and played sparingly for stretches after that.  He has every reason to feel hard done by, as he was brought in to be a key player for the team this season, but didn't play as much as he should have in the second half of the season.

Lee Chang-min was an important player for Jeju this season, scoring five of the team's goals and playing in all but a few matches after returning from a foot injury in late spring.  He did, however, have some off-field issues which still need to be dealt with, but if he is able to play next season, then he will definitely be counted on as one of the important pieces to help make a run back to first division football.

The return of Ahn Hyun-beom from Asan Mugunghwa was long awaited, and he did have an impact for the short time he wore Jeju orange in 2019.  He will be another key figure next year if he decides to stay, but that could depend on who the next manager of the club will be. 

What Didn't Go Well

Things got off to the worst possible start for Jeju when the decision was made near the end of last season to retain Cho Sung-hwan as coach after their top six finish despite a torrid summer which saw them go into September on a fifteen match winless stretch.

Despite claiming at the beginning of the year that Jeju would be in the fight for an ACL place, instead, the season opened with the team going without a win in their first nine games, prompting Cho to submit his resignation.

Choi Yun-kyum was appointed as his successor, and things did not fare much better after his arrival.  After winning his debut match against Gyeongnam, there was limited optimism that things would be able to turn around, but things could have not been more to the contrary as the season wore on.

Choi vs SFC 12.02.19
Choi Yun-kyum did not live up to expectations and resigned at the end of the season.

Jeju's defensive record was far and away the worst in the league as they conceded 72 goals.  There were too many lopsided losses, but perhaps none worse than the back to back home defeats they suffered at the hands of Ulsan Hyundai by a score of 5-0 and Sangju Sangmu by a final of 4-1 at the beginning of August.

The team had absolutely no chemistry for most of the season, a product of poor tactical preparation and players not being played to their strengths.  There were reports of internal rifts at the club with several players being dissatisfied with their status, while some sources suggest that players were even required to make their own travel arrangements for away matches.  Most of all, however, there was a lack of a true leader on the team, which left the players without a killer instinct, resulting in more than several poor performances over the past two seasons.

Young Player of the Year

There isn't much of a contest here, as Kang Yun-sung takes the honors this year.  Despite being relatively inexperienced going into the season, he was given a lot of playing time and his development has come along nicely.  He has been a fixture with the U-22 national side, and will once again represent Korea when the team takes part in the AFC U-23 Championship in January.

For the islanders this season, he made nineteen appearances in the regular season, including fourteen starts, going the full ninety minutes on nine occasions.  He also suited up four times in the final round, including three starts.  He will be a player that Jeju will want to keep around for next season, as he is sure to get a lot of playing time with the club perhaps looking to get younger with the drop down into the second division.  Naturally, he plays the left back position, but has also been used in the midfield at times this year, both on the wing and in the center, so his ability to play multiple positions highlights the versatility he can bring to a starting eleven.

Most Valuable Player

Yun Il-lok DAEvJEJ 09.28.19
Yun Il-lok scored eleven goals and added five assists for Jeju United in 2019.

The team's top player this year, and by a considerable stretch was Yun Il-lok.  The former K League winner with FC Seoul from a few years ago came over on loan in the winter from J League side Yokohama F Marinos, and finished the season with eleven goals to his credit adding five assists as well.

After missing the first three matches of the season due to injury, he made his season debut in a 2-1 loss against Ulsan at the end of March.  His performances this season were highlighted by a hat-trick performance against his former club when Jeju defeated FC Seoul 4-2 in July.  It was also the first of a four match string in which he found the back of the net, as he also notched goals against Pohang Steelers, Gyeongnam FC and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors over that stretch.  He also scored in back to back matches at the end of the season, once more against Pohang and against Daegu.  Had it not been for his goal production, Jeju's relegation would have been sealed long ago.  

His body of work for 2019 earned him a call-up to the Korean national team as they get set to host the EAFF-E1 Championship this month.

Most Disappointing Player

There could be any number of players who would deservedly fall into this category.  The first who comes to mind, however, is Park Jin-po.  He was designated as a captain prior to the season, but definitely did not fill the role as he should have.  He made only twenty appearances all season, beginning the year by missing three of the first five matches with an unknown injury.

Things didn't get much better when, after back to back losses to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Gangwon FC, both at home and the latter by a 4-2 count, Park had the captain's armband taken away from him and was consequently not selected for the next three matches.

He finished the regular season by not being selected for the squad in three of the last four matches and was an unused substitute against Gyeongnam FC.  He made only two appearances in Final B.  His reactions seem to have slowed this season, as he was caught out of position on several occasions, leading to chances and goals for opposing teams.  He never seemed settled at either fullback position and his indecisiveness proved costly for the team going forward when they tried to build out of the back.

It's questionable if he will be back next year, but at this point, he may become expendable if the team does indeed go with the decision to inject more youth into the team.

Most Important Decision in the Off-Season

One of the major hurdles heading into next season has already been cleared with the departure of Choi Yun-kyum, who made the decision to resign from his post shortly after the season ended.  The search for a manager should have already started in earnest, but there are other problems at the club which also need to be addressed.

For the islanders to begin their climb back to respectability, a possible re-shuffling of the board may have to take place as well.  Poor decisions have cost the club dearly, with only eleven wins to show for their efforts dating back to the end of last September.

There will be changes in personnel without question, as a host of players are expected to leave.  It's no surprise that many of them will want to play first division football next season, and there will be suitors coming to inquire about their services.  How Jeju will respond to the imminent shortfall on the roster remains to be seen, but the entire situation surrounding the club over the past two seasons will likely have turned off a lot of players from making a move to the island.  At the current time, it will take a lot of effort to wipe the slate clean and start anew, but as already mentioned, it may have to be a top-down operation.  If the islanders don't make the right moves ahead of 2020, they will stand little chance of challenging for a return to the top flight in the next few years.

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