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2020 Season Preview: Gyeongnam FC

2020 Season Preview: Gyeongnam

Following Gyeongnam FC's disappointment of relegation last season, the Reds will be looking for an instant return back to the top flight.  Manager Kim Jungboo was relieved of his post and former Korean national team striker Seol Kihyeon appointed in his place for his first managerial stint at this level.  With some key player departures the norm when a team loses its top-flight status, the side have however persuaded some more high profile players in the squad to stay and has brought in some real quality as well over the winter months to add competition to places.  KLU's James Edrupt looks ahead to how Gyeongnam will fair in the second tier of Korean football.

Last Season


6W 15D 17L, 11th  Relegated.

What happened?

The squad went into 2019 with great excitement and optimism.  Asian Champions League was coming to the city and the playing staff was looking as strong as it ever has been.  The coup of getting former Cardiff City and Crystal Palace midfielder Jordon Mutch over to sign was a huge positive.   The fans were going into the season in great spirits.

In truth, it turned out to be a total disaster for everyone involved.  Of course their first venture into the ACL and the welcoming of some of the best sides in Asia into Changwon for the fans to flock to was a plus.  Chinese side Shangdong Luneng included former Manchester United star Marouane Fellaini and former Southampton striker Pelle. The Reds finished third in the group and failed to qualify for the knock-out stages, but one highlight will remain with the fans for a long time; Gyeongnam's one-nil victory away in Japan against Kashima Antlers and fellow countryman Kunimoto with the winner was a dream come true for the youngster.  He was in floods of tears at the final whistle celebrating with his teammates and supporters.  In all honesty, the squad at manager Kim Jungboo's disposal just were not up to the task of playing in all three competitions.  Injuries hit the squad hard, with key midfielder Kunimoto missing a huge chunk of the season with a niggling hamstring problem.  Mutch was playing through the pain barrier with a pelvic problem most weeks and influential winger Negueba just couldn't find any form in games to have much of an impact on proceedings.  As the wins just stopped coming, you could see the confidence draining from the squad week by week.  Negueba picked up a season-ending knee injury and returned home, his replacement fellow countryman Osman who looked good in spells also picked up a serious knee injury away against FC Seoul.  Jordon Mutch became homesick and returned to the UK.  The side eventually finished the campaign in 11th place just one point behind Incheon United.  The Reds were to be eventually relegated after losing the relegation/promotion playoff 2-0 on aggregate to neighbours Busan IPark.

Notable Moves



Just six of the new faces will be seen at the Changwon Football Center in 2020.
Gyeongnam has been fairly busy in the transfer market, signing some very good talent to add to the squad.  Suwon FC captain Baek Sungdong arrived to add creativity and a directness to the midfield.  Ansan Greener's player of the year Jang Hyeokjin moved south to also add some quality in the midfield areas.  He was the Greeners leading assist maker last campaign and was their key man.  Experienced winger Hwang Illsu was a real coup pipping his services under the noses of fellow K League 2 side Daejeon Hana Citizen for his signature.  He adds real pace on the wing and has been a good player for K League 1 outfit Ulsan Hyundai for many seasons.  Brazilian winger Negueba has returned to the club after undergoing successful surgery on his knee injury and adds some flair on either flank.  Australian center back Nick Ansell signed from Jeonnam Dragons.  He had a bit of a stop-start career for the Dragons only making 15 appearances all season due to a broken rib and then an injured calf later on in the campaign.  He will be hoping to hit the ground running and have an injury-free season.  With target man and leading goal-scorer, Uroš Đerić staying and Dutchman Luc Castaignos hoping to have a better impact on the side this season the Reds will feel in good shape going into the new campaign.

Some key outgoings have taken place as well.  Key Japanese playmaker Kunimoto has stayed in K League 1 and signed with reigning champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.  Exciting box-to-box youngster Kim Joonbeom moved north to Incheon United and shot-stopper Lee Bumsoo in the same direction but with Gangwon FC.  Big spenders Daejeon Hana Citizen snapped up creative midfielder Jo Jaecheol and diminutive striker Kim Hyogi signed with K League 1 promoted outfit Gwangju FC.

Needs

New manager Seol Kihyeon capped an impressive 82 times by South Korea, and his staff all need to hit the ground running and firstly make the Reds more compact and defensively sound.  Last season the team conceded 61 goals from 38 games played.  Former manager Kim Jungboo, to his credit, was faced with injuries and suspensions to key defensive players throughout the last campaign.  In some games, he was down the bare bones.  His constant shuffling around of the starting eleven caused confusion in a lot of games which led to mistakes.  Early reports from pre-season are that the squad is responding well to his training methods and ideas and the players enjoy his analysis of the sessions once back in the team hotel.  At the other end of the pitch, they need to get the wingers Negeuba and Hwang Illsu getting crosses into the penalty area as striker Uroš Đerić thrives off service into him.  The six-foot-five inch forward is more than capable of scoring 20 goals plus in this division.

Key Player

Uroš Đerić


Deric (R) has a real eye for a goal and will be looking to continue that trend this season.
I can't look past the Bosnia and Herzegovina hit-man Uroš Đerić.  He is a goal machine if the team around him plays to his strengths. In his first season in K League in 2018, he scored 24 goals in 38 appearances for Gangwon FC just pipped in the goal-scoring charts behind former Gyeongnam striker Marcao who scored 26.  In the second season, he found it a bit more tough going as the manager had a new style of football in place which Đerić was deemed surplus too.  He made a few cameo run-outs from the bench but in the end, opted to join Gyeongnam in mid-July where he was relatively successful tallying nine goals in seventeen games.  He often terrorized K League 1 defenders, with his height and his strength in and around the box.  He will be coming up against lower league opposition week in week out this season so he should have a standout campaign if he plays to his full capabilities.

I must give a mention to the returning Brazilian winger Negeuba.  In the Reds promotion from K League 2 into K League 1 back in 2017 he was quite magnificent.  He continued that great form into the 2018 season helping Gyeongnam to finish in the second position in the league.  A breath of fresh air to the league in general.  He has an array of tricks in his locker and can see a pass from anywhere on the pitch.  If he can rediscover the form from those two seasons the whole of the K League could be in for some exciting afternoons watching him play.  His serious ACL injury has played havoc with his pre-season plans.  He has yet to feature in any of the Reds practice games prior to the league starting in early May.  Noise coming out of the camp is that he is on the road to recovery and he should be nearing full fitness very soon.

Young Player to Watch

Kim Jongjin


A rare bright spark from the 2019 season was the emergence of winger Kim Jongjin.  At the start of the season, it was rumored that Kim was to be loaned out to a K League 2 club to gain experience playing first team football.  However, at 20 years of age, he was thrust into the first-team earlier than expected due to the injury crisis the Reds were experiencing.  He only made seven appearances for Gyeongnam, all in the starting eleven and showed promise in all.  He has bags of pace and looked a bit raw at times last season.  He did score a goal against Gangwon in a two-one defeat and took the goal very well.  If he can get a run in the side, his development can increase even further.  He'll have his work cut out however with both wingers Negueba and Hwang Illsoo chomping at the bit for a first eleven berth.

Biggest Question

Can Gyeongnam bounce back to K League 1 at the first time of asking?

If you look around the facilities at the Changwon Football Center, it has everything a top club should have.  Four grass full-sized training pitches, a 5g football pitch which is covered by a roof and the stadium itself is football-specific designed.  With all due respect to all the sides in K League 2 Gyeongnam from a neutral looking in do not belong in this division.  However, you have to earn the right to get out of this league, and the K League 2 over recent years is getting much more difficult to get promoted from.  Other sides like newly branded Daejeon Hana Citizen and also relegated Jeju United have brought in a lot of talent to add to their already strong squads.  It is a league where, on any given day, anyone can beat anyone.

The attitude of the players will be crucial if Gyeongnam can get promoted or not.  If they go into a game thinking it's won before a ball has been kicked there will be slip-ups.  Teams will always raise their game playing against the Reds as they boast some of the best players in the league.  With new manager Seol Kihyeon and his staff all managing at this level for the first time there is bound to be some hiccups along the way and it could prove tough at times for them.  The senior players at the club like Baek Kijung, Park Taehwi and club captain for the season Ha Sungmin will be fundamental in how the club fair during sticky patches all teams go through during the season.

In pre-season the manager has been very experimental in his team selections, often trying out new formations and inter-changing players from one position to another.  The attacking prowess has been for all to see in the matches.  Gyeongnam have scored over thirty goals in pre-season and they haven't conceded many at all.  First observations is that the key to make the Reds tick will be midfield duo Baek Sungdong and Jang Hyeokjin.   They have been at the heart of everything that the team do well.  Another player to catch the eye has been striker Kim Seungjun.  He started last season very brightly but then faded badly as the campaign progressed.   He scored a wonderful back-heeled goal in an inner-squad fixture recently.  Signs in pre-season have been very impressive.

Reason to Watch 

The Attacking Talent

Gyeongnam didn't have a problem scoring goals last season in K League 1, putting three past power-houses Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Ulsan Hyundai at home in two thrilling 3-3 draws just an example.  The club has kept Uroš Đerić and Kim Sungjung who will no doubt spearhead the attack when the league kicks off in late February.  The attacking talent in the squad is very impressive and with the surprise managerial appointment of ex-Korean national team striker and a player who played in England with Wolverhampton Wanderers, Fulham and, Reading, Seol Kihyeon fans up and down the country will be intrigued to see him in person and to see how he fairs in his first managerial post at this level on Korean shores.





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