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2020 Season Preview: Jeju United

Jeju United enter their first-ever season in K League 2 on the heels of the worst season in club history as they won only five matches in 2019, finishing seven points adrift of Incheon United.  The islanders had a host of problems at all levels last season and the end result, it can be said, was expected.  Coaching was a major problem, the performances on the pitch were not up to scratch, and the overall operation of the club went in the wrong direction.  Now there is a new man in charge in Nam Ki-il, who kept Seongnam FC in the top division despite a lack of resources at his disposal.  He now comes to the island with the task of making a club, which played in the ACL in back-to-back seasons only two years ago, respectable again.  KLU's Branko Belan previews the new-look side ahead of the 2020 campaign.
(Photo courtesy of Jeju United.)

Last Season

5 W 12 D 21 L 27 PTS., Relegated

What Happened

Everything that could go wrong for Jeju United last season, did.  They opened the season winless in nine, prompting Cho Sung-hwan to step down as manager to be replaced by Choi Yun-kyum, who had been a member of Jeju's 1989 title-winning side, although they were known as the Yukong Elephants in that era.  He won against Gyeongnam FC in his debut in early May, but things proceeded to go downhill after that.

There were very few highlights for the club last season, although one match in July stood out, as Jeju defeated FC Seoul by a final of 4-2 with Yun Il-lok scoring a hat-trick, and rookie Seo Jin-su registering a hat-trick of assists in the match.

Miraculously enough, the islanders were still in the thick of the relegation fight with a few matches left to play, and a late win against Incheon in early November looked to give them a faint glimmer of hope of staying up.  Back-to-back losses at home to Suwon Bluewings and away to Seongnam FC to close out the season quickly quashed that possibility.

Not long following the end of the season, Choi stepped down, citing his inability to turn the club's fortunes around and the main reason for his decision, and Nam Ki-il took over responsibilities at the end of December.

Notable Moves


Joo will be counted on to be the number one striker for the islanders this season.  In 21 appearances for Ulsan Hyundai last season, he notched four goals and three assists.  Photo courtesy of Jeju United.

Joo Min-kyu: The former Ulsan Hyundai and Sangju Sangmu man comes to the island in a move which many saw as a bit of a surprise.  But, upon closer examination, when last season's runners-up made the move to get Bjorn Johnsen and with Junior confirmed to be staying with the club, the best Joo could have hoped for was to be a third striker with little chance of cracking the starting eleven.

With his size, he has the ability to be a problem for defenders in the box, especially from set pieces.  Jeju have struggled for goals in each of the last two seasons, so expectations on him to lead the line are already high.  If he can fit in with Nam's disciplined style, he should quickly become one of the most dangerous players in the second division this season.

Sielis made nineteen appearances for Gangwon FC in 2019.
Sielis will be a fixture in the middle of the back four for the islanders in their bid for automatic promotion in 2020.  Photo courtesy of Jeju United.

Valentinos Sielis: The native of Cyprus made nineteen starts for Gangwon FC last season, and was one of their most stable players when called on.  He is regarded as a technically gifted player with a good left foot who can push forward into attack when necessary.  While primarily a center back, he can also play on the left side in a back four.

Before coming to the K League in 2017, he played considerably in his homeland for two of the top sides in the domestic league, AEL Limassol and Anorthosis Famagusta, although he didn't feature much for the latter as his career was very much in its development at that point.

[READ: Sielis Being Counted on as a Key Figure in Jeju United's 2020 Success]

The Brazilian will be looking to improve his goal tally from a season ago.  He should be a major factor for the islanders in 2020.  Graphic courtesy of Jeju United 

A late window surge also saw the arrival of Eder Lima from Seongnam FC.  The Brazilian attacker will be key to the islanders' firepower up front.  His numbers tapered off somewhat last season, and there was some initial concern with regards to his fitness when he first joined the club, but he has assured everyone he is ready to go, and has looked strong in recent intra-squad training matches.


Kwon Soon-hyung vs Ulsan Hyundai 06.01.19
Kwon Soon-hyung will be remembered as one of the greatest captains in club history.  Photo courtesy of Jeju United Facebook.

Kwon Soon-hyung: The now-former Jeju captain made the move to Seongnam FC in the winter transfer window, but will be remembered fondly at the club for everything he represented not only for the team but for the entire organization and of course, the fans.  He celebrated a milestone with the islanders last season, appearing in his 300th career K League match.  For Jeju, he appeared 183 times, tallying twelve goals with 21 assists over that span.

He was a rock for the club both on and off the pitch, and his presence and leadership will be truly missed as Jeju now looks to write a new chapter in the club's history.

Magno vs Incheon United 11.02.19
Magno signed with Qatari Stars League side Umm Salal SC in the winter transfer window.

Magno Cruz: Magno was one of the most beloved and respected players in the league during his time with the islanders.  He joined the club back in 2017, and in that time eclipsed the century mark in appearances with the team, a rare feat for a foreign player in Korea.

He was known for his tenacity and always had a knack of scoring big goals in key matches for the club.  However, by the end of last season, it had proven to be too trying an endeavor to remain with the club for one more season, as he chose to make a move to the Qatari Stars League with side Umm Salal.  He finished the Jeju chapter of his football career with 29 goals and seven assists in 102 total matches.

Key Player

Lee Chang-min against Incheon United 11.02.19
Lee Chang-min will be facing high expectations as captain for the islanders this year.

Lee Chang-min: A lot of Jeju's success this season will depend on how the new captain goes.  If Lee Chang-min can be an assertive force in the midfield for Jeju, they may have a chance to right the wrongs of a season ago and challenge for automatic promotion back to the top flight.  He has been one of the islanders' best offensive players in recent years, and 2020 will be a chance for him to shine once again, albeit this time on a much bigger stage, as much of the spotlight will be on him now in a lead role.

He is strong in distributing the ball and shows little hesitation moving forward.  Known as one of the better midfield players in Korean football, he does not shy away from scoring opportunities around the opponents' scoring area.  If he is able to find his scoring touch early in the season, it may trigger the other offensive pieces around him to follow suit.

Young Player to Watch

Seo Jin-su made ten appearances as a rookie in 2019.  He should be able to get more playing time under Nam Ki-il this year.  Photo courtesy of Jeju United.

Seo Jin-su: The brightest light in Jeju's rookie class last season, Seo made appearances for the club which included a three-assist masterpiece against FC Seoul in his first career start.  He already showed signs of promise on his debut against Seongnam FC in June last year.  However, he did also show that his physical development has a ways to go and his overall match fitness must continue to improve in order for him to be able to compete with the senior players in the league, especially opposing defenders.

This winter will be a chance for him to continue to build on those skills and further develop his physical endurance.  He will have a good teacher at his disposal in Jung Jo-gook who came over from Gangwon FC in the winter transfer window.  The former Golden Boot winner with Gwangju FC in 2016 will be sure to provide the youngster with a wealth of knowledge in terms of the tools needed to develop into a top-rate striker.

This season should not be much different compared to last season; he will mostly come from the bench, but if he shows well enough, it would not be a surprise to see Nam roll the dice every so often and give him a chance from the first whistle.

Biggest Question

Nam Ki-il has seen both of his previous clubs promoted to the top flight.

Is Jeju United a candidate for automatic promotion?

There is no doubting the past two seasons on the island have been well below expectations.  It is a wonder that Jeju managed to finish in the top six in 2018 after a 15 match winless run saw them almost slip to mid-table by the time autumn came around.  A Championship Round finish meant that there would be no change at the managerial position, even though rumors had begun to swirl at the time.

When the change finally did come, it did not produce the desired result, and now, Jeju find themselves starting from scratch once again.  The positive is that Nam Ki-il has already done a considerable amount to begin transforming not only the image of the club in working to restore it to its former prominence, but also in changing the process and method of day-to-day operations.

This is evident in some of the off-season moves which have been made, both in terms of players coming into the club and players leaving the club as a way to promote a balance which did not exist in recent years.  He has brought in several players with whom he has worked with in the past, which should make establishing chemistry in the side a bit easier.  Add in a touch of veteran leadership as well as players who can step in and contribute right away and it could be the formula to bring winning football back to Seogwipo for the first time in a long while.

Reason to Watch

Despite a terrible campaign last year which saw them drop down a division, if things can get going quickly, fans may be able to see the Jeju of recent years past, namely 2016 and 2017, when goals flowed like water powered by citrus taka, Jeju's high octane brand of counter-attacking football.

With a new manager in place, and several positive additions to the club, not to mention a host of new opponents in K League 2, there could be a lot of exciting things on offer this season.  The month of March will be key, however, as they open with four consecutive matches at home against Suwon FC, Bucheon FC, Ansan Greeners, and Seoul E-Land.  Should the ship sail right to open the season, perhaps the waters won't be as rocky as they were in 2019.  A strong start is needed to instill confidence not only in the group as a whole, but in the players themselves.  If those who remain from a season ago are ready to lead, Jeju should be a contender down to the finish line.


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