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First Term Report: Busan IPark

With a third of the season already gone, Busan IPark currently sit only one place off the bottom of the table. The Royals’ return to Korea’s top division has been far from a smooth ride, but are there glimmers of hope for Cho Deok-jae’s side?

Issues to Address

Lack of Goal Threat

One of Busan’s biggest problems this season has been a lack of goals. The Royals have scored eight goals in nine games, but four of those have been from the penalty spot. Although Lee Jeong-hyeop has led the line relatively well, he is not a natural goalscorer. Busan lack a presence in the opposition box and an instinctive finisher, something they had last year in Hungarian Soma Novothny. Although not a guaranteed starter, Novothny was a vital option off the bench, providing a more direct, aggressive alternative to Lee.

New signing Gustavo Vintecinco has yet to justify his move from K League 2 side Ansan Greeners. The big Brazilian has been used sparingly in recent games, and he has struggled to make an impact when appearing off the bench. Cho Deok-jae’s decision to use young centre-back Park Ho-young as a centre forward for the second half of the draw with Seongnam was a telling indicator of the manager’s faith in Vintecinco, and also damning evidence of the lack of genuine attacking options in Busan’s squad.

Busan seem to lack a Plan B, and if they are to climb the table this year then attacking reinforcements are a must.


Although Busan have played some good possession football, they often seem to lack creativity and penetration in the final third. This is especially apparent on the wings. Regular wingers Lee Dong-joon and Kim Byung-oh have had their moments, but both have often found themselves isolated and unable to regularly link up with Lee Jeong-hyeop. When they have got themselves into more central areas they look far more dangerous, but both players have been lacking in end product. Lee Dong-joon, last year’s breakout star, has shown talent in fits and bursts, but he has yet to get on the scoresheet this year and he looks short of confidence.

Winger Kwon Yong-hyun in action against Suwon Bluewings.
Once again Busan seem to lack depth in this position. The Royals’ other new Brazilian signing, Jonatan Reis, has only appeared in the matchday squad once, and his time in Busan already looks to be coming to a close. Long-serving forward Han Ji-ho has fallen out of favour after a long period of disappointing form, meanwhile, and fellow winger Kwon Yong-hyun has struggled to make a significant impact.

The lack of creativity in the side also extends to the midfield triangle. The various midfield combinations tried out by Cho Deok-jae have all been competent, hard-working, and tidy in possession, but they lack attacking intent and the dynamism to trouble the league’s best defences.

Intriguingly, Busan do appear to have the kind of player to fill this crucial link between midfield and attack, but Kim Jin-gyu has been largely overlooked by Cho so far this season. It remains to be seen whether Kim will be given a real run in the team and a chance to show his ability at the head of the midfield triangle – where he has performed well before – or whether Cho might search for alternatives in the transfer market.

U22 Rule 

Of all the teams in the K League 1, Busan IPark seemed to have been one of the least prepared to deal with the Under-22 rule this year. They had previously been able to rely on regular starters Kim Jin-gyu and Lee Dong-joon to fill the youth quota, but the duo are no longer eligible at 23 years old, and Busan now lack any first-choice youngsters.

19 year-old Kwon Hyeok-gyu has real promise as a box-to-box midfielder, but he is still very much a rough diamond. His largely anonymous performance in the recent draw with Seongnam – where Busan were crying out for a midfield creator – showed that Kwon cannot yet be relied upon to perform consistently at the top level, though he deserves further chances and looks to have a bright future.

Kim Jeong-ho has conceded five goals in four appearances so far this year.
Goalkeeper Kim Jeong-ho is another option. His performances so far have been mostly assured, but a costly blunder against Sangju Sangmu will give Cho Deok-jae doubts about his reliability. Other options are limited, and it appears that the U22 selection is one that will continue to give Cho selection dilemmas throughout the season.

The Positives

Standout Performers 

Not everything has gone to plan for Busan so far this season, but there have been a few shining lights in the Busan squad. Kim Moon-hwan especially has been excellent in his first season in the top flight. The right back has been defensively solid, and going forward he often looks like Busan’s most influential player, his surging runs down the wing a regular source of chances for the Royals. On this form, Kim is a shoe-in to start for Korea when international action eventually gets back underway, and Busan would do well to keep hold of their prize asset.

Kim Moon-hwan will hope to add to his 11 Korea caps this year.
Lee Gyu-seong, meanwhile, has developed into one of the league’s most technically gifted midfielders. The 26 year-old is extremely accomplished in possession, and his work rate and positivity in midfield have made him one of Busan’s most important players. His industry will be key for the remainder of the season as Busan look to pick up more points against the best teams in the country.

A Transformed Defence 

Last season Busan were known for their free-flowing attacking football, but their defence was a continuous weakness for the side. This year Busan invested heavily in their back line, bringing in veteran centre backs Kang Min-soo and Kim Dong-woo, as well as Uzbekistan international Dostonbek Tursunov.

Although the defence is hardly watertight, with twelve goals conceded in nine games, the team looks far more cohesive as a defensive unit than they did last year. The partnership of Kang and Dostonbek has been key to that, along with the shielding contributions of Lee Gyu-seong and Park Jong-woo in midfield. Impressive defensive performances against the likes of Jeonbuk and Ulsan show how Cho Deok-jae has altered his tactics and prioritised defensive solidity in order to adjust to the top tier.

Busan may not have set the world alight since returning to the top tier, but they are not a team that is easy to beat. They have only lost one of their last seven games, and if they continue in that vein, they will stay out of danger.

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Signs of Progress 
Rômulo, centre, scored his fourth goal of the season against Seongnam FC.
Busan IPark have rightly taken some criticism for some of their results this season, but the step up from the second division was never going to be an easy one. Although Busan are currently only one place above the relegation spot, they are also six points clear of Incheon and only three points away from the top six. There is still plenty of time for Busan to solidify their position in the top tier and keep themselves clear of the danger zone.

There are also plenty of positives to take from recent games. Key midfielder Rômulo had a sluggish start to the season but he now looks to be getting back to his best form, his forays forward looking far more fruitful and his involvement in midfield more influential. That Busan should rue lost points in several games is also in itself a silver lining. Missed chances and failures to hold onto leads are trends that need to be righted quickly, but the fact that Busan have rarely been outplayed, and have often held their own against top teams suggests that there is promise yet for the season.

Busan were never going to have an easy ride this season, but from down in eleventh place there are still signs of light.

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