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Gong Min-hyun: "I Think We Can go Back to the First Division Because of Him"

It has been a very successful season on the island with Jeju United on the brink of automatic promotion back to K League 1 for the 2021 season.  Off-season additions have played a key role in the islanders' march towards a title; the final few rounds play host to the most important fixtures of the season with Jeju currently tied on points with rivals Suwon FC.  One of the players who has had a very positive impact on the club in terms of his performances is Gong Min-hyun, who is in the midst of a career year.  KLU's Branko Belan had a chance to speak to the Jeju forward about the overall atmosphere surrounding the team and their goals for the rest of the season.

Jeju United has undergone somewhat of a renaissance this season under manager Nam Ki-il, now sitting in prime position for promotion back to the first division for 2021.  There have been several major contributors to this point in the season, and one of the most important ones thus far has been Gong Min-hyun, who currently is having the best season of his career.  

The 30 year old right-footed forward has started in almost eight percent of the team's matches to this point and played just over three quarters of the team's total minutes on the pitch.  It's his production offensively, however, which has been turning heads this year.  He has accounted for nine goals and three assists in the league, and also scored in a come-from-behind 3-2 thriller against Seoul E-Land in the third round of this year's edition of the FA Cup.

Momentum Will Be Important

Despite his own success, he is well aware of how important it is for the team to realize its goal of promotion to the first division, a goal that has been shared by all at the club since the beginning of the season.

"It's been a great season so far as we are leading the league at the summit as a team, and I have constantly played a role in that success by scoring goals, something I did not do a lot of with Seongnam.  The atmosphere in the team couldn't be better.  However, we are all very well aware of how important it is to maintain this until the end of the season," he began.

Jeju's last four fixtures of the year present some challenges to be sure, as they travel to Changwon for their next match against Gyeongnam FC, a team which held them to a draw the last time the two sides met courtesy of an injury time equalizer from Negueba with virtually the last kick of the match.  It's then Suwon FC who comes to the island in Round 25, a match that could decide this year's K League 2 champion.

Seoul E-Land at home and Chungnam Asan away round out the slate for the 2020 campaign, and the players know that absolutely nothing can be left to chance.  Gong is confident that Nam Ki-il will keep the team on the right path and acknowledges the impact the manager has had on him.

Nam Ki-il's influence has been felt throughout the team this season.

"Since I was in Seongnam, I felt that he believed in me a lot.  I also trust the manager and was glad to accept when he called me to Jeju.  I was able to come to Jeju because I knew the manager's ability well, and I think we can go back to the first division because of him."

Chemistry Has Been Critical

For any successful team, especially championship-winning teams, chemistry is an outstanding factor in determining whether a team is capable of going to the next level.  Jeju has developed into a cohesive unit this year, with that togetherness apparent both on and off the pitch.

"Each player has a very good personality.  In addition, each of them is performing their roles well.  Senior players take good care of their juniors and lead them, while young players respect them and follow them well.  The role bridging the gap is played by middle-aged players, led by captain [Lee] Chang-min," Gong commented.

He cannot overlook the importance of the coaching staff in what the team has done this year.

"The coaching staff, including coach Nam Ki-il, also plays a role.  One of the coach's abilities is to make a team stick together.  I've felt it since Seongnam, and Jeju is also solidifying its players," he continued.

The unifying effect has been present at the organizational level as well.

"The team's front desk is also responding immediately to requests that players need.  I feel that the players, coaching staff, and the team are in sync, and I think that has the power to unite Jeju," he concluded.

Leading by Example

Jeju has had several leading lights in their path to the top this year, and Gong points out how important it has been for the senior players to have demonstrated their leadership qualities along the way.

"The oldest player Jung Jo-gook is the prime example in the team. He always leads by example and gets along with young lads well.  Our captain Lee Chang-min is also working hard to bridge the gap between senior players and young lads as well as players and coaching staff."

Jung Jo-gook is congratulated by teammates after scoring earlier this season. His senior leadership has been a lift to the younger players.

"On the pitch, Jung Woon is a big character for us.  When we start to get disorganized or collapse, he always wakes us up by offering a lot of encouragement to the rest of the team."

"Playing Our Game"

The islanders have primarily used a three-back system in defence for most of the season, with wingback play being an essential part of their scheme going forward.  However, trust in each other is one of the main reasons why the team has been able to get to this point, according to Gong.

"Apart from the formation or tactics we are using, our players are individually very talented.  Thus, we believe in each other that we can do our role anywhere on the pitch and on top of this, we try to play attacking and dominating football.  I think the 3-4-3 formation the manager came up with would be down to these abilities we have."

"Our idea is to play attacking football where the centre backs try to engage in the buildup from the defensive area and deliver the ball forward.  The wingbacks can play like wingers in more dangerous positions.  With this idea, I think we can control the game in a way we want to play and prevent the opponent from doing what they are good at.  And I will keep doing my best anywhere on the pitch under this clear idea."

Gong Min-hyun, seen here scoring against FC Anyang in a 2-1 win in July.

With just four rounds remaining, it is now crunch time as the club looks to cement its first title since 1989, and they are in a very good position to do that.  The focus of the team this year has been impeccable, but there is still some work to be done.  This group has been motivated since the very beginning and are now primed to finish the job.  With all the work that has gone into this campaign, a trophy at the end of it would be a just reward for a season which has seen Tangerine Taka return to the island in a big way.

K League United would like to extend a warm thank you to Gong Min-hyun and Jeju United for taking the time to speak with us.  Special thank you's also are extended to Muyeol Jung, our Daegu FC correspondent, and Matthew Binns, our Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors correspondent for their joint translation of the interview.

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