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2020 Season Review: Gyeongnam FC

It was a season of heartbreak for Seol Ki-hyeons Gyeongnam FC.  Numerous changes on and off the field occurred in the offseason due to relegation into K League 2.  This caused the performances, on the whole, to be somewhat patchy throughout the campaign.  With key players performing when it mattered most they finished a more than respectable third in the league.  The loss to Suwon FC in the playoff final was a bitter pill to swallow for everyone associated with Gyeongnam FC.  The club will want to put that loss to bed a refocus on what could be a successful push for promotion in 2021.  KLU's Gyeongnam FC columnist James Edrupt looks back at what was in 2020.

What Went Well

When Seol Ki Hyeon was appointed as manager it was a huge gamble by the board.  Seol had yet to manage in the professional game, only being in charge of university side Sungkyunkwan between 2016-2018.  The club felt he was worth the gamble after the Reds suffered relegation into K League 2 and the manager that took them down Kim Jung-boo was on borrowed time.  The players grew apart from Kim and his training methods and ideas weren't working and improving the squad.  Seol came in and took to the professional game like a duck to water.  He changed the whole ethos at the club.  Gave each player a dietary plan to abide by held meetings with every individual player at training.  Introduced video analysis of the opposition before each game, the list goes on.  This was needed as the club was at an all-time low and was in urgent need of a boost. 

Seol rallied the troops and got them very well organized on a matchday and on the whole The Reds were a very hard team to beat.  He let the more flair players like Baek Sung-dong, Hwang Il-soo, and Negueba express themselves in games.  He was ruthless as well, if you weren't playing well he was never afraid to take you off at any given time.  The togetherness at the club looked like it was back after the opposite was clearly evident after relegation.  

What Didn't Go Well

The impact made by the foreign players at the club, on the whole, was not to the standard expected throughout the season.  Dutchman, Luc Castaignos, Brazilian, Negueba, Serbian, Uroš Đerić, and Australian, Nick Ansell were the foreign contingent used quite sparingly by Seol Ki-hyeon.  

Brazilian winger Negueba endured a frustrating 2020 campaign

Negueba was returning from a long term ACL injury and he never fully recovered until the latter stages of the campaign.  Đerić lasted just six games then broke down with a hernia issue and only returned for the playoff games against Daejeon Hana Citizen and Suwon FC.  His only goal in the opening month of the season was a penalty away against lowly FC Anyang.  Castaignos was trusted as the starting center forward after Đerić was ruled out and he failed to live up to expectations only tallying two goals in eight appearances and he'll often go missing in matches.  Ansell just couldn't get a regular run in the first team.  It was clear Seol had his favored center back pairing of captain Lee Kwang-seon and Bae Seung-jin if they were both fully fit.  The cultured center back only made five starts for Gyeongnam and it became apparent quickly that he would only get a chance if either Lee or Bae would get injured.  Only Negueba and Đerić were at the club at the end of the campaign.  Castaignos is back in Holland and currently without a club, whereas Ansell has returned home and is plying his trade with A-League outfit Melbourne Victory.  Both Negueba and Đerić came to the end of their contracts and will leave the club.  Gyeongnam will expect a new trio of imports to be playing in Changwon next season.  They have wasted no time in addressing this with exciting 26-year-old Gwangju FC Brazilian winger Willyan expected to sign in the not to distant future.

Young Player of the Year

Choi Jun

Right-wing back Choi Jun has been ever-present in the first team and the first name on the team sheet for manager Seol Ki-hyeon.  Choi arrived on a season loan from K League 1 powerhouses Ulsan Hyundai.  A tenacious player who loves to get to the byline he suffered a bit early on with the pace of the men's game.  He had a slight problem on the disciplinary side, picking up five bookings in his first ten appearances for the club.  Once fully settled he only picked up one more yellow card in his final eleven matches.  He grew into the season impressively providing great width wide on the right-hand side of the pitch and complementing his right-winger superbly.  His willingness to work for the team and immense bravery in tough situations will hold Choi in great stead in his career.  

He was on the score sheet twice during the season, which is impressive for a right back.  Once with the winner in a last gasp 4-3 victory away at Bucheon FC 1995.  More recently in the K League 2 playoff final against Suwon FC, he scored the opening goal in a 1-1 draw.  He really has the ability to be in the right place at the right time and he delivers a beautiful cross into the area.

Team MVP

Jung Hyuk

An unsung hero this campaign for Gyeongnam was experienced 34-year-old midfielder Jung Hyuk. Jung was surplus to requirements at K League 1 champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and jumped at the chance to join Seol Ki-hyeon in K League 2. His experience and knowledge of the game were key to how players operated around him. He was a good sounding board for Seol in the dressing room and he was brilliant in training and a huge influence in and around the squad. His positional sense on the pitch goes un-noticed and he is always pulling his teammates into positions. He is always talking during games and he is the most vocal on the pitch barking orders. He popped up with the winner against Bucheon FC 1995 with a great overhead kick in the 90th minute and he does get chances to add to his goal tally during games popping up late into the box.

Man at the helm, Seol KI-hyeon will be hoping to extend his loan deal for another year, as he could prove to be crucial to the Reds promotion push yet again in the 2021 season.

Most Disappointing Player

Jang Hyeok-jin

This choice may surprise a lot of Gyeongnam supporters but for me, Jang never influenced the games enough.  The former Ansan Greeners player was sublime for the Green Wolves in the 2018 season, scoring five goals and assisting twelve times prompting The Reds for his services.  For Gyeongnam last campaign he scored a solitary goal in the FA Cup and only set up three goals in twenty-six appearances.  The stats don't lie, he was sub-par by his lofty standards last season.  Granted in some matches he was played as a defensive midfielder and his job was to sit in front of the back four.  He was on most of the dead-ball situations and his delivery, on the whole, was very poor.  Countless times when taking a corner, Jang wouldn't clear the first man and it would be cleared.

His football brain and IQ are obvious for all to see, but I think at The Greeners he was a big fish in a small pond and he stood out.  He made the move south last campaign to Gyeongnam and he was among players of similar ability and he didn't stand out anymore.  The club will need to see more from Jang if he is to hold down the starting berth in the middle of the park in the 2021 campaign.  

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Most Important Decision of the Off-Season

Gyeongnam will need to improve their squad defensively and in the attacking third of the pitch.  Early rumblings around the club is that Seol Ki-hyeon will be given sufficient funds to improve his squad.  The foreign players brought into the club have got to be of a better standard and be used to the style of play in the Korean league.  Due to this Seol is only really looking at signing foreign players who have a track record of previously having some experience playing in the K League.  The financial backing will be there for Seol, it's how he spends it that will be key in how Gyeongnam fair next season.

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