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scouting

Guest Column: Opportunities for Daejeon Hana Citizen

Daejeon Hana Citizen's 2020 K League 2 campaign ended in disappointing fashion with the Purples crashing out of the playoffs, despite heavy investment from Hana Financial Group. What is important now is for the club to take stock and plan for the future, making the most of the opportunities it has. Guest contributor Luiz Felipe Vecchietti highlights several key areas for Daejeon to address.

The season just ended for Daejeon Hana Citizen in a disappointing manner after the 1-1 draw with Gyeongnam that saw the Purples eliminated from the K League 2 playoffs. The last minutes of the game were emotionally intense for the Daejeon fans who saw striker Bruno Baio miss a penalty kick after the first try was disallowed for encroachment. Then, a goal scored by Baio was disallowed by VAR right before the end of the game. It all summed up what was a disappointing and unlucky season full of injuries, suspensions, and, especially, bad management.

It was the first year of the partnership with Hana Financial Group and promotion was expected after investing in manager Hwang Sun-hong, ex-FC Seoul, physical coach Alex Fernandes, ex-Guangzhou Evergrande, and star players like Andre Luis, Connor Chapman, Kim Dong-jun and Park Yong-ji. Both Hwang and Alex departed midseason and the top scorer Andre Luis has already signalled that he is not staying for next season. 

During the middle of the season the Daejeon board spoke to Andre Luis’ parent club Corinthians indicating that they would be willing to pay the $2 million buy-out clause but it seems the deal is not going ahead after all. It is known that, with these kinds of partnerships with big companies like Hana, results are expected quickly, especially with this kind of investment. Therefore, it opens up many questions for next season and also opens a lot of opportunities for the future of the club.


Defining the club’s playing style

The appointment of Hwang Sun-hong as manager at the beginning of the season highlighted that the board of directors thought that the experience of a seasoned manager would be enough to get promotion with the talented pool of players in the squad. Throughout the season, however, Daejeon was unlucky with injuries and suspensions and Hwang Sun-hong never justified the confidence of the board in his position as a manager. He had troubles with the team tactics, the team never showed consistent quality and his off-field man management was also troublesome, if reports are to be believed. This resulted in Hwang being fired midseason, even with Daejeon in 3rd place at that time.

The board remains with the same questions for next season: “Who should be the Daejeon manager in 2021?” Recently, we saw Busan IPark, after suffering relegation to K League 2 appoint Ricardo Peres, adding another Portuguese manager in the country, in what seems like an attempt to use more talented young players in the Busan squad. For Daejeon, in my opinion, to answer the first question another question should be answered first: "what style of football do they want to play?" The long-term success of the club and the partnership depends much more on having a consistent playing style.

Eulji Lewis

This creates the opportunity for the club to define a long-term plan. With a defined playing style and tactical characteristics opens up the possibility of following that identity from the youth system all the way up to the first team. This would be similar to what Barcelona did in the golden Guardiola years having a lot of players coming through from the youth setup in La Masia. The youth categories in Barcelona played with the same famous 4-3-3 style of the first team which made it easier for players to adapt.

Daejeon finished the season playing the last four games of the season in a 4-2-3-1 style that suited the characteristics of the star players. If the team wants to be a powerhouse in the K League and also inspire more people to follow the club, it is crucial to choose a style of play that agrees with that objective. It would mean, for example, to choose a 4-2-2-2 or 4-2-3-1 with wingers who can express themselves and with attacking midfielders. Another option would be to choose a ‘Gegenpressing’ play style similar to the one developed by Jürgen Klopp at Liverpool, as it would also suit the tactical style of play of the K League. The most important thing, in summary, would be to define a playing style that suits the club’s ambitions, and only after that can the club make bold decisions regarding the manager position.

Obviously, the implementation of a unified playing style from the youth system all the way up to the first team is not easy. First of all, it requires time. But, most importantly, it requires an efficient performance data analysis team. A team that would collect the data and statistics of all the games performed by all Daejeon categories and use that data to optimize the playing style, find strong and weak points, and filter players ready to step up to the next categories until they reach the first team. In this way, they would, at least, understand the tactical aspect of the team when promoted.
Once a year, before pre-season, a meeting with the first team manager, coaches and analysts from the club could be held to discuss the previous year’s results, and to make adaptations to the team’s playing and management style for the upcoming season.

Defining the club's vision

The hiring of physical coach Alex Fernandes from Chinese Super League giants Guangzhou Evergrande looked like a big addition for Daejeon at the beginning of the 2020 season. It suggested the intention of professionalizing all the areas of the club in the hope of promotion back to K League 1. However, due to personal reasons, the coach departed midseason right before Hwang Sun-hong was fired. Over the last few years we have seen many overseas coaches and analysts arrive in the K League. For these professionals to thrive the professionalization of such departments it is important. It would make it easier for them to adapt and contribute quickly, while also generating lasting progress for the club when leaving.

These days there is a direct correlation between state-of-the-art science and high performance football. Last year, during the campaign of Brazilian team Flamengo in the Copa Libertadores, the South American Champions League, everyone was surprised when key injured players returned in record time for the semi finals against Gremio. Flamengo went on to win 6-1 on the aggregate and won the competition after 39 years. After the semi-finals, Portuguese manager Jorge Jesus praised the performance of his medical team. When Jorge Jesus left to Portuguese giants Benfica at the beginning of this season, he tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to bring the Flamengo medical team to Portugal with him.

The city of Daejeon is known for being a science city and the main technological hub of South Korea. Multiple engineering universities, basic science institutes, and several research centers are located in the city and are close to each other. To point this out, the Daejeon World Cup Stadium is located approximately 5 km away from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), one of the world’s top 20 Engineering and Technology universities based on the 2020 QS rankings. This scientific environment creates enormous potential that is not explored by the club.

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The first potential aspect that I would like to mention is regarding opportunities of partnership and creating professionalized departments. Because of the proximity with this science hub, there are plenty of professionals that could be hired by the club to professionalize important departments such as the medical, physics, data analysis, management, and marketing. There is also the possibility of partnerships with research centers and university laboratories with the objective of increasing the performances of professional footballers. Spanish giants Real Madrid, for example, have their own graduate school located in Madrid that attracts a lot of foreign students and is a partner of several top global universities. Daejeon could follow this example and hold yearly conferences to discuss recent research related to sports science and football in general.

The city being a science hub is also overlooked in one of the most important aspects related to a football club: the sense of community, increasing the number of fans and improving marketing capabilities. These are all closely related. The approximation with this important environment in the city could lead not only to an increase in performance but also to an increase in the number of fans in the stadium. The club could bring a sense of home to people within the city’s science community, people who moved to the city of Daejeon for professional reasons. In a loose comparison, the situation could be compared with university sport leagues in the United States. The sense of community that they bring to the cities around university campuses and high attendances during league games obtained by top universities generate high amounts of revenue for the institution. One more comparison is a little closer to home. Daegu FC created an interesting environment that has seen the club obtain sustained and increased success as a club, going from a K League 2 side to Asian Champions League in just four seasons. The team also has built a great stadium that usually sells all tickets available for home matches.

Defining scouting guidelines

The third and last point that I want to make is about defining specific scouting guidelines for the club. The reason for this is twofold: the first is related to the psychological and academic aspects of the game. The psychological aspect of the game is very important with the hectic schedule that the league has nowadays. It is easy for the players to get burnout and have mental health struggles that can be overlooked. The academic capacities of a player are also really important to understand the tactics and new concepts related to modern football. The second aspect is regarding a characteristic of the K League that usually sees a lot of foreign players come and leave after just one season. There are many reasons for that, such as, problems with the adaptation, culture, language, personal relations, and other more attractive financial offers.

The academic capabilities of a player, that I define here is the ability to understand, and, more importantly, apply football concepts and fundamentals during a game. This is really important when a manager is trying to implement tactical and complex concepts to the team. Fans attribute a team’s failure to the manager but the speed that the player pool takes to assimilate and apply new concepts is really important. The club should focus on players who are eager to spend time developing their knowledge about the game and understanding the scenarios in which small advantages can be taken. A player with this profile has a better chance of adapting to certain tactics.



This academic player profile also applies to foreigner players. There are signings that have a higher probability of failing than others, but, traditionally, K League clubs sign high risk players. It is hard to say if the reason for that is related to bad scouting, limited pool of players and intermediaries, or a limited budget. Probably, a combination of all these factors. The reality is that few players flourish and stay long-term in the league, such as Cesinha, the star player from Daegu. Cesinha combines his technical abilities with a strong psychological strength that made him the face of Daegu since he arrived at the club in 2016. To find more players like Cesinha, quality scouting is needed. This includes scouting not only the players by video tapes but also by their personal profile. The game is, in the end, not only physical but mental too. 

Daejeon has been an important entry door for foreigner players into K League and this can continue if a more rigorous approach is taken in the scouting department. One problem with the team is that few players stay long-term. With a clear and specific style of play, the success of the scouting department can be enhanced, as the club will know exactly the needs of the squad and find the pieces that are missing. Players who play in a position in which they feel comfortable in and are in a positive and organized environment tend to stay longer. In this way, we will have a smaller probability of losing important foreigner players after just one season, such as with Andre Luis this year.

Conclusion

To conclude, the opportunities described here are not restricted to Daejeon. Despite this reflection being focused on the club and the city of Daejeon, important concepts such as having professional performance analysis, scouting and medical teams can be applicable to any club. It is important that more clubs and their board of directors realize that these external factors hold more importance every year and count towards the long-term success of a club on the pitch.

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