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2021 Busan IPark Season Preview

Busan IPark 2021
Relegated to K League 2 after a season in the top flight, Busan IPark look set to enter a new era with an exciting young squad, led by charismatic Portuguese coach Ricardo Peres. KLU's Todd Wilde previews IPark's prospects for the 2021 season, as they look to bounce back to the top tier at the first time of asking.

Last Season

5W-10D-12L, 12th in K League 1 (Relegated)

What Happened?

Busan IPark's first season in the top flight for four years showed great initial signs of promise, as the Royals appeared destined for a mid table finish. Led by a legion of talented academy graduates, at their best IPark appeared capable of frustrating the very best sides in the country, whilst they picked up valuable wins early in the season against established K League 1 opponents.
Unfortunately, Busan collapsed in the second half of the season, feebly surrendering their place in the top flight after an unforgiveable run of poor results and shambolic defensive performances. A tactical disaster-class from Cho Duk-jae failed to get the best out of IPark's mercurial young talents in attack, whilst the team did not appear mentally ready for a relegation battle, consistently conceding late goals to relegation rivals.

Lee Dong-jun, 이동준
An inconsolable Lee Dong-jun after Busan's relegation on the final day of the 2020 season

The squad was hampered by a few injuries to key players - most notably to left back Yun Suk-young and dynamic attacker Kim Jin-kyu - which exposed a desperate lack of depth, as Busan's young playmakers were poorly supported by second tier talent. This could have been avoided if the club had recruited better in the off season, but a string of ineffective - and in some cases, disinterested - signings led Busan to have a shortage of K League 1 level options within the squad.

Notable Moves

It feels like the end of an era in Busan, as IPark have been stripped bare of their best talent. Of the 15 players to have played at least 900 league minutes last season, nine have left the club. Most significantly, six key players that made their professional debut at the club have departed: Korean internationals Lee Jeong-hyeop and Lee Dong-jun; player of the season Kim Moon-hwan; influential midfielder Lee Gyu-seong; homegrown defender Kim Myeong-jun; and promising youngster Kwon Hyeok-kyu, who has joined Gimcheon Sangmu on loan to serve his military service.

Busan will also be without one of their all time most successful foreign players, Romulo, who has joined Chengdu Better City FC on a free transfer. Their other foreign signings from last season, Uzbek international Dostonbek Tursunov and striker Gustavo Vintecinco, have not been retained at the club after a disappointing season, despite having a year and two years left on their contract respectively.
Anh Byong-jun, 아병준
An Byong-jun's 20 goal haul earned him K League 2 MVP honours in 2020
IPark have had an uphill task in finding replacements but have recruited well, bringing in a mix of established veterans at this level and young talent. North Korean international striker An Byong-jun is the team's standout signing and was the league's top scorer at Suwon FC in 2020. The reigning K League 2 MVP gives Busan a proven vocal point up top, and has signed for a nominal fee.
Park Min-kyu was one of the league's outstanding fullbacks last season at Suwon FC and joins on a season long loan, whilst Cypriot international Valentinos Selies adds some real class in central defence and should give Busan a K League 1 level partnership with captain Kang Min-soo. It is also rumoured that Croatian Domagoj Drozdek will arrive at the club, which would give IPark a threat on the left wing that was absent last season.

Key Player 

Kim Jin-kyu, 김진규
The one remaining standout youth academy product to have remained at the club, Kim Jin-kyu suffered a frustrating 2020, as injuries limited the academy product to eight club appearances. Sidelined through a niggling ankle injury suffered whilst playing for the Korea U23s in Thailand last January, Kim returned to the side mid season only to be sidelined again through an unrelated knee injury, one which robbed Busan of its most potent threat around the box just as he appeared to be hitting form.
After proving his fitness in the off season with three goals for the Korean Olympic side in a series of pre-season friendlies, Kim returns to Busan hungry and ready to spearhead Busan's hopes of an immediate return to the K League 1. Kim is best utilised as Busan's main creative outlet, acting as a bridge between the midfield and attack whilst looking to exploit space in the final third. The versatile 24 year old can also be deployed as a winger or as a box-to-box midfielder, a position where Kim played for much of the 2019 season.

Young Players to Watch

Lee Sang-jun, 이상준
Starting last season as his team's third choice right back, Lee Sang-jun was thrust into the spotlight after injuries blighted Busan's backline, as Lee was thrown into the left back position for much of last season. The Korean U20 World Cup runner-up struggled in duals against international level wingers in the K League 1, but was showing real improvement towards the end of the season, noticeably improving his positioning and decision making. 
Choi Jun, 최준
Lee will have to compete for a starting spot at right back with Choi Jun, who burst onto the scene at Gyeongnam FC in 2020. The Ulsan Hyundai academy product was a contender for Player of the Season in Changwon, lighting up the right wing with his overlapping runs into the opposition half during a show-stopping half season loan spell. Both players are eligible to play under the U22 rule.

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Biggest Question 

Is Ricardo Peres the right man to lead the rebuilding effort?

Busan IPark chairman Chung Mong-kyu sprang a major surprise by appointing Portuguese coach Ricardo Peres as permanant manager, best known as compatriot Paulo Bento's assistant at Cruziero and Olympiakos. Busan's first permanent foreign head coach since 2007, Peres is the only overseas manager in K League 2 this season.

Peres has arrived at the club with an intention to radically change the culture at the club. He has created guidelines where senior players are encouraged to be an example for younger players, whilst the focus of the club has shifted to promoting young talent from within rather than relying on external veteran signings. In truth, Busan has always been a hotbed of excellent young talent, but Peres' expects a higher standard of coaching and intensity in training, which can unlock more potential from the team's youthful squad. The club has also adopted a more European dressing room style, with players encouraged to be more vocal and to take more accountability for their own actions.

Ricardo Peres
A key goal of Peres is for the club to be more transparent and have a better relationship with supporters. With a record of one win in 12 first team games whilst in charge of Portuguese second division side Casa Pia - his only senior management experience - Peres will have his work cut out to impress a fanbase that is desperately pessimistic about IPark's chances under the Portuguese coach, and already enraged by the decision to not re-sign club legend and one club man Han Ji-ho. 
Indeed, Peres will find that it is very easy to talk about the club building relationships with supporters, when the club's problems extend far deeper than on the pitch, and when (at the time of writing) no efforts have been made to reach out to the club's core fanbase. However, Peres deserves to be judged over a full season given the large scale of change in and around the club, with success determined by player development and the team's performances on the pitch.


Reason to Watch 

Busan IPark's focus on youth makes them a must watch for fans of the Taeguk Warriors. The squad features ten players eligible to play under the U22 rule, and six youth internationals. As part of the transfers of Lee Dong-jun and Lee Gyu-seong to Ulsan Hyundai, Busan have received three members of the Korea U23 National Team from the Asian Champions in part exchange. In addition to 21 year old full back Choi Jun, 23 year old midfielder Lee Sang-heon and 21 year old striker Park Jeong-in were both regularly introduced off the bench to pick up minutes in K League 1 and the AFC Champions League last season.
Lee Sang-heon, 이상헌
Lee Sang-heon celebrates scoring against Shanghai Shenhua in the 2020 ACL Champions League for Ulsan Hyundai
It is also worth keeping an eye on the four youngsters that IPark have signed from the U-League. The trio of Kang Young-ung, Chun Ji-hyun and Eo Jeong-won attended Gaesung High School together, and the 21 year old youth academy graduates should all push for minutes from the bench after featuring prominently in pre season (with Eo scoring twice). Busan could also give an U22 player a chance to play in goal this season, as U-League graduate Jin Pil-rip and former Cerezo Osaka stopper Anh Jun-su compete for a starting place.

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