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2021 FC Seoul Season Preview

After a miserable 2020, the feel-good factor is slowly returning to FC Seoul thanks to an impressive transfer window. New manager Park Jin-sub has strengthened his squad considerably, and there’s now genuine optimism in Sangam that the capital club can move on from the disaster that was last season and push for continental qualification. Simon Farnsworth from @FCSeoul_fans previews the season.

Last Season

8W-5D-14L, 9th in K League 1

What Happened?

It was bad. Real bad. Seoul flirted with relegation throughout the 2020 season and only secured survival with two games to spare. The football on display was dire: Seoul scored just 23 goals in 27 games, the lowest in K League 1, and conceded 44, the second most. 

Manager Choi Yong-soo, who led the side to ACL qualification in 2019, departed in July after a string of terrible results. Three caretaker managers followed, but none could lift a squad that looked completely drained of confidence. 

Han Seung-gyu, on loan from Jeonbuk, was a rare bright spark, and Osmar continued to bring real quality to Seoul’s midfield, but it wasn’t enough to mask what was a truly miserable season.

Notable Moves

New manager Park Jin-sub has kicked off his reign with an impressive first transfer window. The former Gwangju boss moved quickly to fix Seoul’s chronic lack of goals, creativity, and defensive stability.

One of the biggest K League transfers of the window saw Seoul splash a reported €1 million on Nacional’s Aleksandar Paločević. The Serbian shone while on loan at Pohang, bagging 14 goals and six assists in 2020. His arrival in the capital is a real coup - with Seoul beating a number of rival clubs to his signature. Hopes are high that Paločević can transform Seoul’s attacking fortunes and lead the club back to ACL qualification.

Na Sang-ho in pre-season training with his new club

As soon as Park Jin-sub arrived at the club, rumours started circulating that Na Sang-ho would soon follow his former boss to the capital. Under Park’s tutelage at Gwangju, Na Sang-ho netted 16 goals in 2018, winning the K League 2 golden boot and earning a move to FC Tokyo. His switch to Japan didn’t quite work out but a loan move to Seongnam last season reignited his career. The 24-year-old scored seven goals in 19 appearances in a struggling team, cementing his name as one of Korea’s most exciting young attackers. He penned a three-year deal with Seoul and will be a key player as the club looks to move forward. 

Park Jung-bin
New signing Park Jung-bin arrives after spending a decade in Europe

Seoul ended 2020 on a bright note by signing former Servette winger Park Jung-bin on a free transfer - despite reported interest from Ligue 1 duo FC Lorient and FC Nantes. Park’s career has taken him to Germany and Switzerland via four years in Denmark, but the Busan-born midfielder has never played in the K League. Step forward Special Agent Osmar who reportedly spoke at length to Park when Seoul and Servette played a friendly in Portugal in January 2020. Fast forward 11 months and Park penned a two-year deal with Seoul. Park can operate on either wing and as a number 10 but expect the 26-year-old to play mostly on the left-wing, cutting inside onto his favoured right foot. 

Having bolstered their attack considerably, Park Jin-sub raided his former club for centre-back Hong Joon-ho. Strengthening their defence by signing a defender from Gwangju, the only club that conceded more goals than Seoul in the K League, may raise some eyebrows. However, the data points towards a shrewd move: Hong led the league in interceptions and was joint fourth in terms of shots blocked.

Key Player 

Aleksandar Paločević 

Paločević was in unstoppable form for Pohang in 2020

The arrival of Aleksandar Paločević is a real statement of intent. The Serbian tore teams apart while on loan at Pohang and is precisely the creative force that Seoul so clearly lacked in 2020. The former Nacional playmaker signed a three-year deal with the club, and while league silverware might be unrealistic in 2021, he's exactly the sort of player that Park Jin-sub will look to build a team around if Seoul are to seriously challenge Jeonbuk and Ulsan in the coming seasons. Fans are understandably excited at the prospect of Paločević linking up with the likes of skipper Ki Sung-yueng, new signings Na Sang-ho and Park Jung-bin, and talented youngsters such as Han Chan-hee and Cho Young-wook. 

Young Player to Watch

Cho Young-wook

Will 2021 be Cho Young-wook's breakout season?

Cho Young-wook is locked and loaded for a big campaign. The flying winger has all the attributes to become a top-class K League player, and he’s shown flashes of his considerable talent over the past three seasons. With 68 K League appearances to his name, it can be easy to forget that he’s still only 22 years old. If he can start adding goals and assists to his game, there’s no reason why he can’t cement himself in Paulo Bento’s squad in the run-up to next year’s World Cup.

Biggest Question 

Can FC Seoul put 2020 behind them and challenge at the top end of the table?

On paper, Seoul have had a fantastic off season. They’ve strengthened their squad considerably - although they’d be happy to add another striker and centre-back - and the general mood from the fan base is one of excitement and optimism. 

Their midfield is stacked with talent, and skipper Ki Sung-yueng is finally fully fit. They’ve splashed the cash to fix the lack of creativity and goals that blighted their previous campaign and all the signs point towards a project that's moving in the right direction.

But can Park Jin-sub inspire his charges to leave 2020 behind? The squad is full of talent, but 2020 really was a brutal, confidence-sapping season. If Park can inject some much-needed belief into his squad and quickly integrate his new signings, there’s no reason they can’t challenge for ACL qualification -  especially if the likes of Ki Sung-yueng and Osmar stay fit. Ultimately, Park will be judged on results on the pitch, not his dealings in the transfer market.

Reason to Watch 

The Seoul World Cup Stadium could well be home to some of the best-attacking football in the K League next season - if Paločević & Co click and Seoul snag a Felipe-style target man, that is. The doom and gloom surrounding the club at the end of 2020 have been replaced by a renewed sense of optimism thanks to several high-quality signings - although question marks remain over the defence, which lacks a little strength in depth.

Expect plenty of goals at both ends when Seoul take to the field.

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