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2021 Season Review: Daegu FC

Daegu FC continued to confound pundits by wrapping up the season with a record high finish in the club's history as well as having a AFC Champions League play-off spot in the bag for next season. K League United's Daegu FC correspondent Muyeol Jung reflects on what was the most eventful season in the club's history.

What Went Well

It’s a fifth season in the top flight football that Daegu FC have faced since their return in 2017. Throughout those five years, they have constantly improved season by season, and have finished third in the league this season, which is the record high in the club's history, while bravely competing in three different fronts with limited resources. Thanks to the incredible achievement, they have deservedly earned a play-off spot for AFC Champions League next season. In addition, the fact that they were through to the group stage for the first time in their second appearance to AFC Champions League without the service of Jeong Taewook, Kim Jaewoo, and Jung Seungwon due to the preliminary training camp for the Tokyo Olympics is something the club and fans should be proud of.

What Didn't Go Well

Despite the incredible run in the league and ACL this season, losing the FA Cup final has significantly made an indelible dent in what they have achieved as a team this season and left the players and fans absolutely devastated at the end of the season. When the final whistle was blown, it was a difficult moment for all those in the club and in the stands to come to terms with the defeat because the Sky Blues were undoubtedly the favourite on paper, not to mention their advantage thanks to a 1-0 away win at Jeonnam Dragons. Apart from this, it was a very noisy and bumpy season for the Sky Blues due to some off the pitch issues. At the beginning of the season, Lee Byung-kuen's side had to play without the services of Jung Seungwon due to a contractual conflict between the club and him that was eventually resolved in the league's committee at the end of March. Later, at the end of the season, three Daegu players were reported for breaking Covid restrictions and misbehaviours in public after a heavy 5-0 defeat to Jeju at home. As a result, the club had to suspend them for the remainder of the season.

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Young Player of the Year

Midfielder Lee Jin-yong
The 2021 season must be remembered as an unforgettable and special for the 20 year-old midfielder Lee Jinyong as he massively contributed to the success of his hometown club. The club's youth product caught the gaffer's eye with his aggressive defending skills and continued to feature, defensively helping the team by screening the back three along with veteran midfielder Lee Yongrae. Thanks to his consistent performances in the league, he also received his first call up to Korea's U23 team for their preliminary training camp, making fans look forward to his promising future. This season, he made 37 appearances for the Sky Blues in all competitions, and impressed the fans.

Team MVP

Captain Kim Jin-hyuk
Some might find my selection bizarre as I went for Cesinha for Team MVP in K League United's podcast. However, I must admit I got caught between Cesinha and Kim Jinhyuk and in hindsight, captain Kim Jin-hyuk equally deserves the honours along with Cesinha for his massive contribution and commitment for the Sky Blues. The versatile footballer re-joined the Sky Blues from Gimcheon Sangju at the end of the 2020 season after completing his military duties and seamlessly settled in at Daegu. Off season, he was reportedly the target for many K League clubs and he could have left for another club, but he decided to remain in Daegu. 

Ahead of this season, he was given the armband for the Sky Blues for the first time since 2015 when he signed his first professional contract with Daegu. Throughout the season, the captain covered every blade of grass on the pitch at the gaffer's request, sometimes upfront, sometimes in the defence. When Edgar was out with injury at the beginning of the season, he led the team's attacking and scored decisive goals,. During the second half of the season, he dropped and used to play as defender in the back three. His presence on the pitch immensely provided more options in the tactic for Daegu, but was a nightmare for opponents. This season Kim Jinhyuk made 44 appearances in all competitions for Daegu FC with nine goals and two assists.

Most Disappointing Player

Goalkeeper Choi Young-eun
One of major concerns for Lee Byung-keun's side was in the goalkeeper department and it eventually hideously haunted the Sky Blues till the end of the season. Heading into the first few rounds, Choi Youngeun and Mun Kyunggeon, who later moved to Ansan Greeners in the summer, had been given a start in goal, competing to stake a claim. After Mun made a critical mistake against Jeonbuk in Round 5, Choi has always been favoured by the gaffer over other shot-stoppers. During the season, Choi came under attacks on some occasions for critical mistakes he made, however, the boss and fans generously kept faith in him. Nevertheless, he really didn't take advantage of the situation and has let down fans in the end. The critical howler he made in the FA Cup Final was the final straw.

Most Important Decision of the Off-Season

Can Alexandre Gama steer the Sky Blues to a higher place?

It was a very fast developing situation for Daegu's managerial post. The Sky Blues officially announced the appointment of former Buriram United manager Alexandre Gama as the new manager on 22nd December. Accordingly, Gama becomes the 12th manager and the third foreign manager in the club's history. The news came only a few days after the club announced the departure of manager Lee Byung-keun from Daegu in spite of the unprecedented accomplishment. The details about the contract is not disclosed yet, but it is believed that it is a two-year-long deal, and he is set to join the team on 4th Jan 2022 and meet the players.
Alexandre Gama (left) and Cho Kwang-rae (middle)

The Brazilian manager is well known for his shining accomplishments in Thailand with Buriram United, Chiangrai United, Muangthong United and the Thailand Youth Team, but to old Korean football fans, he is also well known for his close relationship with the current Daegu Chief executive Cho Kwang-rae. They have known each other well since 2009 when they worked together at Gyeongnam FC as manager and assistant manager before they both moved to the South Korea National Team in 2010. Because of the connection, the Brazilian's name always came up on the table whenever Daegu were looking for a manager, but had not happened until this month. 

The appointment of Gama is really exciting for the league in terms of bringing in new, different ideas, and fresh game plans as a foreign manager. It also bodes well for the club because the Sky Blues traditionally performed very well under two Brazilian managers; Moacir Pereira in 2012 (10th finish out of 16 clubs), Andre Gaspar in 2018-2019 (FA Cup winners 2018 and AFC Champions League group stage and fifth finish in the league in 2019). Hence, it is no wonder fans are chuffed with the appointment.

Who will be the next shot-stopper?

As I dropped a hint in the most disappointing player section, the Sky Blues definitely will have to recruit a quality goalkeeper if they want to compete as close to title contenders Jeonbuk or Ulsan as possible. In fact, the citizen club have an advanced right for the negotiation with South Korean international Gu Sungyun, serving military duty in Gimcheon Sangmu, but his return won't be earlier than 7th of September 2022.

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