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Not so Green Anymore: Ansan Gear up for a New Season

It seems a little ironic that Ansan enter their sixth season as a franchise still using the Greeners moniker. The club is now well established, with two ninth-placed, two seventh-placed and a fifth-placed finish under their belts, and with Asan and now Gimpo now entering the league, the Green Wolves are starting to gain look a little more like an established side than a new one. This is reflected in the team’s business over winter, which has seen a lot of peripheral movement, but the core of the side has remained. With the title of being the most followed club on social media, the Green Wolves will be looking to make the most of the extra promotion places available in the league this year, and in doing so restoring the reputation of their new manager.

Lots of Movement

Given the typically high turnover of playing staff from season to season, particularly for teams at the lower end of the budget range in the league, there is a degree of unpredictability to any new campaign. Some seasons see significant departures, with two seasons ago Ansan losing three key players responsible for almost two-thirds of their goals over the winter, and Captain and long-term stalwart Lee In-jae leaving last year. Retention, therefore, is a key issue and this has been seemingly a key part of the club’s address during this close season. After early departures of key players, the club announced new contracts for some of their key international players, who will be a key part of new coach Cho Min-kook’s thinking this season.

A Gutted Defence

The largest concern for Ansan will be reorganising the defence. Kim Jin-rae departed for Gyeongju, Song Ju-ho to Asan and Kim Hyun-tae to Seongnam, a mixed set of transfers on a personal level for the players, but for Ansan they played made over sixty appearances in 2021 between them. Song Ju-ho in particular was Ansan’s strongest defender, with an average of 1.3 interceptions (league-high was Kang Eui-bin with 3) and 4.6 clearances (league-high was Park Ho-yeong with 5.1), and will be a huge loss to the Ansan defence. The transfer raising the most eyebrows however was Yeon Jae-min’s departure for Line 4 Derby rivals Anyang. Number 4 is considered an unlucky number in Korea, and for Ansan this is the second season in a row that their captain sporting the number 4 jersey has departed. Yeon had an average of 1.8 interceptions and 3.8 clearances per game, marking him as a key player in the heart of the Ansan defence. However, two players that have remained are Kim Min-ho, who faded from the starting line-up toward the end of the season but put in some solid early season performances, and goalkeeper Lee Seung-bin. The club's number one. he was the K League 2’s top “saver” last season with an average of 3.6 saves per game, and 5th in the league in terms of goals conceded per game at 1.2 and sixth for clean sheets with seven. 


The Asnawi Effect

The big name on everyone’s mind was Indonesian sensation Asnawi Mangkualam. Many Ansan fans will feel they did not get to see enough of the right sides attacking defender with only 14 appearances last term. However his flair led to several team of the week appearances, and there was always a sense of there being much more to the young international. COVID regulations and national duties limited his appearances but this looks a lot less likely to disrupt his season this time, and his performances in helping Indonesia to the Suzuki Cup final in winter will have Ansan fans in great anticipation of Asnawi making a permanent mark on the K League in 2022. He has of course already established a legacy of his own at the club, as Ansan’s Instagram followers surpassed 100,000, the Green Wolves can make a claim to being the most famous K League club in the world!

Robson Duarte at a pre-season training camp

A Point to Prove

There was some sneering about Ansan’s decision to bring Robson Duarte back to the K League after unimpressive spells at Gwangju and Seoul E-land, and the Brazilian’s fitness issues prevented him from making much of an initial impact. However, as the season progressed, Duarte began to show some impressive form, particularly coming on from the bench leading to him having a scoring frequency of one goal every 255 minutes. It seems that the K League was unfinished business for Duarte, after making the switch from second-tier Brazilian side Sampaio Corrêa, and he will be looking to prove his doubters wrong by adding to his seven goals and four assists from the 2021 season.

The Spine Remains

The most promising part of Ansan’s off-season are the face they have retained rather than brought in. Asnawi and Duarte will provide something for opposition defenders to think about but the Greeners have kept key players in other positions. Lee Seung-bin became a reliable figure in the Ansan goal last season, as noted above and kept a clean sheet in 28% of his appearances, and along with Kim Min-ho will be vital in getting Ansan organised at the back this season. The rotation of previous years will hopefully be a thing of the past and Seung-bin will need a consistent run to get used to a new defence in front of him. He will be helped by two of the most consistent players of Ansan’s 2021 campaign with Go Iwase being a near-constant feature of the side in the second half of the season and Lee Sang-min becoming the side’s most important player in the midfield. Sang-min missed just one league game and contributed four goals and six assists, and was rightly given the vice-captaincy for the upcoming campaign. Top scorer Kim Ryun-do also remains, and has been named captain, and this promotion represents a desire for consistency across the team, but also faith in the striker to kick on and perhaps fire Ansan higher up the table. The club has also somewhat gambled on some injury hampered but creative players in Kang Soo-il and Canhoto, and Ansan will be looking to draw more from them this term.

New Faces

Eighteen of the twenty-four new players in the squad have come in from either university or high school level, or the third or fourth tier of the Korean football pyramid. Add to this that two players have been brought in from K League 2 newcomers Gimpo and the number is effectively twenty. These join a total team of forty-four players with squad numbers, which is alarming at first glance but more likely many of the squad will represent the Green Wolves at U23 level.  The Greeners do not have a lot of fresh faces that look set to challenge the first eleven outside of the backline. Moon Kyeong-gun from Daegu joins Lee Chan-woo from Gyeongnam to provide competition in the goalkeeper position. Thaiago Henrique has signed from Brazilian side Sao-Joseense, with a not particularly impressive record in his home country but judgement will be reserved until he makes his Ansan debut. Park Dong-hwi [Ulsan Citizen], Kwon Yong-ho [Chungju], Kim Ye-sun, Jang Yu-seop [Geoje] and Ahn Seong-min [Gimpo] will likely make appearances in the opening weeks of the campaign as they will be part of the defensive rebuild, though as all of these players are making the step-up one or two divisions it will be up to veterans like Kim Min-ho to help marshal them into a coherent unit. Kwon, with J league experience at Fujieda and a graduate of Gwangju’s academy seems most likely to be part of the new defensive set-up.  Shin Il-soo returns after several loans over the past few seasons, and the twenty-seven-year-old faces a make or break season in his career at this level.  One signing to look out for is twenty-year-old Yun Kyeong-won coming from Croatian side RNK Split. His European experiences at a young age may give him an edge not seen elsewhere in the side. 

Kim Ryun-do and Cho Min-kook pose with the league trophy at Media Day

New Management

The success of this Ansan side ultimately rests on new manager Cho Min-kook. Ansan showed they can play in the opening and closing weeks of last season’s campaign, but consistency in putting together a settled side has been highlighted as the biggest issue facing the Green Wolves in recent years. Cho will need to resist using the rotation tactics that have hampered other managers despite the bumper squad size. Ansan have a solid midfield in Iwase and Lee Sang-min, and plenty of attacking options, so Cho’s main task will be to organise a defence that can lower Lee Seung-bin’s need to be so active between the sticks, and focus on winning more clean sheets. Ansan failed to score in just eleven of their thirty-six matches last season so clean sheets will be key for a potential play-off finish. Cho himself may be able to draw on some of his squad who clearly have something to prove. The success of Lee Sang-min and Duarte last season in proving their doubters wrong can embolden the manager to shake off the disappointing memory of his spell in charge of Ulsan Hyundai eight years ago, his last major job in management, and instil the success he had as a player into this Ansan side.

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