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Yoon Jong-hwan's in Tray: The Task at Hand for Gangwon FC's New Manager


New Gangwon FC boss Yoon Jong-hwan finds himself inheriting a team requiring a refresh ahead of their fight for first division survival. Here, K League United columnist Nathan Sartain takes a look at some of the key things the Bears' 10th full-time manager may well need to do in the coming weeks.

Rehabilitate the Team's Confidence

As previous manager Choi Yong-soo liked to point out in his post-match press conferences, Gangwon at the moment are not a confident outfit. This season the Bears have often panicked in both defensive and attacking situations, lost their way after the succession of a goal, and struggled to gain footholds in games when under sustained pressure.

Fortunately, Yoon Jong-hwan already seems acutely aware of this issue, and has made addressing it a priority. For this squad needs to start possessing sturdy self-belief to trust they can survive despite another poor start to a campaign, and in turn have the conviction to take the necessary risks required to pick up more positive results than negative.

Nevertheless, bringing confidence to a struggling side is no easy feat, and will largely hinge on positive results being attained as quickly as possible. To succeed with that, change is essential.

Find the Right Formula

Tactically, this year has not been a strong one for Gangwon, which is something that calls for fixing if the aforementioned confidence issue is to be successfully ironed out. In addition to being the league’s lowest scoring team, the Bears are guilty of, on occasion, being caught out playing too high of a defensive line, whilst also managing to see counter attacks fizzle out in midfield areas due to just how deep the ball has been won back. That, and their overall style under Choi Yong-soo became imbued with a lingering passiveness towards the end of his tenure, often meaning opponents would gain the upper-hand almost by default.

So, now, Yoon Jong-hwan is tasked with revitalising the on-pitch proceedings. “I don't think we should be sitting back and playing defence from the opening kickoff. We need to take some risks on the attack," was the 50-year-old's own take on things in his unveiling press conference, perhaps pointing to a more progressive style being favoured going forward.

Conceivably, then, the back five sometimes stubbornly persisted with by previous managers could soon make way, or at least find itself reinvented. And why not? It's clear Gangwon would benefit from a new structure, and putting an extra body in midfield may be a way to improve creativity as well as balance the team's overall positional play, which has veered towards unevenness so far in 2023.

Return Kim Dae-won and Yang Hyun-jun to Full Form

Having your star players performing at their best lifts everybody. For example, when Kim Dae-won and Yang Hyun-jun combined to get a sizeable joint total of 37 goal contributions in the league last season, their teammates were spurred on too, and Gangwon in turn managed to score a top-half finish.

This year, with neither of the two being used as effectively, and the pair suffering from some of the same confidence issues rife amongst the squad as a result, the Bears haven't been able to look towards their aces to inspire them out of danger. This is by no means the fault of Kim Dae-won and Yang Hyun-jun - ideally both would receive greater help from those around them - but the point still stands.

Thus, Yoon Jong-hwan must pinpoint a way to get Gangwon's key performers firing again, and heavily lean into it. Whether that's through a more direct, front-foot style, or giving the duo an outlet up front to better link up with, it doesn't matter, as long as something is utilised to bring two players who could be key to survival back to their peak performance levels.*

*Some of this does hinge on whether Gangwon can retain the services of Yang Hyun-jun, who is currently being targeted by Celtic.* 

Establish a First-Choice Goalkeeper


Although the experienced Yu Sang-hun was largely preferred by previous manager Choi Yong-soo, it would be difficult to label him as the team's definite first-choice goalkeeper. After all, the 34-year-old hasn't enjoyed the most consistent year thus far, and Lee Gwang-yeon found himself favoured most recently (taking his appearance total this season to five). Plus, Lee has generally impressed when given a chance, making the contest for the #1 spot pretty unpredictable.

With that being said, this uncertainty should be tackled. If Yoon Jong-hwan favours Yu Sang-hun, the seasoned goalkeeper should, barring a string of noticeably poor performances, get a chance to retain his position in the team until the end of the season. Similarly, if Lee Gwang-yeon is to be rewarded with the trust of his new manager, he too should be allowed an opportunity to see out the year as first-choice.

Not only would having a defined first-choice goalkeeper potentially help settle the defenders who would be able to properly build up trust and rapport with the man behind them, but it'll allow the player himself to play the necessary run of games needed to gain some level of consistency, and confidence too. In short, goalkeeper rotation should be kept to a minimum moving forward.

Bring in Attacking Reinforcements

It's a bit of an obvious point, but when your team are the league's low scorers, you're probably going to wind up making adjustments. Yoon Jong-hwan has already embraced that fact, arriving with the loan signing of Yun Il-lok to "diversify" his attacking options. The 31-year-old winger, who has racked up over 200 K League 1 matches, brings with him plenty of quality, in addition to a type of refined experience which could prove highly beneficial.

However, there is still another priority needing urgent attention. The Bears are in great need of a goalscoring striker (they've scored just 11 times in the league this year), and will likely continue to struggle until one is signed. And, while the release of Dino should provide the club some financial wiggle room in their quest to find a centre-forward suitable for how they wish to play under their new coaching staff, with time very much of the essence, a big risk may need to be taken the longer this search plays out.

Keep Gangwon FC in K League 1

Really, there's only one thing Yoon Jong-hwan truly needs to do, and that's lead his new club to survival in any way possible. It could be through the promotion/relegation playoff, it could be thanks to a resurgent push towards the mid-table, and it might be by the very skin of their teeth, but finding a route to safety is a must.

Kim Byung-ji will not want to mark his first year as Gangwon's CEO by overseeing what would be the Bears' first relegation in a decade, and likewise Yoon Jong-hwan won't fancy having his return to K League management - he's exclusively continued his career outside of Korea since his departure from Ulsan Hyundai in 2016 - being marred by the provincial club he now heads dropping down a division. So, it's imperative solutions to Gangwon's issues are found, applied, and used to drive the Bears towards a prospective eighth consecutive year of top-flight football.


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