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2024 Season Preview: Can Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors Hold it Together?

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors stands determined to leave behind the struggles of the 2023 season and strive to regain its former glory in the upcoming season after the team failed to win any trophies last season for the first time in a decade. Now that new manager Dan Petrescu has had time to fully implement his tactics in pre-season, Jeonbuk should be back to challenging for titles, but can they hold it together?

Last Season

16 wins, 9 draws, 13 defeats, 4th place.

What Happened?

Jeonbuk's 2023 season was a chaotic rollercoaster. The high hopes of reclaiming the K League 1 title that accompanied the team at the beginning of the season quickly vanished as a series of disappointing results early on dampened the mood. The underwhelming performances persisted, leading to a downward spiral in the league table. Fans were quick to voice their discontent. Their dissatisfaction swiftly soared into mass protests against the manager & board, this time at a larger scale than the ones that took place the previous season.

After the resignation of Kim Sang-sik, Coach Kim Do-heon took over as caretaker manager and worked hard to stabilize the team. In his nine league games in charge, he took Jeonbuk from tenth to the top half, picking up 17 points from a possible 24, including a 2-0 victory in the Hyundai Derby.

Dan Petrescu became the new manager in June. Jeonbuk's form from there was up and down. But, they did remarkably manage to finish in the top six just before the split and even secured continental football, finishing the season in fourth, which earned them qualification for the new ACL2 at a minimum (*ACL Elite can be achieved should they win the ACL). They did reach the FA Cup final, but the 2022 holders fell to a 4-2 defeat against Pohang Steelers.

Notable Moves

Andre Luis and Rafa Silva had their contracts terminated. Due to the failure of most of the foreign players recruited last season, Jeonbuk has switched focus to acquiring mostly K League players to fill their foreign quota but has had to do so with a tighter budget due to poor dealings last season, which is why many signings are free agents, transfer fees paid in instalments, or trade deals.

  • FW Hernandes from Incheon United
  • FW Tiago from Daejeon Hana Citizen
  • MF Lee Yeong-jae from Suwon FC
  • MF Kwon Chang-hoon from Suwon Samsung Bluewings
  • DF Kim Tae-hwan from Ulsan HD
  • FW Marcus Vinicius from Atlético Huila
  • DF Lee Jae-ik from Seoul E-Land

  • MF Paik Seung-ho to Birmingham City
  • FW Gustavo to Shanghai Port
  • FW Rafa Silva to Cruzeiro
  • FW Andre Luis to Cuiabá Esporte Clube
  • MF Ryu Jae-moon to FC Seoul
  • Amano Jun (loan expired)

Like last season, Jeonbuk lost one of their best players on a free with Paik Seung-ho. However, they did manage to sign what many would view to be the best domestic replacement they could have acquired in Lee Yeong-jae in a cash + trade deal with Suwon FC that sees Korean youth international Kang Sang-yoon go the other way on a season-long loan.

Tiago has been brought in to replace Gustavo in the team. As the 2023 K League 1 Golden Boot runner-up, he may be the solution to Jeonbuk's problem of finding a consistent goalscorer. Hernandes is another significant foreign signing who has already impressed Jeonbuk fans by scoring a well-taken goal on his debut.

Lee Jae-ik brings Jeonbuk a much-desired left-footed and technically good option at centre-back. The 24-year-old should provide strong competition for places at the back.

Kim Tae-hwan joins on a two-year deal following his contract expiration at Ulsan HD. His physical style should suit well to Dan Petrescu's tactics. Jeonbuk has needed another veteran. Gaining a player of this level of quality and experience on a free transfer may prove to be quite the coup.

Kwon Chang-hoon is another player joining from a rival team. A more controversial signing than Kim Tae-hwan. He joins on a low wage but with an easy route for him to return to Europe should he receive an offer.

Key Players

Song Min-kyu & Lee Yeong-jae

Song Min-kyu struggled at first upon his arrival at Jeonbuk in 2021. In the two seasons since then, he has shown glimpses of being a high-quality player and has always been important for Jeonbuk, but he has struggled to consistently perform at that level all season round. However, in his new role in the middle as a shadow striker, he is being best utilised and is pivotal in Jeonbuk's attack. He can drop back into open spaces, hold onto the ball, drive forward, and create opportunities for others, while also keeping an eye out for goal-scoring opportunities for himself. Song Min-kyu is also important defensively due to his pressing and ability to drop back and support the midfield. With Lee Yeong-jae in the midfield behind him, who will be vital for Jeonbuk's buildup and will function in a way that completes many tasks in the midfield and may prove to be a vital component due to his capability there due to being in a double-pivot that still builds up often from the back, Song Min-kyu could thrive since Lee Yeong-jae is the player to connect the buildup. Jeonbuk has been crying out for a player like Lee Yeong-jae, who suits the role Petrescu asks of him better than Paik Seung-ho did. Both players will be key this season.

Young Player to Watch

Lee Kyu-dong

The U22 question for Jeonbuk this season is an intriguing one. A good problem Petrescu has to deal with is that there looks to be much competition for places for the U22 quota players. In pre-season, Petrescu opted to use Lee Kyu-dong often. He even featured in the ACL Round of 16 vs Pohang despite no U22 quota in that competition, which also happened to be his debut in the A team. Usually deployed as a striker when in the B team, Lee also can play on the wing but seems best suited to being the shadow striker. He looks set to rack up plenty of minutes in the A team this season and is definitely one to track the progress of after an impressive pre-season for the 20-year-old.

Biggest Question 

Can Jeonbuk hold it together?

In 2022, Jeonbuk failed to capitalise on Ulsan's inconsistency, which cost them the title. Last year, results were all over the place. Jeonbuk must keep it together and avoid erratic form to give themselves the best chance to win the title and achieve continental success. The generational change the squad underwent is over now. There are many young and newer players. Last season, Hong Jeong-ho struggled with the immense pressure of captaining this new generation. Kim Jin-su is the new captain, and all the veteran players and leaders in the dressing room will play a crucial role in ensuring the team remains in a healthy state. Furthermore, Jeonbuk must reinforce the winning culture and mentality of the past in this group of players to achieve short and long-term success. Failure to do so could cost them the title again.

Reason to Watch

Manager Dan Petrescu's tactics may be seen as a bit defensive at times. However, Jeonbuk possesses excellent attacking quality this year and has shown that already in ACL. The football is more enjoyable to watch than it was under Kim Sang-sik. The passing patterns, the style of play, and the tactics are all beginning to gel. With players like Hernandes, Tiago, Ahn Hyeon-beom, and Song Min-kyu, Jeonbuk could be one of the most exciting K League teams to watch this season.


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