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Dan Petrescu Steps Down as Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors Manager

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors officially announced the voluntary departure of manager Dan Petrescu, leaving the club having spent less than a year at the helm.

Dan Petrescu’s tenure at the K League 1 heavyweights drew to a close on Saturday, 24 hours prior to his side’s match with Gangwon FC, leaving the nine-times Champions bottom of the table after five rounds with zero wins for the campaign and three points, with side scoring four and conceding seven.

The run of poor form also follows an exit from the AFC Champions League quarterfinals at the hands of domestic rivals Ulsan Hyundai, a result that will likely see them unable to qualify for the 2025 Club World Cup and the high windfall it would likely bring.

The disappointment also follows a 2023 campaign in which Jeonbuk finished the season trophyless for the first time in a decade, with the side’s last hopes of silverware and Champions League Elite qualification slipping away to Pohang Steelers in the FA Cup Final. 

After a lavish outlay and financial backing in the winter window, the Jeonbuk board had provided ample support yet early performances and results this campaign had been far below the expected standards.

In his parting statement, Petrescu said “It was a happy time to be able to work with the best team in Asia” and added, “Jeonbuk Hyundai is a team that must aim for greater heights”.

The manager apologised for the recent showings, adding “I’m sorry for not meeting the fans’ expectations, and I’m grateful to the club for its generous support during my tenure, as well as the players and coaching staff who believed in me and tried hard. 

“I will cherish my experience and time as the manager of Jeonbuk Hyundai and my affection for the team in my heart, and I will support Jeonbuk Hyundai even when I return to my home country” his statement added. 

Too Tall of an Ask?

The 2022 season, despite an FA Cup win and an AFC Champions League semi-final exit, failed to live up to lofty expectations with the club ceding their grip on the title for the first time since 2016. However, the season represented a decline in performance overall, with showings on the pitch increasingly failing to live up to desired standards.

The club decided to back manager Kim Sang-sik in that window though, and given his long tenure at the club as a player, coach and eventually manager would have felt entitled to at least try to steer things back on course. Signings failed to live up to their billing though and, with key players also heading out the door, Jeonbuk found themselves requiring a change after just ten rounds with fans discontent being voiced each week from the stands and through bus blockades after.

Kim Do-heon, a member of Kim Sing-sik’s backroom team took interim charge and notably lifted the club in his eight performances at the helm, recording five wins and two draws, healing the side back into the top half.

However, club and technical advisors Park Ji-sung and Roberto Di Matteo plus the board of directors wanted to bring in a proven name to further reassure the disgruntled fanbase that Jeonbuk were doing their utmost to reverse their fortunes.

Having had multiple successful spells at the helm of Romanian Liga I Club CFR Cluj, plus AFC Champions League experience having formerly helmed Chinese Super League outfit Jiangsu Suning, the former Chelsea defender was approached to be tasked with turning the Green Warriors fortunes around and signed just ahead of the summer transfer window.

The club also were aggressive in the immediate transfer market to fully back their new manager, signing both Thomas Petrasek and Nana Boateng in a bid to shore up the side’s leaky defence. Petrescu was also allowed to bring in his own coaching staff, unveiling his former players Bogdan Aldea and Valeriu Bordeanu, to give him the best chance possible for the challenge ahead.

Petrescu had made it known at his unveiling regarding his intended playing style, stating "I never think about style. Only thing that matters in football is the result. And of course, my dream is always to win, doesn't matter how"." This was despite being at odds of Park Ji-sung’s prior promise of finding a manager who would help rediscover Jeonbuk's attacking touch.

It took a couple of games for the new manager to begin achieving positive results. After defeat to Gwangju in his opener, back-to-back wins against Jeju United and FC Seoul showed promise. Still, inconsistency began to plague his side with the club’s longest unbeaten streak in the league stretching to just five under his tenure (three wins and two draws). However, it should be stated that this also coincided with both AFC Champions League group stages and a prolonged run in the FA Cup.

Jeonbuk Managerial Performances in K League from 2015 (Wyscout)

There was also a return to basics, moving away from the possession-based football José Morais had sought to instil during his two years in charge from 2019. After what had often become pointless possession under his predecessor Kim Sang-sik, Dan Petrescu looked to shift the side into ceding possession in favour of more direct football. However, this saw little change in front of goal with Jeonbuk still struggling to find the net. 2-0 was the best scoreline under his tenure, with his sides never scoring more than two on the domestic front.

K League 1 Avergae Stats per game per Jeonbuk manager from 2015 (Wyscout)

However, there was still the argument that this was not Petrescuu's team last year, something he pointed out in the first press conference of this season. It would require time to shift this and an FA Cup Final plus group stage progression was enough to meet his demands in the most recent transfer window, with the club signing several high-profile names including Tiago, Hernandes and Kwon Chang-hoon.

The manager has also had to deal with multiple injuries to key personnel both last season and during this current one, stating after his side's 1-1 draw to Daejeon Hana Citizen that he was yet to have his preferred eleven available. However, this would garner little sympathy from his critics with an available squad featuring several international players and a wage bill that remains the highest in the division.

Ultimately though, while coming into a club in disarray mid-season posed its challenges, a talented squad, two heavily backed transfer windows and his own coaching staff should have led to better performances. The manager's demands were met as best as possible and, while perhaps more time could have been afforded, an acceptance that performances were not where they needed to be has understandably led to this decision.

Jeonbuk have stated they will begin search for a replacement immediately, with coaches Park Won-jae, Cho Sung-hwang and Choi Eun-sung among the coaching staff helming this weekend's game and Jeonbuk's immediate fixtures.

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