Week One of the 2021 K-League One is done and dusted and we had goals, red cards, VAR (obviously), successful debuts and some unsuccessful ones as were treated to a long weekend of football fayre.
Below are my 5 picks of things that we learned from the weekend and beyond.
The K-League shoots itself in the foot again!
Last season we had the Ki Sung-yeung farce as after spending 10yrs plying his trade in the UK the ex-captain of the National Team, and one of Korea’s most decorated footballers, was unable to sign for Jeonbuk Motors due to a ridiculous clause that FC Seoul had inserted in his transfer to Celtic FC. The clause basically gave Seoul full rights over any transfer back to Korea and meant that for Ki to sign for any other K-League team they would have to pay Seoul a fee. With Jeonbuk unwilling to give Seoul the money the deal fell through and finally he was left choiceless and he signed for Seoul, hilariously enough he was named their captain for this season. Now I know what you are thinking, this is old news….well unfortunately a similar situation has happened with Paik Seung-ho with Jeonbuk yet again being the club deprived of their signing. It would appear that when Paik joined the Barcelona youth system back in 2010 that Suwon Bluewings paid a sum of money rumored to be around $300,000. Paik is alleged to have not informed Bluewings of his intention to return to K-League with Jeonbuk which has enraged the Samsung team. It would appear that the 300k has basically given Bluewings rights over his return to Korea and yet again a potential transfer is scrapped because of a ridiculous legal issue. I imagine Kwon Chang-hoon has a similar clause and it really is time that the K-League outlawed these as the fans as well as the clubs trying to sign players are losing out.
The u22 rule farce
Down the years Korea has tried many things to help develop local talent and ultimately improve the National Team, some ideas have been successful such as banning foreign goalkeepers but it’s safe to say that the new rules concerning u22 players are obviously flawed and are actually heaping embarrassment on the Korean game. The short version of the rule changes are that if teams play 2 players under 22 then they get to use all 5 substitutions that are now available. This is resulting in teams naming 1 or 2 in their starting lineups. The problem with this is that teams have basically being substituting their young players as soon as they can, Seongnam today took off Hong Si-hoo after 30 mins and replaced him with a 6’7 lump of wood. Seongnam were by no means the worst culprits, no that was reserved for Incheon and Suwon FC who subbed BOTH their u22 players in the 22nd and 17th minutes respectively. There can surely be nothing more demoralizing than starting a match knowing that you’ll get hooked as soon as possible for the player that the manager actually wanted to start in the first place. How on Earth is that going to develop any footballer?? The irony is that it was Hong who saved Seongnam from relegation last year and he would probably have scored at least one of the chances that his replacement spurned.
The more it changes the more it stays the same
They say madness is repeating the same thing over and over again, well FC Seoul must surely be ready to be committed as they lost yet again to Jeonbuk Motors in the opening match of the 2021 season. It has now been over 1300 days (1338 to be precise) since Seoul managed to defeat Jeonbuk with that victory being away back in July of 2017. There have been numerous manager and player changes since then but the one remaining constant is that Seoul just cannot beat Jeonbuk. In previous seasons you could argue that Seoul have been woefully underachieving but they have a new manager, have invested heavily in the squad with Ki, Na Sang-ho and Paloceivc from Pohang adding some much needed guile and stability to the middle of the park. Despite those changes though the same frailties were more than evident on Saturday, namely a weak defence and an inability to convert chances. It needs to be noted that this was by no means a good Jeonbuk performance, they weren’t at the races for most of the 1st half and it really was only when Ki was taken off that the Champions began to assert pressure on the visitors. You got the feeling that Jeonbuk could’ve played their u16 squad and Seoul would still have have bottled the occasion.
Will The Kings of Asia rule Korea this year?
It feels like the same question has been asked the last few K-League opening days but this year was a little different, Ulsan came into the season as ‘Kings of Asia’ having romped their way to the Asian Champions League crown back in December. Yes they bowed out of the Club World Cup in the 1st round and yes they are now ‘Junior-less’ as the K-League’s 2020 top scorer moved to China but they had a new manager in Hong Myung-bo and they still had ACL hero Yoon Bitgaram in their ranks. It would be Yoon who would fire Ulsan into the lead against Gangwon before a Lim Chai-min red card and a Gangwon collapse would see ‘The Horangi’ get their 2021 season off with a 5-0 victory. It was the perfect start for most people’s favourite Hyundai team and ex National Team coach Hong, the fact they scored 5 so soon after Junior’s departure speaks volumes for their squad depth and winter transfer business. It is obviously far too early to be talking about their chance of winning the title, but given how sluggish Jeonbuk looked on Saturday I would imagine there are a lot of happy Ulsan fans having pleasant dreams of confetti-laden podiums come the end of the year…..as long as they don’t play Pohang on the final day that is!
Kim Nam-il struggles at home again!
An issue that plagued Seongnam last season was an inability to win at home as they managed only two league victories at ‘Fortress Tancheon’, a 2-0 victory over Jeonbuk and that dramatic last day victory over Busan that kept them up. This year started much the same as they huffed and puffed against visitors Jeju United and, as usual, had Kim Young-kwang in goals to thank with the veteran goalkeeper pulling off a couple of fine stops. It was only when Jeju went down to 10 men that Seongnam began to impose themselves on last year’s K2 champions but unfortunately weren’t able to test Oh Seung-hoon in goals. Nobody among the Seongnam fanbase expects the team to be anywhere other than the bottom 6 but a failure to win home games against the lower teams is what killed them last year and almost saw them drop into the K2 again. I have a lot of time for Kim, I think he realized and learned a lot of things from last season but he’s going to have to make Tancheon a tough place to visit again if he is to avoid a repeat of last year’s nail-biting finale…. or God forbid an even worse outcome!