After the excitement of the World Cup, it is back to business in the Land of the Morning Calm though the K-League doesn’t restart until August 23rd.
Instead fans are treated to the ‘K League Cup’ – a 13-game competition in a league format that separates two 13-game stages of the K-League – a rather pointless exercise but it’s football nonetheless.
FC Seoul are about to win the thing and only need a point from Bandarqq their last two games in order to do so. They should get that at Suwon on Wednesday night as the Bluewings have been in foul form in 2006.
All has not been too well at the Big Bird Stadium recently. After a disappointing first stage to the K-League, Suwon coach Cha Bum-keun decided to leave his team to fend for itself in the early stages of the cup by heading to Germany to commentate on the World Cup. He was joined in the commentary box (I saw him often in Germany and it is a desk not a box) by son Cha Du-ri the now FC Mainz star who was excluded from Advocaat’s final list of 23.
The father and son act was a huge hit during the competition in Germany and broadcasters MBC were left smiling as rival networks KBS and SBS were left standing.
Suwon fans weren’t quite so happy as the team continued to struggle and questions were naturally asked why their coach would spend a month overseas when there was obvious work to be done just south of Seoul. Only in the tenth game of the cup did the Bluewings manage a win and if matters don’t improve in the second half of the league, Cha’s head will roll.
However, things are looking up as the three-time champions have recently signed FC Seoul’s international midfielder Baek Ji-hoon – whose boy band-like features have earned him the nickname ‘Flower Handsome Guy’. Baek is a promising midfielder with 12 caps to his name. The $1.5 million signing had a seat on the plane to Germany but continued to sit on the bench for Korea’s three games.
Baek will be joined by ‘The Outstanding Technician’ – Lee Kwan-woo of Daejeon Citizen who cost a similar amount of money. Suwon have always had problems defeating Daejeon so have taken the Citizen’s talisman and best player in order to try and end the jinx. Lee, 28, is a skilful playmaker and impressed Advocaat the first time he saw Daejeon play – though not enough to feature in any of the squads.
Always in the reckoning was one of Advocaat’s favourite players, Kim Dong-jin of FC Seoul. As the Dutchman left his home of eight months in north-west Seoul, he took the wing-back with him to Zenit St. Petersburg. To soften the blow for Seoul fans, the LG-backed team recruited one of his international team-mates.
Midfielder Lee Eul-yong spent the last two years in Turkey with Trabzonspor but the 30 year-old has decided to come home. His stated reasons were that his wife was ready to leave the Black Sea port and he was concerned about his son’s education though the more cynical of reporters mutter that a lack of interest from England were the reasons he returned home. There had been rumours that West Ham and Wigan were interested in the tough-tackling Turkish Warrior but the reality is that he is back in the Korean capital and was introduced to the crowd before Seoul’s clash with Incheon United.
United have struggled in the cup but claim that they are focusing on the resumption of the league. In contrast to most K-League teams who go Brazilian when they look for outside talent, last season’s runners-up have connections in the Balkans and have added a couple of new players from that region.
Dragan Mladenovic is a former Serbian international who Rangers fans may want to forget as he failed to impress in Glasgow. After joining the Scottish giants in the summer of 2004, he was loaned out to Real Sociedad just six months later. However, if the tall ex-Red Star Belgrade midfielder settles on the west coast of Korea, he may find the K-League more to his liking. Even more so if he can become friends with the headline writer’s dream that is Blaze Ilioski – a 21 year-old Macedonian international striker.
Champions Ulsan Hyundai Horang-I have seen a few changes but unfortunately for fans of the Tigers, they have not been welcome ones. The exciting title-winning team is slowly being stripped of its talent.
The midfield has gone. Hyun Young-min left for Zenit St.Petersburg long before Advocaat did but he has now been joined on the banks of the Neva by national team star Lee Ho – another of the Dutchman’s favourites. That followed the departure of Kim Jung-woo who went to Japan and Nagoya Grampus Eight at the start of the year.
To make matters worse, 2005 K-League MVP Lee Chun-soo is planning to return to Europe in August. The scorer of Korea’s first goal against Togo in the World Cup claims that Ajax have approached him as well as two unnamed “medium level” Premier League teams- a term that has nicely described Aston Villa and Manchester City who, according to the Korean media, are the interested parties.
Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma are the favourites to take Ulsan’s crown after winning the first stage at a canter. So it is bad news for the league’s other teams that the six-time champions splashed out a million dollars to pry former Romanian international Adrian Naega from Chunnam Dragons’ claws. The ex-Steaua Bucharest star impressed last season on the south coast but has found goals a little harder to come by this season – however, he is still a quality act.
It is unfortunate for Seongnam fans, though perhaps not for the others, that he will not be able to link up with Brazilian striking sensation Mota, who will miss the rest of the season with a broken ankle.
Jeju United couldn’t find the net in the first stage of the league so they have signed Bosian international defender Nikola Vasiljevic who recently in Korea. He played the last three minutes in the Seoul friendly between Korea and Bosnia the day before the Asian team left for Europe.