Managers on the edge, and over it
By Iain Pearce
There are several firsts that let you know the season is well and truly underway. The first goal came fourteen minutes in from the predictable boots of Jeonbuk’s Lee Dong-Guk.
Just over twenty-four hours later Incheon’s Gu Bong-San received his second yellow card and the season’s first red away at Jeju United. Three weeks in and Lee Keun-Ho notched up the league’s first hat-trick for Ulsan and, as inevitable as the ref not spotting that the ball was a yard over the line or that the left back was clearly feigning that injury, seven weeks in the K-League was nursing its first, but by no means last, managerial casualty.
By that stage there was already a short queue of nominees lining up for the chop, so it was almost a little anti-climactic for those bloodlusters that Incheon United’s beleaguered Huh Jung-Moo resigned rather than receiving the Korean version of the P45 that was probably in the post to him already.
Those opening seven games had heralded a lacklustre five points, three of which came at home to Daejeon, the only team lower in the standings, then and now. Walking out on the team just twenty months after walking in, few of the Meet You Hall Boys supporters club will have been sad to see the back of Huh and his sleep-inducing brand of football.
However, seven games prior to his departure, things looked altogether brighter. A fantastic new football-specific stadium and the arrival of two wily old foxes in Kim Nam-Il and Seol Ki-Hyun lead to the impression that maybe there were good times ahead for the club that finished in an uneventful 13th place last season. In fact, Huh’s optimism was such that on the eve of the big kick off he stated that he would quit his post were his team to finish outside the top eight at this season’s thirty game cut off point.
Uneventful was the word to describe Incheon’s final year at the Munhak Stadium, but you’d have to go further and say that their games to start this year have been nothing short of dire. Just like last year they are the league’s second lowest scorers, but unlike last year when they averaged slightly over a goal a game, this year they are averaging barely one every two games. If you’re going to move to a new ground and try to attract new fans to come to it, then you need to offer potential punters something worth watching. Virtually the only thing of interest to have happened at Sungeui Stadium this season has been the two Daejeon fans who attacked the mascot.
Perhaps it’s a little unfair to place all the blame with Huh Jung-Moo. Upon leaving his post he revealed that financial difficulties at the club had seen the players not being paid on time (with Huh’s reportedly high salary is unlikely to have helped matters) and that high-ranking officials at the club are involved in a power struggle. But having said that, Huh’s draw-prone, defense-first football is never likely to win over doubters or new fans unless they are coupled with success that had been severely lacking during Huh’s short tenure.
The Incheon hot seat remains decidedly cold two weeks after Huh’s departure, with assistant manager Kim Bong-Kil still keeping it as warm as his goalless two losses have so far have allowed. Instead of numbing the eyes Huh is now going for the ears as he’s picked up his mic. as a television co-commentator once again. He’ll possibly soon receive overtures from abroad, especially China where the stock for Korean managers is currently high after former FC Seoul coach Lee Jang-Soo lead Guangzhou Evergrande to the Super League title last year.
A recently fired Super league coach is said to be in the frame to replace Huh back at Incheon. Chang Woe-Ryong was at the helm in 2005 when United improbably ended the year as league runners-up in just their third campaign. Whether he’d fancy a challenge even hight then the one he took back then remains to be seen. Just two points above Daejeon in the unthinkable relegation-assured bottom spot, Incheon United need to get pull their socks up soon or they’ll risk the most unwanted of firsts: being the first club to be relegated from the K-League.
GYEONGNAM LOOKING TO FOLLOW SUIT
Huh Jung-Moo is gone and Choi Jin-Han at Gyeongnam may well be going.
Two years ago Gyeongnam made the playoffs under coach Cho Kwang-Rae and last season, with Cho having moved on to take the top job with the national team, the incoming former FC Seoul reserve team coach Choi Jin-Han got them pretty close again to the top six.
Since their inception in 2006, Gyeongnam have been able to place themselves as many fans’ second team, they rely on selling their better players and have one of the league’s strongest footballing foundations in place.
The conveyor belt youth system continues to churn out K-League and even international quality players, whilst the astute scouting system does better than most in recruiting those risky South American imports.
With this in mind, last year’s midseason sale of Brazilian striker Lucio to Ulsan and the similarly big bucks transfer of the talismanic Yoon Bit-Garam to Seongnam didn’t herald the wave of pessimism it might have done at other mid-table clubs. The consensus among supporters pre season was still that a top eight spot was more than attainable.
But public opinion is as fickle as form and two wins from nine games will try the patience of most any fans. Worse still, only one point from four games in front of the home fans, including losses to the projected home bankers of Sangju and Gangwon have led to anxiety in the stands and a concerns among a fractured playing squad.
As a team representing the province, Gyeongnam play games in the different cities of Gyeongsangnam-do and during these travels Choi Jin-Han has apparently lost the dressing room. Our Gyeongnam correspondent James Edrupt recently grabbed the inside scoop from a club representative.
Coach Choi is struggling to impose his authority on the squad’s more prominent members. If the team is performing, as it did for much of last season, errors can be overlooked or appear minimized, but so far this term Choi has been busy fiddling with his formation, forcing players to line up out of position and making a hash of understanding opponents’ game plans.
Things came to a head in the recent home loss to Gangwon, the away side’s first away victory for some eighteen months. Subbed players disappeared down the tunnel without acknowledging their manager and post-match veteran goalkeeper Kim Byung-Ji stood up to Choi in forcefully voicing his opinions.
The manager was said to have two games left to save his job. The first was Saturday’s rain-drenched goalless draw with league leaders Suwon. The performance was much improved and could have offered a first home win with a little extra cutting thrust in attack. Things are unlikely to get easier in the second game, a trip to free-scoring Jeju United this weekend. It’ll be a really tough ask to win on the island, where Jeju have picked up ten points from twelve this season. You’ll have to ask the Gyeongnam board if another hard-fought point is enough to signal that the future is bright enough for Choi to retain his role, or you can give it a week and such questions will be publicly answered.
With Cho Kwang-Rae now out of employment again and still in close contact with his old pals at Gyeongnam, Choi Jin-Han appears to be on borrowed time…and the managerial merry-go-round is waiting just off set with Huh Jung-Moo eager for Choi’s company aboard the ride.
Iain is behind the Outside View blog and podcast, we highly recommend you visit the blog and download the podcast.
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