2015 K League Preview: Jeonnam Dragons

With the Weekend Recap up today (Kimbo scored!), I decided to go for a shorter read. Here’s my take on (a team I admittedly don’t know much about) the Jeonnam Dragons.

In the fifth edition of K League Preview, I (Tim Lee, @korfan12) preview my 8th team (you can see the rest of the series on the K League/Asian Champions League tab above). It is one that is firmly mid-table but abounds of youthful KNT-hopefuls in attack and a big-name veteran (or two) in defense. Presenting: the Jeonnam Dragons!

CLUB NAME: JEONNAM DRAGONS FOOTBALL CLUB

Jeonnam Dragons emblem.svg

City: Gwangyang, South Jeolla Province
Stadium: Gwangyang Football Stadium (AKA The Dragon Dungeon)
Average 2014 Attendance: 3,365 (10th in the top tier)

Manager: Noh Sang-Rae
Captain: Bang Dae-Jong
Ownership: POSCO

Founded: 1994 (first season in 1995)
K League Championships: 0
Korean FA Cups: 3 (1997, 2006, 2007)

Gwangyangstadium4.jpg
The cozy confines of the Gwangyang Football Stadium.

History
The Dragons were founded in 1994 in the city of Gwangyang, the same year as their Jeolla rivals Jeonbuk, with the financial backing of POSCO. Jeonnam had their most successful season in 1997, where they finished 2nd in the K League and won the KFA Cup. Speaking of the cup, Jeonnam seem to have it in their DNA to perform in that tournament – they have 3 KFA Cups and on 7 occasions have they made the Semi-Finals. However, that success never has carried over into the League, where they are, most years, a mid-table team. (Perhaps you could attribute that to their lack of real big transfers, since they are essentially POSCO’s 2nd team, behind Pohang.)

They used to be called the Chunnam Dragons, but the name of the province (전남) was re-romanized to Jeonnam.

(Jeonnam is short for Jeollanamdo, which is essentially South Jeolla Province. Jeonbuk stands for Jeollabukdo, which is North Jeolla Province.)

Famous Former Players/Managers: Jeong Byung-Tak (as manager), Noh Sang-Rae (as player and manager), Kim Tae-Young (as player, later KNT coach), Huh Jung-Moo (as manager), Ha Jeok-Su (as manager), Kang Min-Soo, Yun Suk-Young, Ji Dong-Won

FUN(?) FACT
Nothing other than steel happens in Gwangyang, home of the largest steel facility in the world. Their population is barely 150,000, and although Jeonnam Dragons represent all of South Jeolla province, the Dragons really only appeal to the Gwangyang region and its environs.

2014 Season
2014 Season Result: 7th Place (51 pts, but couldn’t pass Ulsan at 50 due to the split)

Jeonnam wasn’t really expected to do great things last year, as they are a solid mid-table team. However, they started the season in blistering form, staying in and around the top 4 for the first half of the year. But the team which was short of depth last year ended up dropping out of the top half just before the split, and they finished the year beating up on relegation teams.

Transfer Window
Jeonnam’s transfer window was pretty much average. You could say their best pick up saw them make a move for Seoul right-back Choi Hyo-Jin. They found a backup to their legendary aging goalkeeper, Kim Byung-Ji, by signing Jeonbuk back-up Kim Min-Sik. They also pick up Daejeon midfielder Jeon Seok-Min and veteran centre-back Lee Ji-Nam. On the way out include Park Gi-Dong and Park Jun-Tae to the Army, as well as important midfielders/defenders Song Chang-Ho and Lee Seung-Hee.

The Dragons also pick up youth midfielder Lee Chang-Min.

Players to Watch
For a team that abounds in exciting youth prospects, Kim Byung-Ji, a 45 year-old goalkeeper who backed up Lee Woon-Jae at the 2002 World Cup, takes up a leadership role on and off the pitch. Keeper of 21 clean sheets for the Korean national team, and a player who doesn’t back down from the spectacular (and ridiculous hair dyes), Kim, despite his age, still has the moves. Jeonnam’s defense, especially their central defense, isn’t their strong suit so Kim will be called into action often.

Kim Byung-Ji in action for Jeonnam. (He used to die his hair green, but I think those days are behind him.)

 

Jeonnam also has two seasoned fullbacks in 31 year old Choi Hyo-Jin and 35 year old Hyun Young-Min, both who have graced the pitch in a Korean national team. But the real bright spot is their youth players. In defensive midfield, we could see a Kim Young-Uk (23 years old) and Lee Chang-Min (on loan from Bucheon, 21 y.o.) pairing. Up on the wings, expect to see Asian Games gold medallist Lee Jong-Ho (23 y.o.) and Ahn Young-Woo (23 y.o.)

Lee Jong-Ho in action in the 2014 Asian Games final against North Korea

 

And of course, leading the line (in a 4-2-3-1, as that is, according to reports, what they’re leaning to this year) is Stevo Ristic. The Macedonian international bagged 13 goals in his first season last year with the Dragons. He’s no stranger to the K League, having graced the pitch in Jeonbuk’s green, Pohang’s red and black and Suwon’s blue prior to joining the Gwangyang-ers.

Who’s Their New Boss?
Noh Sang-Rae is somewhat of a Jeonnam legend. He was one of their first signings, and played for the Dragons for 7 years between 1995-2002 as a striker, bagging 48 goals in his tenure in Gwangyang. In 2008, he joined the Dragons as a coach and after 6 years of assisting 4 different managers, he was finally given the reins this year.

Noh Sang-Rae

 

Key to Success
A little thing called “Consistency”: Jeonnam have an abundance of youth players as I highlighted above, which is a double-edged sword. In theory, the younger set-up means players tire less, and provide energy and the like, but it also inevitably means inconsistency. Furthermore, Jeonnam’s depth is pretty poor, with means that the Dragons don’t necessarily have a cushion if a few players hit a rut at the same time in the year. If Jeonnam are to make the top half this year behind the big 5 (Jeonbuk, Ulsan, Pohang, Suwon, Seoul), they must have their youth players stay consistent.

Prediction
Jeonnam are better than the relegation scrap teams (the likes of Daejeon, Gwangju), but unless they go on a ridiculous tear (and maintain it) they won’t be cracking the top 5. Like last year, you can expect a Jeonnam vs Jeju matchup for the final spot in the top half. That combined with success in the Cup (although with little depth, I doubt their credentials there) would make for an excellent season for Jeonnam. My gut says:

K LEAGUE RESULT: 6th (I flipped a coin between them and Jeju. Ok not really, but it is pretty much 50/50.)

2015 JEONNAM DRAGONS SCHEDULE
All times KST. Does not include R34-R38 of the K League Classic (after the split), promotion/relegation playoffs, Asian Champions League KO stages, KFA Cup games or the FIFA Club World Cup.

 

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