[2016 Rio Olympics] Meet the Squad: Centrebacks

Until the Olympics games kick off next month, check out the next installment of our Meet the Squad series – the four centrebacks! Read on for extensive profiles of the four players who will be leading our defensive line in August – the experienced Jang Hyun Soo, the complete newcomer Choi Gyu Baek, the controversial Song Ju Hoon, and the rising star Jung Seung Hyun.

If you haven’t already, check out our Meet the Squad posts thus far:
Part 1: Goalkeepers
Part 2: Fullbacks

Coming Soon:
Part 4: Defensive Midfielders
Part 5: Attacking Midfielders
Part 6: Forwards

CKB

Name: Choi Gyu Baek (최규백)
Age: 22
Height: 188 cm
Jersey Number: #5
U23 Caps: 4
Club: Jeonbuk Hyundai (Korea)
Position: CB

Choi Kyu Baek was a virtual unknown before the K League kicked off in March. After graduating from Daegu University, CKB signed for Jeonbuk Hyundai of all teams this 2016 season. He was handed a start against Becamex Binh Duong in the ACL and he did not disappoint, helping the team to a 2-0 victory. Then, against all odds, in the space of a month CKB had established himself as Choi Kang Hee’s first choice centreback, playing in all of Jeonbuk’s K League matches in April. To date, CKB has played 11/18 games in the K League and 6/6 in the ACL. Not too bad for a K League debut season, amirite?

What kind of player is Choi Kyu Baek? First thing I noticed in the handful of Jeonbuk games I’ve seen this season is that 95% of the time, he is higher up the pitch than his CB partner (usually Lim Jong Eun). CKB is more of a ball-playing CB who is quite eager to rush off his line. His timing is fine and often succeeds at winning the ball back, but leads to him getting caught out of position at times as well. His aerial ability is very good, winning a good majority of his duels, and even scored the equalizing goal in a 3-2 win against Sangju Sangmu. At Rio, if he starts, he will likely be a strong aerial threat. For more information on what I am talking about, there is a Youtube channel almost entirely dedicated to Choi Gyu Baek’s ball touch videos I encourage everyone to take a look at.

Choi very recently was called up to the U23 team for the four nations tournament, and played well against Denmark and Nigeria (on the other hand, his CB partner and team captain, Song Ju Hoon, had quite a nightmare on the pitch). As I expected, when Korea was in possession, it was CKB who came up into the opposition half to receive all the backpasses. He also didn’t lose the physical battles to the much bulkier Nigerian strikers either. And in the dying minutes of the match, at 86’, CKB rose to meet the header and score the 1-0 winner.

The verdict on CKB after those couple of friendlies? Pretty much everyone was calling for CKB to make the final 18-man squad, though it is true that CKB lacked (and still lacks) a positional stability. Too eager to leave his line, which exposes space behind him. That being said, he was heads and shoulders above his CB partner and made some nice plays from the back.

Will newcomer CKB start in Rio? I am not sure, though some people reading closely into Shin Tae Yong’s interview before the final squad was announced interpreted his comments as saying CKB was a lock for the final squad. I believe Jang Hyun Soo will start – perhaps CKB is the more likely to start next to him over Jung Seung Hyun? Then again, we’re talking Shin Tae Yong here so who knows, maybe Song Ju Hoon may start next to JHS…

 

SJH

Name: Song Ju Hoon (송주훈)
Age: 22
Height: 190 cm
Jersey Number: #4
U23 Caps: 23
Club: Mito Hollycock (J2)
Position: CB

Just three years ago Song Ju Hoon was revered by fans as the next great Korean defender. He put in some fantastic performances at the 2012 AFC U19 Championship (his individual ball touches for all six matches Korea played are uploaded to Youtube), and lived up to his rising reputation at the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup, where he even scored the opening goal in the 1-1 PK victory against Colombia in the RO16.

Today, Song Ju Hoon still remains a tall, physically strong defender with very strong aerial ability. But after yet another edition of an ill-fated move to the J League, Song Ju Hoon is a shell of his former self. I am not quite sure how it all happened. Even when SJH wasn’t playing for Albirex Niigata at all, Lee Gwang Jong continued to call him up to the U21 team. He was playing well alongside his CB partner YJM, starting all the matches in the 2015 King’s Cup (where the Uzbekistan player threw punches at Shim Sang Min). But when he finally started to play after being loaned out to Mito Hollycock in late 2015, he started making some serious errors, of severity even Kim Young Kwon would be proud of. Caught out of position, passing to the opposition all game… it hasn’t been a great last year and a half for SJH. From late 2015 to today, SJH is losing more and more support in the fanbase and he will have to really step it up if he doesn’t want to make a negative contribution to the team in August. I believe SJH will eventually find the form that made him such a promising defender back in 2012/13, but right now, he honestly needs to stay away from the team.

 

JHS

Name: Jang Hyun Soo (장현수)
Age: 25
Height: 187 cm
Jersey Number: #6
U23 Caps: 15
Club: Guangzhou R&F (China)
Position: CB

Jang Hyun Soo has made some questionable career choices (at least he got playing time though) and never excelled with the senior A team, but whenever he played for the youth teams, he stood out. They called him the next Hong Myung Bo, which surely isn’t the case by now, but still, his calm, composed defending has won over the hearts of Korean fans everywhere. A born leader, he captained the 2011 U20 World Cup as well as the 2014 Incheon Asian Games where Korea won gold + military exemption. He was supposed to play in the 2012 Olympics, but injury kept him sidelined and Kim Kee Hee took his place instead. Jang also won the tournament MVP during the 2015 EAFF East Asian Cup. With 26 senior NT callus to his name and extensive captaincy experience, JHS is a prime candidate to take up the captain’s armband next month.

Stielike has been using JHS as a DM or RB, but it’s pretty clear that JHS doesn’t excel in those positions. JHS most convincing performances have come as a CB, and that’s where he will play in Rio, barring injury to other players. He carried the backline pretty much singlehandedly against Spain in 2011, and more recently, against Japan and North Korea in the Incheon Asian Games. My favorite aspect of JHS is that he doesn’t make silly errors like everyone else. That being said he hasn’t been properly tested yet, but so far he has shown to be quick on his feet with sound technical skills, strong tackling, and a good sense of positioning.

It remains a mystery, however, why STY picked an already-exempt player when we already have two good CB’s in Choi Gyu Baek + Jung Seung Hyun and only four attacking midfielders if you include Son Heung Min (one of whom, RSW, is horrifically out of form). Our defense may be our weak spot, but do we really need four CB’s? Assuming Shin Tae Yong was going to continue supporting Song Ju Hoon, I would have picked Choi Kyung Rok and Kim Seung Jun over Jang and Ryu, but I won’t complain about Jang Hyun Soo because he will likely be a key player in August. Takeuchi is going to disagree with me, having spent the past couple of days on BSK convincing everyone of how terrible JHS is, but I have utmost faith in JHS to lead the backline.

Favorite memory of JHS?

 

JSH

Name: Jung Seung Hyun (정승현)
Age: 22
Height: 188 cm
Jersey Number: #15
U23 Caps: 16
Club: Ulsan Hyundai
Position: CB

Jung Seung Hyun is a player I’ve developed a liking to over the past year and a half. The graduate of Yonsei University signed for Ulsan Hyundai last season and managed to play 18 games. This season, he seems to have nailed down a starting berth since May and has improved his game considerably. Solid all around (for K League standards at least) and also strong in the air, Jung has rarely disappointed in the KNT outfit, and is earning more and more praise from Yoon Jung Hwan each game he plays for Ulsan.

Since making his Olympic team debut during the Asian Championship qualifiers (and ending up as the team’s top scorer with two headed goals), Jung’s best game with the U23 team was probably against Denmark in the most recent four nations tournament. Denmark had destroyed Nigeria 6-2 in the earlier game, but the newly formed Jung Seung Hyun – Choi Kyu Baek combo produced a nearly flawless performance, only giving away the 1-1 equalizer in the 90th minute thanks to an error from Gu Sung Yoon.

This is JSH from the 2015 four-nations tournament:

and from the most recent:

 

Conclusions / Final thoughts:

Club minutes:
Choi Gyu Baek: 990
Song Ju Hoon: 1530
Jang Hyun Soo: 1440
Jung Seung Hyun: 874

I think the CB department will be fine – there are bigger positions (and tactical questions) to worry about. I hate saying things like this, but as long as the right players are chosen, we should be able to rely on a decent defense.