The 2016 Rio Olympics are now just under a month away! Here you can find out a little bit about the fullbacks selected by manager Shin Taeyong to don the Taegukki in Rio.
If you haven’t checked out Part 1: Goalkeepers, do that first!
Part 3: Centrebacks
Part 4: Defensive Midfielders
Part 5: Attacking Midfielders
Part 6: Forwards
Name: Lee Seulchan (이슬찬)
U23 Caps: 17
Club: Jeonnam Dragons (Korea)
Position: Right Back
Lee Seulchan is Jeonnam through and through, playing for the Dragons’ youth teams ever since 2006. He made his professional debut with the same club in 2012, but he was never really regarded as much of a star player. Lee was never mentioned in the conversation for any of the national youth teams, nor was he really expected to start many matches – he didn’t start any after three years as a professional and made just 7 sub appearances.
2015 was Lee’s breakout year. Noh Sangrae handed him his professional debut on April 26th against none other than the Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. Although regarded for a long time as an attacking midfielder or a striker, Noh deployed him in the rightback position. There, he had the monumental responsibility to keep the likes of Eninho, Han Kyowon and Leonardo quiet – and he did, Jeonnam coming out winners in that match and Lee Seulchan receiving plaudits throughout the media.
Shin then handed Lee his first ever national team call-up in June against France where he also did well, which led to Uli Stielike naming him to the 50-man provisional roster for the 2015 EAFF Championships as a sort of tribute to his rapid progression and national team potential.
Lee is an adventurous fullback, unafraid to bomb up the pitch, overlap, and get into attacking positions. Shin likes to push this fullbacks up to create width and Lee fits that definition of a fullback perfectly. He’s got a very good slide tackle and his greatest strength lies in his quick acceleration, ideal for coming back to deal with players exploiting space he’s left behind.
On the flipside, Lee is an extremely streaky player (then again, which Korean players aren’t) and his cross, although at-times very competent and dangerous, also has the inevitable tendency to drift towards the “quintessentially Korean” side of the spectrum, depending on whether or not he is “on his game”.
Name: Sim Sangmin (심상민)
U23 Caps: 26
Club: FC Seoul (Korea)
Position: Left Back
A graduate of Chungang University (who also have Lee Changmin and Ryu Seungwoo among their alumni), Sim Sangmin has been around the Korean youth scene for quite a while. With 21 appearances for the Korea U-20’s and 21 more for this U-23 side, Sim is without a doubt the most experienced fullback of this Olympic team. He also knows many of the players quite well as a key player in a successful 2013 U-20 World Cup side, in which he provided a pair of assists and coolly converted a penalty kick in the Round of 16 shootout against Colombia.
His professional career unfortunately has not been as successful. Sim was drafted in the 2014 by FC Seoul, but unfortunately has not been able to breakthrough there. That’s understandable, as the club has two top calibre left backs at the club in Kim Chiwoo and Ko Kwangmin.
Similar to Lee Seulchan, Sim is an attack-minded fullback. Although his immediate acceleration isn’t as impactful as that of Lee, he’s certainly much stronger and more often a winner in physical battles. He’s cool under pressure and doesn’t lose his head, as demonstrated by his unbelievably calm handling of the now infamous “Uzbekistan incident”:
Although he’s probably a less pleasing player to watch than the flamboyant Lee Seulchan, Sim has got a better notion of balance and is less irrational about the timing of his interventions in the final third of the pitch – what I mean is – he’s simply a smarter player. With experience, balance but still some deadly offensive clout, Sim was always going to have the upper hand on other leftback options such as Incheon’s Kim Yonghwan.
Name: Park Dongjin (박동진)
U23 Caps: 15
Club: Gwangju FC (Korea)
Position: Right Back
A surprise inclusion in the final roster, many are still hypothesizing on what Park Dongjin did to impress Shin Taeyong and earn a ticket to Rio. Park had already been called up multiple times in the past, getting his first ever youth team call-up in 2014 for the U23s against Brazil. He won the King’s Cup in Thailand in the winter of 2015. However, once Shin Taeyong took the reigns, Park fell down the pecking order and was overshadowed by the performances of Lee Seulchan. Park made just one appearance at the Asian U23 Championships and in a tight 18-man roster, especially with the inclusion of the very flexible Jang Hyunsoo as an overage player, Park’s prospects of being called up were more or less eliminated.
Or so we thought. Park Dongjin’s inclusion on form and on team necessity remains slightly baffling. He’s had just 4 starts after signing his first professional contract with Gwangju this season and hasn’t really left a mark in any of his appearances. What’s more, he doesn’t fit Shin’s system of quick, attack-oriented fullbacks. And as mentoned above, there already is a cover player in rightback (Jang Hyunsoo), but none over at leftback. And yet here he is.
If I can hypothesize, Shin probably opted to select Park Dongjin for one overlying reason – his physicality. At 182cm, he’s considerably taller than Shim Sangmin and Lee Seulchan. His strength was on show at the 2015 Summer Universiade where the Korean delegation finished 2nd and Park even had a brace against Taiwan (though he did get sent off in the final against Italy…).
If Shin Taeyong wanted to select a cover player specifically for leftback, he would have probably been wise to opt for Kim Yonghwan or Seo Youngjae. This clearly isn’t the case. If Shin Taeyong has selected Park Dongjin, it’s because he has doubts about how Lee Seulchan could cope against more physical opposition and as such expect to see Park lineup against Germany so as to have the narrowest, most physical defensive line possible.
None of these players are regular starters for their clubs.
Shim Sangmin: 180 minutes this season
Lee Seulchan: 621 minutes this season
I don’t necessarily agree with those who say that fullback is the weakest position of the squad. I think that in midfield we lack the solid backbone no-nonsense kind of player and the more passing-oriented playmaker. In fact, when the two regulars, Shim and Lee, are both in form and match fit, they can be a deadly duo on the flanks. Despite thst, their lack of regular playing minutes this season doesn’t bide well at all – the players and the coaching staff have a lot to do to make sure that these bench warming fullbacks turn into Olympic medal contenders over the next month.