What seemed likely to happen a few weeks ago has finally been confirmed by the K League: Asan Mugunghwa FC, the 2018 K League 2 Champions, will not be promoted to K League 1 next season. Instead, Seongnam FC, the K League 2 runners-up, will take the automatic promotion spot in their place. For an understanding of how we got to this point, take a look at my previous article explaining the political causes of this decision here.
What does this mean for the K League?
For the K League, the uncertainty of how the K League 2 promotion system would work has finally been resolved. Seongnam FC, one of the most successful K League clubs, will move back to the top division after 3 seasons in K League 2. The promotion playoffs will feature three teams, starting with the 4th and 5th place playoff between Daejeon Citizen and Gwangju FC. The winner of that match will travel to Busan IPark FC. Finally, the ultimate winner of the playoffs contests a two-legged final with the 11th placed team in the K League 1, currently Incheon United FC (my favorite team). If the K League 1 side wins, they keep their place in the top division in a similar fashion to the Bundesliga’s playoff final.
What happens to Asan?
This is really hard for the fans of Asan Mugunghwa FC and its previous iteration, Ansan Mugunghwa FC. 2 years ago, Ansan Mugunghwa FC won the K League 2 (then called the K League Challenge) but were also denied promotion because of their intention to relocate after the season. The relocation then was because the club wanted to be closer to the National Police Academy’s main campus. After the relocation, Ansan formed a new citizens club called Ansan Greeners FC, which now competes in the K League 2. It seems like Asan is also planning to go this route. At the moment, Asan and South Chungcheong Province have held policy meetings to work on converting the police team into a citizens team. The Asan fans have organized a “Citizens Club Foundation” to support the move and it is hoped that the team could begin play in the K League 2 as early as next season. It seems that the Asan city government will officially run the team but will get some form of financial support from the South Chungcheong provincial government.
What about the players?
This still seems a bit unclear. There will be 14 players that will not have completed their military duty by the end of the season. This group includes Ju Sejong, currently on national team duty, and Lee Myungjoo, who has played for the national team in the past. What exactly do they do now? Will they have to try to transfer to Sangju Sangmu FC to finish their duty? Will the military grant them a special exemption? We’ll have to wait and see on this.
What does this mean for the national team growth?
It’s quite simple: it will now be as important as ever for young players to win military exemption. This will obviously heap pressure on the Asian Games and Olympics as never before. With Sangju Sangmu as a player’s only remaining option to play professionally during their military duty, competition for spots on that roster will be fierce.
In terms of the KFA itself, it will be interesting to see how exactly they respond to this setback. Will they push the military to start a new team in the K League 2 to replace Asan? Will they lobby the military to reform the system so that there could be more ways to earn an exemption? For example, a possibility worth exploring is what the KFA does if Korea were to lift the Asian Cup this January. On that roster could be players like Ju Sejong, Jung Seunghyun, Park Jisoo, and Suk Hyunjun, none of whom have served their military duty. Would the KFA ask for the military to grant a special exemption to those players on the squad who hadn’t previously earned an exemption?
The disbandment of Asan Mugunghwa FC is certainly not good news for the KFA. It will be interesting to see how they plan to respond in the coming months. If you have questions about this situation, get active in the comments!