2016 is in the books, for better or for worse. It’s been a tumultuous year, not least on the Korean football scene. We have already counted down 16 of the most important moments in Hanguk Chukgu in 2016. Now we have some wishes for the New Year — some hopes and (pipe-)dreams that probably won’t happen, since we’re Korean football fans and like seeing the negative side of things. Or maybe that’s just me.
Tim: Europe, please give our KPA’s a shot
The last major Korean Player Abroad move to Europe was Hong Jeongho. And as we’ve angrily discussed, he’s playing in China now. Grumble grumble. Since Hong’s move, a lot has happened – a World Cup, an Asian Games, an Olympics and a fresh set of World Cup qualifying. Not to mention the U-20 Championship in Qatar and other Asian competitions. And in the midst of all these matches we’ve seen two new stars emerge – Kwon Changhoon and Lee Jaesung.
We’re on the cusp of the European winter transfer window to slide open and quite frankly, Korea is due for some new Europe-based players. Some argue that the K League should retain their talent – but if Europe is knocking on the door, I vehemently disagree. Sure, Dijon or Salzburg or lower-table Bundesliga aren’t the most glamorous of destinations, but in a time where many players are cashing in in the Middle East, a new generation of ambitious starlets having a go in Europe is just what this next year needs.
At the same time, we can’t forget those already there – I wish for a good season for Ki, and playing time for him – as well as reasonable moves from Park Jooho and Kim Jinsu – their talent is being wasted. Hwang Heechan needs to turn his sporadic good form into hot streaks – we saw at the Olympics what he is truly capable of – while Suk Hyunjun seriously needs to start playing again. Koo and Ji, should they avoid injury, are at a club that treats them well and hopefully that means the sky is the limit. Son – keep your place in the starting lineup and sooner rather than later you’ll be on a hot streak again.
So yeah. My 2017 wish is that we have a good year for our European-based players. They are the ambassadors of Korean football around the world, and if they succeed, not only does the national team succeed, but doors open for future generations of Korean footballers to succeed as well.
Jae: K League Saranghae Juseyo! (Please love the K League!)
My wish for 2017 is, I think, the same as it was for 2016: love for the K League. Sure the stadium attendance is pathetic, and it doesn’t look great on TV, and the quality of play isn’t great, and the corruption stories are a turn off, BUT if you want more KPA’s in Europe or the KNT to do well at the next World Cup/AFC Championship and beyond, we need the K League to find success. There are many things to fix and many potential roads to get there, but one point that I think all can agree on is that if people (both domestic and abroad) show love for the league, the owners will invest.
Even if there were a couple poor stories/decisions in 2016 (Jeonbuk’s match-fixing and the decision not to promote the police team even though they won the Challenge), the year was quite exciting! Jeonbuk won the AFC Champions League, Seoul won the league, and Suwon claimed the KFA Cup. Jeju provided some exciting attacking football in their gamgyul-taka style of play. Gwangju and Sangju outperformed expectations, and we got our first intercity derby in Suwon FC and Suwon Samsung. Of course it wasn’t all rosy for the clubs as Korea’s historically most successful club were relegated in the form of Seongnam FC.
2017 will hopefully be exciting as well as Seoul look to hold onto their crown, Jeonbuk defend the ACL, and Suwon look to return to their “rightful” place. Gangwon has spent big already, can they make a splash? Pohang massively disappointed last season will they recover? Ulsan lost Yoon Jung-hwan to Cerezo Osaka, following a 4th-place finish what will happen with them? Can Jeju handle both the league and ACL? The Challenge also looks to be a fight as Busan, Seongnam, Suwon FC, Daejeon, and Seoul E-Land all battle for promotion.
The KNT and KPAs may get the headlines, but the K League is still where Korean football begins!
Jinseok: Success for our U20 Team
Ok so if I wanted ONE wish to come true I would vote for Jae’s because it’s probably the most dire problem in Korean football and would be a good first step in solving many of Korean football’s problems. But since we’re keeping in character my wish is going to be success for our youth teams, specifically, the team going to play at the 2017 FIFA Under 20 World Cup Korea Republic (TM). The whole world will be watching, and this is our chance to shine. We haven’t been to the U20 World Cup in a while, but it always brings good publicity and scouting to Korea. The last time our team had really tight organization and defending but a lackluster offense (in classic LGJ style) and RSW STILL moved to Bayer Leverkusen.
Of course there’s the hype being generated by Lee Seungwoo (La Masia) alone, but the talent of the current U20 team is concentrated primarily in the offense (not to knock on the defense but the attacking players are the most exciting for sure) – Lee SW, Cho Youngwook (Eonnam H.S.), Han Chanhee (Jeonnam Dragons), Paik Seungho (Barca B), etc. all have a good chance at cracking the Olympic/senior teams in the near future. It’s a golden opportunity on so many levels: Lee Seungwoo can validate his hype in front of adoring teenage-girl home fans; the rest of the players can impress on a world stage; Korea can generate more interest as a footballing nation; Shin Taeyong can maybe impress as a coach as well. A successful 2017 U20 WC would surely be a major highlight in KFA history.
UPDATE Roy adds his wish: Flexibility with military conscription for Korean footballers
You may have guessed that correctly as it’s practically a mantra I return to time and again. As others have pointed out, it’s not THE thing that will elevate Korean football to become a top 10 caliber national team, however if hypothetically Korea were able to pass meaningful legislation giving flexibility for top caliber Korean footballers to defer military service, there would more more clubs willing to give Korean ballers a chance around the world, including top flight European leagues. At what could be the peak of a player’s career, a 28 year old would have to put in his time, serve 18 months in the army (or at a military team like Sangju Sangmu), thereby reducing the marketability of Koreans to go abroad and hone skills on a world class level. While some may argue there is the chance to gain exemption – that “Hunger Games” gauntlet via Olympic medal or Asian Games Gold is not a certainty – take last summer’s Olympic quarterfinal exit as Exhibit A – now one less avenue for Son Heung-Min among others in his U23 class to gain a foothold on their career.
My argument is simply one of logic. Korea does place football as part of their soft diplomatic power strategy, and thus have placed a sizable degree of importance on international football – why else bid for the 2002 (and more recently the 2022) World Cup? You need some semblance of a functioning and competently competitive team – so why not take that to it’s furthest logical level – which is to allow Korea’s players to be the best they can be. And they can help with that process by unfettering their careers – giving a reasonably balanced flexibility so that they can be football ambassadors representing Korea on the highest profile stage – play to the maximum of their abilities, and when their careers are over by roughly 34-35 – they are still fit to serve their country in a military capacity or otherwise. Other countries who want to be football competitive nations defer service for their footballers – why can’t Korea? And besides which, it would replace a pretty awful law (exemption via medal wins) that was installed by a brutal military dictator in Korea’s undemocractic past: General Park Chung-Hee. Decades after his assassination, millions came out in the streets in protest to force out his corrupt daughter, the disgraced and now impeached Park Guen-hye. Seems like the momentum for overhauling Korean government may open a golden window of opportunity to take another look at an archaic system that has stalled and handcuffed a potent football program – one that 15 years ago enthralled a nation and rallied behind it with absolute passion. With China breathing down Korea’s neck in a battle to be the best footballing country in Asia, the time is now for reform and a change in Korean football. I echo the wishes of all the writers – we need more KPAs to represent and take their chance in Europe, while simultaneously get people back to seeing Korean domestic football for all the talent and intense drama it provides – we need to give Korean youths hope that they too can strive to be world class footballers and have a sustainable career in Korea or elsewhere. Perhaps even dare to dream to represent their country one day and get even closer to that elusive dream of winning it all one day. One step at a time I suppose…
From the whole Tavern crew — Roy, Jae, Jinseok, Tim and Nicole, we wish you all, fellow Tavern-goers, health, happiness and loads of Hanguk Chukgu for 2017. Saehaebok mani badusaeyo — Happy New Year!