Uli Stielike announced his 23 man roster for the East Asian Cup yesterday, and there were certainly some selections I was pleased with. The fact that Uli took this tournament as an opportunity to look at youth players delights me. It’s something that I applaud and commend him for.
Although as fans of the KNT, I certainly wish that they can win the East Asian Cup, it isn’t the most serious tournament in the world, and experimentation is encouraged. On a scale between “full out tournament mode, stick with your best XI and make subs accordingly” and “full out friendly mode, looking for individual performances and some chemistry, but don’t really care about the result”, this falls in the middle. It’s three matches against three old foes, and games we want to win, but we still need to test players out who haven’t previous had the opportunity to get a fair chance in the KNT shirt.
And this is why I was glad to see names such as Kwon Changhoon, Gu Seongyoon, Lee Chandong on the list. If Moon Changjin wasn’t injured, he surely would have made it too. Hell, even Kim Seungdae, a player long ignored by Stielike, made the cut. Lee Jongho even did too, against all my expectations.
But after I read the list, I was about to complain that Hwang Uijo wasn’t included when I noticed I had misread “Joo Minkyu” for “Joo Sejong”. The latter deserves his spot in the team after a solid season with Busan as their lynchpin and defensive rock, but the fact that there wasn’t a place of Joo Minkyu irks me.
If you’re not familiar with the Seoul E-Land defensive midfielder-cum-striker, then Nicole Chung’s article is a good place to start.
Joo Minkyu may be a newcomer to the Korean football scene, and when there were calls to select him for the friendly and qualifer against the UAE and Myanmar back in June, I shrugged it off with a “nah”. It was an incredible run of form, but I expected that it would fade away. Little did I ponder the possibility of him being like Daejeon’s Adriano last season, a veritable promotion winner for “Real Leoul”.
But Joo impressed for the Seoul team south of the River Han past June and into the middle of the summer months. Although his form waned a little bit in recent matches, averaging 0.8 goals a game is a superb strike rate that does not have parallel anywhere else in the country.
So picture this. Stielike can only pick 23 players from East Asia, and in the attacking midfielder/second striker/striker category, you’ve got the following options:
Lee Yongjae: 5 goals in 21 games for V-Varen Nagasaki (9th J League 2)
Lee Junghyub: 7 goals in 14 games for Sangju Sangmu (1st K League Challenge)
Kim Shinwook: 8 goals in 22 games for Ulsan Hyundai (10th K League Classic)
Hwang Uijo: 8 goals in 19 games for Seongnam FC (5th K League Classic)
Joo Minkyu: 16 goals in 20 games for Seoul E-Land (2nd K League Challenge)
How do the first three on the list get selected, and the two others completely ignored?
What more can Joo Minkyu possibly do to earn Stielike’s selection? In like 15 minutes in the K League All-Star game, he had instant impact, scoring one goal and nearly chipping Kim Byungji for a second. What on earth more can you do than single-handedly carry your team into the promotion picture to be selected?
I know numbers aren’t everything, so let me show you what Joo Minkyu can do with the right service…
Kim Shinwook, who was selected, was called up in a “why the hell not” sort of way from Stielike. What risk is there in calling up a steady veteran hand? The problem is this: Kim doesn’t deserve it. He’s been getting outmuscled by K League centrebacks and defensive mids in the air. He can’t produce a quality flick on or head into space. Ulsan need Wookie to carry them, and he’s not doing it, not remotely, not at all.
You want a steady veteran hand Stielike? Call Yeom Kihoon then. You automatically fix the width issue (Stielike’s called up a lot of central players), you get a player with 50 caps into the squad, and you reward players who are actually doing well in the K League with a selection. Drop one of the Japanese nobodies, insert Yeom, drop Wookie, insert Joo Minkyu.
I’m picking on Kim Shinwook but I can make the case for Lee Junghyub and Lee Yongjae. Unfortunately, it seems that Uli has taking a liking to Lee Junghyub the way Lee Gwangjong took a liking to Lee Yongjae. The place up for grabs was taken by somebody who happens to be tall. Not by the guy on the path to a 30+ goal season. What message does this send?
Another issue which I suspect Jinseok will delve into a bit more is Stielike’s obsession with the J.League (and to a lesser extent the CSL). Just think about this – if Joo Minkyu was playing for Consadole Sapporo or V-Varen Nagasaki or whatever team in the J.League 2, and doing something remotely similar to what he is doing in the Korean 2nd tier, I have no doubt in my mind that he would be called up without Stielike batting an eyelash. Hypotheticals can be a silly argument, but in this case, it’s justified.
You want players “from the top teams in Korea playing for the KNT”, Uli? You don’t want all of them to move abroad, you want some of them singing from the same hymnbook? I’ve got a solution for you, Uli, and it’s pretty damn simple – select the best players, even if they are from the K League. You don’t want players moving abroad at a young age to collect “experience” and lift them into the KNT scene? Select the best players, even if they are from the K League.
There are very few players in this team that should have had their place locked in the KNT set-up. I get the need for consistency. Our backline’s got that in spades. But you’ve got to be rewarding the most in-form players as well.
Joo Minkyu is no fluke. He’s not a 100% proven top player in Korea, but neither are any of these callups. Joo Minkyu, as far as this selection is concerned, is just as proven as nearly everybody else on the team. No guarantees Kwon Changhoon is as good as this year. No guarantees Lee Junghyub will continue even scoring goals for Sangju. No guarantees about anything about anyone on this team (save a select few). So if you’re going with young players, and you don’t have really proven players to select from, what other argument is there to exclude the most in form player in the country?
It makes no sense. There is no logic. We cannot make the KNT an all Uli-boys club. We need to make it about an adequate balance of youth and experience, domestic and abroad, consistency in the selection and consistent players getting the chances they deserve.
Uli’s made quite a few mistakes, but relatively minor ones. For me, this was his first major misstep.
What do you have to do if you’re Joo Minkyu?