While many Chinese Super League clubs look to Brazil and Europe when recruiting their foreign players, newly promoted Yanbian Changbaishan have been scouring the K-League for new signings that they hope will keep them in the top-flight next season. In recent seasons the K-League has often been targeted by Chinese clubs, but usually as a way of filling up their Asian player spot with some extra quality; most clubs use their other foreign player spots for big-name stars such as Paulinho, Eider Gudjohnsen, or Asamoah Gyan. This makes Yanbian’s recent transfer activity somewhat unique. In the past week Yanbian, coached by former Korean national team assistant coach Park Tae-Ha, have been linked with Jeju United’s Yoon Bitgaram and Pohang’s Kim Seung-Dae, and have reportedly offered large sums in order to sign these players.
These signings would give the club three Korean players, as they already have one Korean in the form of star striker Ha Tae-Gyun. Former Suwon Bluewings and Korean Under-23 international forward Ha had a great season in 2015, scoring at a rate of almost a goal every game to help Yanbian reach promotion. If they can keep hold of him during the summer then he is sure to lead the line for the club next season. He may even have a chance of breaking into the Korean national side if he can keep up his good form in the Chinese top-flight.
If any CSL club was going to start bringing in large numbers of Korean players, then Yanbian would be the most likely. The team play in the Korean-speaking region of China next to the North Korean border, and Changbaishan is the Chinese name for Baekdu Mountain, the huge volcano on the North Korean-Chinese border that is the setting for the story of Korea’s foundation. The team even have their badge written in Korean and English rather than Chinese.
While not spending the same amounts on foreign players as other Chinese clubs have in their pursuit of foreign superstars, the spending power of Yanbian still seems significant. It also may be less risky to bring in proven K-League players than risk bringing in players from outside of Asia who, despite their ability, still represent a gamble due to the difficulties of adapting to a different culture. Having a large number of Korean players will also make Park Tae-Ha’s job of building a cohesive team somewhat easier. If Park’s plan to strengthen his team with top players from the K-League works then several other CSL clubs might take note. Either way, it will be interesting to see how Yanbian get along next season.
by Steve Price