Things we learned from Toulon 2018

The 2018 toulon tournament has concluded, and South Korea placed 11th out of 12 teams after taking 3 straight losses in the group stage. From my previous writeups you probably get the image – we were pretty bad. After the first two losses against Togo and France nothing really changed. A 2-1 loss against Scotland saw us exit at the group stage, although we did win 2-1 against Qatar in the 11th place matchup (the Qatar match was not televised).

 

Excuses?

The media really likes to point out how we were playing a U19 team against U21 foes. I have yet to find a Toulon recap article that doesn’t mention this fact. Is it an excuse for a poor showing? I don’t know, and I don’t think this is something any of us fans can explain. Some will say the 2 years gap makes a difference – and you could really tell how small and frail we were compared to our opponents. But there’s no excuse for the fact that our defense got shredded hard by a 17 year old Scottish player named Billy Gilmour. And how none of our defenders stepped up before Togo scored their second goal.

 

Possible oversensationalization of Lee Kangin?

Don’t get me wrong, since I started writing for the Tavern I called Lee Kangin every bit as promising/talented as Lee Seungwoo. But for all the clutch moments he’s generated, Lee Kangin was a little quiet and lost the ball a couple of times if you look at the highlights. He stood out on the Korea squad… but that’s because the team was just that bad. He even missed the Qatar match due to yellow card accumulation, which tells you just how frustrated he is. In my opinion, these Korean media outlets heralding LKI as someone who carried the team isn’t quite accurate – guys like Uhm Wonsang, Jeon Sejin and Cho Youngwook played their roles well too. And I think it’s fair to say that those four players are the ones who really stood out for Korea.

To me, LKI seems even more raw than current Kim Jungmin and Paik Seungho during his youth NT days, but he produces moments of brilliance that those guys haven’t replicated on a KNT youth stage. What Lee Kangin’s got going for him is a very high ceiling and a favorable club status. He’s almost guaranteed to start for a club doing well in the Spanish third division, and if he does well like Ferran Torres he’ll probably get first team sub appearances too. If you haven’t seen the news, Lee Kangin’s getting a contract extension, and the initial reports have a buyout clause of 100 million.

An idea that I credit to Steve Han: apparently back in the day Korea would call up the most talented teenage players and have them train with the World Cup squad. Apparently Jung Jogook and others were training with the 2002 WC squad, but for some reason we stopped doing that. Steve mentioned how this would not only be good for LKI, but how it would also motivate the older players to get their shit together.

 

Kim Hakbum’s presence

Kim Hakbum was in attendance for the primary purpose of scouting out China, Japan, and Qatar U21. Now you may be wondering… why would a U23 manager scout U21 teams? Because most teams don’t particularly care about the Asian games and send U21 teams instead. Due to some unfortunate circumstances, Korea cares to the point of calling up players like Son Heungmin, etc.

A secondary reason for his presence was to scout our own players for the purposes of calling up players for the Asian Games. In terms of media comments he’s only spoken of Lee Kangin, but if he’s going to call up anyone from this squad I strongly suspect Uhm Wonsang would make it – as far as I know the theoretical U23 generation is pretty stacked in midfield (Hwang Inbeom, Paik Seungho, Kim Jungmin SHOULD make the starting XI, tho whether Kim Hakbum agrees is another question). But as for attacking options we lack depth – in the January AFC U23 Championship we were carried by Ulsan’s Han Seunggyu and Pohang’s Lee Keunho. Both were relatively impressive earlier this year, and each has 11 K League appearances already – but if any position in this team could use help from the younger squad it’s the wide / CF positions. I think Uhm Wonsang would be a perfect addition to this team.

I’ve heard some rumors of Min Sungjoon possibly getting a look too… but let’s be real there’s no chance he’s going to beat out Song Beomkun or Kang Hyunmu for the 2 GK spots. The THIRD choice is Incheon’s Lee Taehee…

 

We need defenders

This is nothing new in the Korean realm, but there’s a bit of a worrying trend going on – while the goalkeeper factory is going strong, the youth defenders have been falling off as of late. In the past we could count on the youth national setups having pretty good defenders. Since I started following the KNT in 2010 ~half of our youth squads actually had defenders or goalkeepers as captains. But the U19 team and U23 team clearly lack defensive talents.

Perhaps an explanation is that teenage attacking players have a better chance of breaking into the K League than teenage defenders. I can’t claim to be on top of the K League scene right now, but the only young CBs in recent history to break the starting XI on a K League team are Hong Jeongho, Kim Minjae and more recently, Hwang Kiwook+Hwang Hyunsoo (I could’ve sworn there was another defender around Kim Minaje’s age, last name Kwon, who started for Jeonbuk for a while but seems to have left?). I do know for a fact that defenders tend to stay in the U League longer, and that the ones who do get professional contracts generally stay on the bench. Pohang Jecheol, one of the top youth academies in Korea, got a number of their graduates to Pohang Steelers this year, and they’re all sitting on the bench with 0 appearances. Jeong Taewook (the REALLY tall guy from the U20 World Cup who was pretty good) is getting sub minutes for Jeju though.

Fortunately, the U23 generation can rely on Kim Minjae and the FC Seoul CB duo Hwang Hyunsoo and Hwang Kiwook for defensive stability. But they also have a long way to go until they reach Hong Jeongho levels of K League status.

 

Jung Jungyong has his work cut out for him

The U19 AFC Championship is ahead, and though Korea is a traditional powerhouse we’ve been mighty unfortunate the last couple of years. This generation definitely has the attacking and midfield talent to win the tournament, but Jung Jungyong needs to get some semblance of organization going for this team because the last couple games, from what I’ve read, has been very reminiscent of the KNT senior team. A lot of this could be attributed to the lack of midfield presence that I think is directly attributable to the absence of Kim Jungmin. But still, any comparisons to the current KNT can’t be a good sign.

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