Tuesday, January 29, 2013

New Year New Starts in Korea

K-League Classic
There is rarely a quiet month in South Korean football and while January is the close-season, the first month of 2013 has been a busy one.

It started with a change of name for the league which is celebrating its 30th birthday. ‘The K League’ now refers to the second tier of South Korean football. The top tier is now known as 'K League Classic'. As well as the name, there is a new logo.

"We wanted to inherit the tradition and values of professional football in this country, and at the same time, we wanted to convey our willingness to take on new challenges," said then-K League Commissioner Chung Mong-gyu sat the unveiling in January. "We thought long and hard over different ideas so that our names and logo will be beloved by many fans of our sport." Reaction has been reasonably positive and with promotion taking place for the first time in 2013, relegation was introduced last season, The new logo is a little Pepsi-esque but if it can help a little fizz return to the league, then so much the better.

Chung on the move

If that wasn’t enough change then Chung won the January 28 election to find the new chief of the Korea FA. Cho Chung-yeon had announced his decision to resign in 2012 and Cho, in charge of the K-League for two years, beat three other candidates to become the most powerful man in Korean football and will serve a four-year term.

“I want to share the joy with all those in the football circle,” said Chung. “I will try to make football a culture that everyone can enjoy.”

European rumours

Yoon Seok-young provided the biggest story of the transfer window. The young left-back, who starred in the 2012 Olympics, was linked to all manner of European clubs but it set to join QPR despite interest from Fulham and Liverpool. Yoon, who made his senior national team debut in October in Iran, will become the 11th Korean to play in the Premier League.

There were also reports that Ulsan's tall striker, Kim Shin-wook turned down a move to Loftus Road while Hamburg attacker Son Heung-min, who recently grabbed his seventh goal of the Bundesliga season, has decided to stay in Germany until the end of the season at least amid reports of interest from Spurs.

Domestic shuffling

There have been a number of transfers. Jeonbuk Motors have been perhaps the busiest, and splashed out on Kevin Oris. The Belgian striker scored 16 goals last season for Daejeon Citizen and with the addition of classy Incheon defender Jung In-hwan Jeonbuk will be looking forward to the new season.

Suwon added to the signing of North Korean striker Jong Tae-se by picking up Lee Jong Min from FC Seoul. The club was linked to 2002 World Cup star Cha Du-ri who has been playing in Europe for over a decade in Germany and Scotland and has never played in his homeland. “There is no doubt that Cha Du-ri is a star player equipped with ability as well as popularity, but have to take into account his age as he is closing in on the mid-30s,” said a Bluewings official after the club made an offer to Fortuna Dusseldorf. “It is up to the player’s side whether to accept our offer or not.”

Suwon have also signed Seongnam wingback Hong Chul while Kwak Tae-whi, Ulsan’s Asian CL title-winning captain, becomes the latest Korean star to head to the Middle East, joining Al Shabab of Saudi Arabia.

Pohang Steelers have been the quietest while Busan have seen one of their best performers, Matt McKay head to China and have replaced him with 25 year-old Montenegrin Zarko Korac.

Taeguk Warriors ready to gather

The wheels are turning ahead of a vital 2014 World Cup qualifier in March against Qatar with Choi Kang-hee announcing a squad for a friendly against Croatia in February. The game will take place at the London home of Fulham. Korea have happy memories of Craven Cottage and defeated the reigning European champions Greece there in 2007 and then downed Ivory Coast in 2010.

There were few surprises. Thirteen of the 24 are based overseas. Veteran defenders Kwak Tae-hwi and Lee Jung-soo return as does Ji Dong-won, on loan to FC Augsburg from Sunderland.

“Croatia is a strong team and will be a great opponent for us in a friendly,” said coach Choi. “It will not be an easy match for us. We will have to test our defense and fiddle with our offense by putting in players from Europe. We will try to prepare the best we can for the World Cup qualifier against Qatar in March.”

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