It’s all gone wrong for FC Seoul. As world leagues go, the K may be a low-scoring one but no goals in the last 582 minutes is not what the club had in mind when seemingly defensive-minded coach Lee Jang-soo was jettisoned at the end of Andar Qiu Qiu last season for the supposedly attacking Senol Gunes.
In the middle of March however, Gunes was starting to think that the whole East Asia thing was a walk in the park. Not only did he steer Turkey to third place in at the 2002 World Cup, he won his first five games in South Korea without conceding a goal.
Three of those games were in the league and not surprisingly, FC Seoul were top of the standings. March 18 seems like a long time ago but that was when the team last scored a K-League goal. Six games later – two defeats and four goalless draws- and only the ineptitude of others keeps the capital outfit in the relatively lofty position of fifth.
The Turk was, and still is, the story of the season though headlines tend to include the word ‘crisis’ these days and it is becoming less and less of a surprise when Seoul add another 90 minutes to their unwanted collection.
Also unwelcome for the 2002 UEFA Coach of the Year is the number of injuries his players. Most of the team’s strikers have been struggling for fitness though with creativity drying up in midfield, they weren’t getting many chances anyway.
“Of course the most important thing is victory but I will try to give fans football that they can love. I like Barcelona. They always play at a high tempo as well as with a good strategy. I want to adopt that model as the one for my team. About a month after the season starts, fans will be able to see the kind of football I want,” said Gunes just before the season started.
In fact after a month of the season, fans were seeing the kind of football that they had seen many times before.
Korean fans are usually patient but there have been signs of discontent. Gunes’s refusal to play mercurial Portuguese playmaker and crowd favourite Ricardo Nascimento is not going down well in north-west Seoul.
These days a large banner can be seen featuring the long-haired midfielder can be seen behind the goal, with the words “Please Use” emblazoned across it.
Something similar written across the back of the net may be useful.
As expected, champions Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma are experiencing no such problems. After nine games, the seven-time title-winners are the only unbeaten team and lead Suwon Samsung Bluewings by three points.
Gyeongnam FC are the surprise package and sit in third. Another surprise is the performances of two title favourites Pohang Steelers and Ulsan Hyundai Horang-I. The south-eastern pair sit in eighth and ninth respectively.
South Korean cup Pim Verbeek was hit with a double whammy in the second half of April when it was announced that Lee Young-pyo and Park Ji-sung had both undergone knee operations and were both highly doubtful for the Asian Cup.
Lee was the first to go under the knife after injuring knee ligaments against Sevilla in the UEFA Cup. The under-rated Tottenham left-back had been in consistent form for the London club and his experience, versatility and talent will be missed if he doesn’t return in time for the Jakarta games against Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Indonesia.
The same can be said of his former PSV Eindhoven partner in crime. Park was in fine form for United and had just scored his third goal in two games when he collected the injury against Blackburn Rovers.
Initial reports suggested that there was little to be concerned about as the May 5 Manchester Derby was penciled in for his return. It was not to be and the 26 year-old flew to America for an operation and, if Manchester United can be beleived, won’t be back until August.
It may not be of much interest to Ben Johnson, but his ‘victory’ in the 1988 Olympic 100 metre race is still the most famous sporting moment that has been witnessed in Seoul Olympic Stadium.
On April 25, at the same cavernous arena which stands on the south bank of the Han River, a South Korean third division football game between Seoul United and Changwon Dudae FC proved to be a slightly more low-key affair than the race which sent shockwaves around the world almost 19 years ago.
It was still historic. Just a few metres away from the spot where the vacant-eyed Canadian crossed the finish line; a white football rolled over the halfway line to signal the start of Seoul United’s life as a football club in the K3 league.
With some of the 14 teams in the top tier K-League struggling to attract fans, those that do battle two divisions further down the ladder would probably expect to be watched by no more than the players’ family or friends but April 21 was different. Among the dignitaries present were KFA President and FIFA Vice-President Chung Mong-joon and national team coach Pim Verbeek.
It may have been the official launch of the league but the day was all about Seoul United. The club’s name and its Newcastle United/Juventus-like black-and-white stripes shirts have been around the capital and its football scene since the turn of the century. That was when the idea of a “people’s club” for Seoul was born.
In a K-League dominated by clubs backed by big business, those people set about creating the first club that would be run by the fans. Followers could become shareholders in Seoul United and would take the decisions. Dismissed as romantics and dreamers by some in the media, the game against Changwon was vindication for those who had worked so hard. It was only the first step and it will be a long time before there is a chance of seeing the black and white stripes in the top flight of Korean football.
The K3 division is an amateur league and consists of ten teams. There is, as yet, no promotion to the second tier league in the country – known as the National League. However, the KFA will allow four or six K3 clubs into the FA Cup later in the year with the chance of facing one of the big boys from the K-League.
For the moment, it is time to focus on building a team and a season. The result wasn’t the most important aspect of the day but an entertaining game finished 2-2.