2023 Preview: What does life after Kim Tae-wan look like at Gimcheon Sangmu?
After the promise built up in their previous guise, and the way they stormed K League 2 in their 'inaugural' season, Gimcheon Sangmu were unable to deliver upon their return to the top flight and found themselves relegated come the end of the campaign. The outcome saw manager Kim Tae-wan part ways with the military side and leaves the team with fresh recruits and a new face at the helm ahead of a season where promotion is expected of them. The question is, can they deliver?
A defeat to Daejeon Hana Citizen in the Promotion-Relegation Final was what ultimately sealed Gimcheon Sangmu's fate but, as with many teams who have been dragged into that position, the writing had been on the wall for a while with the team seemingly accepting of their endpoint.
By its nature, the army side boasts a squad made up of some of Korea’s finest talent, all at or reaching their peak age. Yet, with each player's term at the club fixed for just 20 months, a newcomer to the peculiarities of Korean football may be forgiven for wondering about their individual motivation.
Not only that but being able to only select from the pool of players applying for their mandatory military service means that there is also a degree of luck to the batch that can be bundled together twice a year.
With this in mind, manager Kim Tae-wan worked phenomenally well to ensure that his side was not only motivated but cohesive, improving season upon season and culminating in them bloodying the noses of the top-tier elite by finishing fourth as Sangju Sangmu in 2020. They were then relocated and subsequently relegated as per the ten-year nature of the side that effectively sees them on lease to club-less cities but they bounced back in resounding fashion.
Kim's tenure not only spanned back to 2017 as manager of the military but all the way back to 2003 when they were known as Gwangju Sangmu and Kim was beginning his coaching career among the backroom staff. As far as club legends can go at a side on permanent rotation, Kim Tae-wan was it. Therefore, despite the relegation, his decision to leave for pastures new did still come as a shock to many.
Sung Han-soo has since stepped in to fill the large void left by the departing manager, albeit as officially caretaker for now. Sung was on Kim's coaching staff from 2020 and is familiar in the ways of his predecessor. Prior to his role at Gimcheon, he had managed Honam University in addition to a short stint at Seoul Jungnang FC in 2017, going undefeated for the season, winning the league and subsequent promotion to the then-named K3 Advanced League.
Sung has immediately set his targets on the title, vowing to win over twenty games and progress to the top flight directly.
Gimcheon Sangmu's new squad, like previous iterations past, is certainly one that boasts talent far beyond the division they find themselves in. Central to his plans are the likes of figureheads Kwon Chang-hoon and captain Lee Young-jae who possess a wealth of experience and talent with the former even representing South Korea at the recent World Cup. However, both midfielders are also set to share a train ride back up to Suwon mid-season as they return to their parent clubs Suwon Samsung Bluewings and Suwon FC respectively and thus new manager Sung will already need to have an eye on bedding in his replacements now in addition to further recruitment mid-season.
Of the inbounds, Won Du-jae is one of the standout recruits in the winter batch, having worked wonders at Ulsan in recent seasons in central midfield to offer delivery and service that would rival K League's new TV rights holders. Won is likely to slot into the sizable defensive-midfield void vacated by Ko Seung-beom who has returned to Suwon Samsung Bluewings.
While Won may well be helping to provide the opportunities, the central midfield will also be bolstered by the creative talents of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors' Kim Jin-kyu. Kim brings with him a valuable season's worth of top-tier title-chasing and continental experience, in addition to the invaluable experience of playing K League 2 for seemingly forever during his time at Busan IPark.
Up top and deeply filed under potential, forever young striker Cho Young-wook has decided to undertake his military service early and finally experience the second division football FC Seoul had been teasing. Cho saw the pitch on 37 occasions last season but only found the net on six occasions. The 24-year-old has been a highly-touted talent for a while now though thanks to his exploits on the international scene, picking up runners-up medals for Korea's U19 Asian Cup Squad, their U20 World Cup team and also last summer in the EAFF E-1 Football Championship in Japan. Regular playing time in a new system a division below may just be what he needs to finally see his career flourish.
Joining Cho on the winding bus journey down from the capital is full-back Yoon Jong-gyu. In a season of mostly negatives for Seoul, Yoon proved to be one of their positives with his performances being rewarded with a spot on the plane to the recent World Cup.
Finally, Gimcheon have bolstered their options between the sticks. While goalkeeper Mun Kyung-gun may well have been handed the number one jersey, his zero appearances in his first six months at the club means he begins the campaign on level footing with new arrivals Kang Hyun-moo from Pohang Steelers and promising Jeonbuk youngster Kim Jun-hong, with the former likely staking a claim for a starting berth given his experience at the Steel Yard.
Overall, Gimcheon are well positioned to be the runaway leaders of this league once more providing that they get off to a strong start to offset their annual autumn exodus of players. The only things threatening such a thing may well prove to be the new manager and new recruits but, given the talent that they possess, the army are likely to march on to K League 1 once more.