7 Rounds, 7 Points and Several Problems for Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors' start to the season has been disappointing. With just two wins, one draw, and four defeats in the first seven rounds, the team currently sits in ninth place. Discontent among fans is high. Supporters have been protesting against the manager and board during every match in recent weeks, and the unrest will only continue to grow for as long as Kim Sang-sik remains as manager. The team's performances have been awful, and fans may be in for a very long and arduous season ahead.
The promising first-half display against Ulsan in round one left fans excited about what they might see from their team this season. However, since the Ulsan defeat, the performances have been underwhelming, and those initial feelings of excitement and optimism were quickly replaced with resentment and dissatisfaction.
In round two, Jeonbuk were lucky to escape with a point in a 1-1 draw with Suwon Bluewings. What followed was a 2-0 win over newly promoted Gwangju thanks to a two-minute brace from Moon Seon-min. But the poor form would continue after that, as they only managed to secure one win in the subsequent four games. The only victory came in a 2-0 win over Incheon United, with losses suffered against Daegu, Pohang, and Suwon FC in the other three matches.
The 2-0 loss away to Daegu was the last straw for many fans. After that defeat, supporter groups put out statements calling for the resignation of Kim Sang-sik.
The next game against Pohang Steelers marked the beginning of the widespread protests and unrest. Throughout the game, fans protested from the stands and even chanted the names of previous managers Choi Kang-hee and José Morais and held up banners offering Kim Sang-sik to other clubs. Zeca's dramatic injury-time winner for Pohang only added fuel to the fire. After the game, fans protested outside the team bus, leading to a two-hour standoff which ended when the manager eventually came out and apologised for the team's performance.
Injury Crisis/Formation Changes
Jeonbuk are currently suffering from an injury crisis. Kim Jin-su suffered a fractured transverse process while on international duty. Paik Seung-ho, Hong Jeong-ho, Kim Moon-hwan, Jeong Min-ki, Cho Gue-sung, and Lee Dong-jun are all key players that have suffered from injury/fitness issues this season.
As a result, some players have been playing out of position. In the recent 1-0 defeat against Suwon FC, Maeng Seong-ung was deployed as a right-wing-back, and Paik Seung-ho replaced him in the second half, both playing out of position. At least in part, the injury issues have contributed to the changing of the formation this season. So far, Kim Sang-sik has deployed various formations, 4-2-3-1, 4-1-4-1, 4-4-2 and most recently, 3-4-3.
The team faces Jeju United away on Sunday, who have recently hit a solid run of form, winning their last two league games after struggling in the previous rounds. Like the Incheon United game, both teams will likely line up in a 3-4-3 formation. The Islanders beat Kim Sang-sik's side twice last season and will provide a challenging test for the green warriors.
Then it's Daejeon and Gangwon at home and away to FC Seoul and Suwon Bluewings. Daejeon will probably be the toughest test for Jeonbuk out of these fixtures. They are currently flying in K League 1 and have just ended Ulsan's perfect start, beating them 2-1 last Sunday.
These upcoming five games could be crucial in Jeonbuk's season. If the disappointing run of results continues, any remaining glimmer of hope for the title may be lost.
The mounting pressure on the manager is only increasing. Protests will only continue. Therefore, it's highly unlikely that Kim Sang-sik will remain as the manager of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors for much longer. Many fans have lost faith in the team's chances of securing the title this season. The club needs stability, however, finding a new manager at this point in the season may prove to be a difficult task. Some managers are available as free agents like Kim Do-hoon, but what could happen is an interim manager is appointed until the end of the season who can hopefully steady the ship.
Setting aside the performances of the A team. The club are generally going in the right direction. There is much more focus on youth development than in previous years which is a promising sign. The club even signed a deal recently with PSV Eindhoven that sees the two clubs collaborate on youth development. A delegation from PSV will travel to Korea to assess the youth academy. The two clubs will also share scouting knowledge, and some Jeonbuk B players will go to the Netherlands later this year to train with PSV.
Jeonbuk may not win the title, but if a new manager can come in and bring some much-needed stability, then fans can hope for a much stronger rest of the season and to set a foundation for next year. Of course, the title is still possible but increasingly unlikely with each point the team drops, making the aim of retaining the FA Cup and another strong performance in the champions league even more significant.