K-League gather momentum. Players and coaches have returned from their end of season vacations and teams are starting their winter training camps.
The first week of 2012 saw two big deals involving midfielders who may not be quite automatic starters for the national team but are never too far from the first eleven. That is certainly the case for Kim Jung-woo. The 29 year-old was a feature of the 2010 World Cup when the Taeguk Warriors made the second round in South Africa and has scored his sixth goal for the national team in Korea’s 6-0 win over Lebanon in qualification for the 2014 World Cup in September.
Kim has spent the last two seasons with Gwangju and then Sangju Sangmu, the league’s military team. He was one of the stars of the 2011 season, scoring 15 goals for a team that usually struggles. His return to Seongnam Ilhwa coincided with the end of his contract. Kim was perhaps the most highly sought after Korean player of the close season and was on the wishlist of a number of clubs but ended up with Jeonbuk Motors.
“I am overjoyed to join Jeonbuk, last year’s K-League winners and one of the most distinguished clubs in Asia” he said. “I will do my best to meet expectations and do my best for the image of Jeonbuk,” said the 29-year-old. “I have experience playing with (Jeonbuk's) Lee Dong-gook and Kim Sang-sik at Seongnam. I think we will able to play well if we adjust together through communication. I have many good memories with the two at Seongnam.”
Seongnam fans will be consoled by the fact that the club has shelled out not far shy of $2 million to add Yoon Bitgaram to their squad. The midfielder is 21 and has already made 13 appearances for the national team. Glasgow Rangers had bid around $1.3 million for Yoon, who captained Korea’s team at the 2007 Under-17 World Cup and then spent a few weeks with Blackburn Rovers in England, but his club Gyeongnam preferred to sell him to Seongnam for a greater fee.
"We have signed Yoon Bitgaram to be part of our challenge to win the K-League and the 2012 AFC Champions League," Seongnam said in a statement. "Naturally, he will strengthen the team and help us increase our fan base."
Suwon Bluewings go through players at an alarming rate and have also been busy in the past weeks. The club said goodbye (again) to talismanic defender Mato Neretljak and replaced the tall Croatian with the even taller Australian in the shape of Eddy Bosnar. Bosnar has spent the last four plus seasons in Japan with JEF United and Shimizu S-Pulse.
Like Neretljak, he takes a mean free-kick but it remains to be seen if he can become as big a favourite with the fans. If he can’t be the new MAto, he’s hoping he can be the new Sasa Ognenovski who fought his way into the Australian national team after impressing in Korea for Seongnam.
"If the move goes ahead I think it gives me a good chance of getting back in the Socceroos picture," said Bosnar. "The facilities at Suwon are better than anything I have seen in Japan and it would give me a chance to play at a higher level."
Pohang Steelers have also been shopping overseas following the departure of Brazilian star Mota but have been doing business in Eastern Europe. Hwang Sun-hong led the team to second in the K-League in 2011 He has picked up former Romanian international Ianis Zicu and ex-Serbian U-21 defender Zoran Rendulic.
Zicu arrives from CSKA Sofia and has experience in Serie A with Parma while the big defender Rendulic has played in Austria and France.
“Zicu doesn’t just have UEFA Champions League and Romanian national team experience, we expect him to become an important part of our attack,” Hwang said. “Rendulic isn’t just a great defender, he can prove useful in attack too.”
“I wanted a new challenge so I decided to come to Pohang,” said Zicu. “I know that Pohang are Asia’s most prestigious team and I want to help the club challenge in the AFC Champions League again.”
2010 champions FC Seoul have been fairly quiet so far but it likely to change over the coming weeks while Ulsan Horangi, who made the final of the championship play-offs are also in the market for new players after losing out jeonbuk in the race for Kim.