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Big moves seen in K-League

The transfer window in South Korea can be a fast-moving beast. If you take your eyes off it for a second, it can slip out of sight and then catch you by surprise. Already this month we have seen deals from out of the blue.

Incheon United’s star striker Yoo Byung-soo is out of the blue of Incheon United and on his way to the desert with Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia. In his first season as a professional player in 2009, he scored more goals than any other Korean. In his second, the 23-year-old striker scored more than anybody ― his haul of 22 goals, even more impressive when you consider the fact that the port city club is far from the strongest in the league. 
Daejeon Citizen head coach Yoo Sang-chul (Yonhap News)
Daejeon Citizen head coach Yoo Sang-chul (Yonhap News)

With the national team short of prolific marksmen, it was widely expected that the powerful forward would get his chance to shine on the international stage but it was not to be and Yoo has never really featured. There had been contacts with European clubs but in the end, a lucrative contract with one of West Asia’s biggest clubs tempted the striker and he becomes the fifth Korean to play in Saudi Arabia.

“I wanted a new challenge,” Yoo told reporters as he left Incheon International Airport. “Al Hilal is not only a big club in Saudi Arabia but a big club in the region. It also offers Asian Champions League soccer.”

Just a day later, another possible move was making headlines, Sasa Ognenovski was not only the captain of Seongnam Ilwha Chunma for the last season and a half, he led the team to the 2010 Asian Champions League title. Big names like goalkeeper Jung Sung-ryeong and Mauricio Molina left for bigger clubs and the team’s form has suffered seriously. The Australian is reportedly set to join Molina at the home of champions FC Seoul though Seongnam is denying that the deal has already been done.

Seongnam fans are not best pleased at the prospect of another star leaving while Seoul, who saw 2008 Asian Player of the Year Server Djeparov depart for Saudi Arabia earlier in the month, would be delighted to welcome Ognenovski, the 2010 recipient of the award. The big defender could become one of the very few people to win the Asian Champions League twice as Seoul is in the quarterfinal of the 2011 competition and meets Al Ittihad of Saudi Arabia in September.

At least Seongnam fans know that they are not alone. Gyeongnam FC has lost star striker Lucio to Ulsan Horang-i. The Brazilian has scored 21 goals in 42 games for the Changwon-based club and his loss will be felt keenly. The player he was traded with doesn’t seem to be much of a consolation for fans ― at least at the moment. Ulsan has been a solid team for a while but has lacked cutting edge in front of goal. Lucio could be the man to shoot the Tigers towards the playoffs.

The most significant development could be the arrival of Yoo Sang-chul to take the head coach position at Daejeon Citizen. Yoo played more than 100 times for the national team in the nineties and early part of the previous decade, starring at the 2002 World Cup. One of Asia’s best midfielders in his day, Daejeon is his first serious coaching job.

It couldn’t be more difficult. The club has not only lost players due to the match-fixing scandal but was losing games too. The two weeks before Yoo’s arrival saw a 7-0 and 7-1 defeat. Often in these cases the arrival of a new coach galvanizes the players. So it proved as Daejeon won 1-0 on Saturday though Yoo was helped by the fact that opponent Gangwon FC hasn’t scored a single goal away from home all season. What attacking threat the visitor had was snuffed out by veteran Daejeon goalkeeper Choi Eun-sung.

“I want to thank all the players but especially Choi,” said Yoo after the match. “There’s a lot of hard work to do but the players tried their best and that is why we won. It is good to win your first match.”

By John Duerden, Contributing writer (johnduerden@hotmail.com)
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