K-League expansion: cheers and fearsTwenty years ago, Korea’s first professional soccer league was born as the brainchild of then-President Chun Doo Hwan, who wanted to keep the people happy, occupied and ignorant.
At its inception, the league wasn't much to admire. The so-called Super League was made up of only two professional teams and three amateur clubs.
Today, particularly because of last year’s World Cup, the Korean soccer league has gained popularity and grown into 12 teams.
At first glance, everything seems to be in place to catapult the K-league to even greater heights.
For nine months, beginning March 23, matches will be played at the World Cup stadiums. In fact, 7 of the 12 teams get to claim a World Cup stadium as their home turf. One of the benefits these lucky teams receive is that they will get to practice and play on grass fields, a luxury that professional Korean soccer players have never had.
Moreover, each team this season will play nearly twice as many matches this year than last, 44 compared to last year’s 27. This is great news for fans who simply want to watch more soccer.
The league, to meet, or create, more demand, bolstered the number of teams partly by hastily forming Daegu FC through an initial public offering to citizens of Daegu.
The league has never formed a team this way before, and so if Daegu’s team succeeds in piling up wins and gaining a strong following, it may serve as a successful model for other cities.
In its eagerness, the league has also introduced a Korean army team called Sangmu Phoenix, which is comprised of former amateur soccer players.
Personally, I think that the way things are going, anyone who is desperate for a job and who once played on a junior varsity team of perhaps a high school squad, has nothing to lose by trying out for the league.
It seems that the K-League may be in danger of sacrificing quantity over quality, by doubling the number of games and quickly adding Daegu and amateur army teams.
As a sign that may bode poorly for things to come, the Daegu team coach, Park Jong-hwan, threatened to quit because he had trouble fielding a full team.
This isn’t a good start for a sport that should be enjoying its best season yet.
The disenchanted coach said that his team was a long way off from being a professional outfit. He personally called it a "rag-tag team" and commented that any team’s second-string team can beat his starting team.
That may not be the best attitude as a coach, but if you consider that Daejeon Citizen FC, another team in the Korean league and one that had better-known players, won just one match in its first lousy season, it might be easier to understand his comments.
Unfortunately for the league, the fans who watched and supported their team in the World Cup will not be as forgiving when they go to K-League games. The league should expect to get booed if it fields poor teams as a result of the league office’s desire to expand professional soccer.
And if things get real bad, the league should not be surprised to find their fans staying home altogether.
by Brian Lee