Korean football hurt by China

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Korean football hurt by China

The K-League Classic, the top football league in Korea, is losing star players to China’s Super League, where many clubs are owned by rich people willing to spend major money to take their teams to a higher level.

In this off-season, many K-League star players, including FC Seoul captain Ha Dae-sung and his teammate Dejan Damjanovic, who led the league in scoring, moved to Chinese clubs. Fans and analysts have said the K-League, which has had a hard time attracting fans, needs to find a way to be more competitive because the Chinese clubs are going to continue to try to buy the K-League’s stars.

Ilgan Sports, affiliated with the Korea JoongAng Daily, sat down with former coach of China’s Guangzhou Evergrande FC Lee Jang-soo, football analyst Lee Yong-soo and defender Cho Won-hee, who now plays for Wuhan Zall, to talk about Chinese football.

Q. K-League top scorer Dejan moved to Jiangsu Sanity FC and his teammate, Ha Dae-sung, who is also a member of the Korean national team, signed with Beijing Guan FC. Why do you think this is happening?

A. Lee Yong-soo: Put simply, professional players go to teams that pay more money. In the 1970s, many stars were in Germany’s Bundesliga, but now big-name players are in the English Premier League. Because the clubs in the Super League started expanding their investments in their clubs, they now offer bigger money than K-League teams.

Coach Lee Jang-soo: Dejan received about 1 billion won [about $935,000] from FC Seoul, but Jiangsu Sanity FC will pay 2.1 billion won.

Why do you think the Chinese clubs are buying players in Korea?

Cho Won-hee: My teammates said Evergrande FC, where Korean national team defender Kim Young-kwon plays, winning the league title for two seasons in a row seriously impacted the league. Chinese players tend not to like playing with foreign players until a foreign player shows an impact on the team. But since many players from the K-League have adapted to the Chinese league, the clubs trust players from Korea.

Coach Lee: Because the Chinese national football team has not been competitive at the international level, it hurt the country’s professional league. But when Xi Jinping became China’s leader, the country encouraged clubs to make more investments as a part of their plans to improve the level of their national team.

Do you think playing in the Chinese league could help players’ development?

Cho: Koreans generally think that the level of the Chinese league is lower than the K-League, and that was true at least until a few years ago. But since many good players and coaches, like Marcello Lippi of Evergrande FC, have been imported, their level has risen to on par with the K-League.

Coach Lee: I want to say that about 20 of the top players in the league who often play for the Chinese national team, could be starters on Korean clubs. Their weakness is that they still need to improve their team play.

What do players need to do to adapt to the Chinese league?

Coach Lee: They need to communicate with Chinese players. For instance, there may be some foods that they can’t handle, but they at least need to show that they are trying to be a part of the team.

Cho: Chinese players tend not to hang out with foreign players. In order to be a part of a team, foreign players need to try to develop a close relationship with them. Because they have a competitive spirit, foreign players should show why the team paid big money for them.

The K-League has been losing many star players to the Chinese league.

Analyst Lee: The biggest problem with the K-League is that they can’t financially compete with clubs in China. If a star player leaves the team, they need be able to fill that space with other prospects, but their youth system is way below the Chinese league. They also don’t have a decent marketing system that can develop star players.

What should the K-League do to be more competitive?

Analyst Lee: They need to make the right decisions. They should not be afraid of selling players if the deal brings in money that the team can use to develop a better team. But once they judge that a player is a core player who must stay with the club, they sometimes need to spend more money on them to satisfy their fans.

Coach Lee: The draft system must be removed. [Started in 2006 to level the difference, the draft system limits player salaries and bans signing fees, causing many young players to sign abroad.] Currently, the Chinese league buys star players from the K-League, but they will someday start to hunt young prospects from Korea.

BY SONG JI-HOON, KWON SANG-SOO [sakwon80@joongang.co.kr]

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