Former teammates join forces to take Seongnam FC to the top

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Former teammates join forces to take Seongnam FC to the top

Seongnam FC's goalkeeper Kim Young-kwang, left, and head coach Kim Nam-il pose for a photo at Seongnam Stadium in Seongnam on April 27. [WOO SANG-JO]

Seongnam FC's goalkeeper Kim Young-kwang, left, and head coach Kim Nam-il pose for a photo at Seongnam Stadium in Seongnam on April 27. [WOO SANG-JO]

When Seongnam FC’s newly-appointed head coach Kim Nam-il was a player, they were a dominant team in the K League.  

 
However, looking at their recent performance, they’ve been far from dominant. In a bid to bring back Seongnam FC’s glory days, the club has added Kim and goalkeeper Kim Young-kwang to the squad this season.  
 
Before the season kicked off, during Seongnam’s intrasquad match, when the players started to slow down and loosen up, goalkeeper Kim Young-kwang as the first to offer encouragement, shouting, “You can’t miss that. You have to concentrate until the end.”
 
After hearing him, the defenders felt their energy soar and kept the football in play. This left head coach Kim smiling.
 
“It was a good decision to include Young-kwang,” Kim said. “Not only because of his skills but because he has the ability to lead the young players well.”
 
In the 2019 season, Seongnam finished ninth in the K League 1, out of 12 clubs. Along with the K League, they faced an early exit in the FA Cup. This was quite a disappointment as they have previously won the FA Cup three times and have won the K League title seven times in the club’s history. 
 
The last time Seongnam won the FA Cup was back in 2014.
 
“Back when I was a player, Seongnam was the team I didn’t want to play against,” said the newly-appointed head coach. “I want to recreate the team to be like that, and I needed someone with experience.”
 
Due to this, Kim ended up reaching out to Kim Young-kwang. Just like how Kim Nam-il was getting ready for a new season, Kim Young-kwang, too, was at a point where he was looking for a new club, after playing five seasons for Seoul E-Land FC of the K League 2.  
 
As Kim Nam-il’s last piece of the puzzle, Kim Young-kwang joined the squad about a month ago. His addition could be seen as a surprise as Kim Young-kwang is considered old on the football stage at 36 years of age.
 
For Kim Young-kwang, Kim Nam-il was considered a god-like figure. When Kim Young-kwang turned pro and joined the Jeonnam Dragons in 2002 as a rookie, their best player was Kim Nam-il, who played for the Korean national football team at the historic 2002 FIFA World Cup.
 
When asked about head coach Kim, Kim Young-kwang said that he is “a role model and a savior.”
 
“In my second season as a pro in 2003, I earned my first playing start in a match against Seongnam,” Kim Young-kwang said. “Thanks to great playing by our now-head coach [Kim Nam-il], I got to finish the match without giving up any goals. From that match, I became a starting goalkeeper. To me, our head coach is the best player.”
 
Kim Young-kwang then joined the Korean national football team for the 2004 Olympics and helped Korea advance to the quarterfinals, making headlines and drawing comparisons to the legendary Lee Woon-jae.  
 
“Since he was a person who opened up my football career, I just joined right away,” Kim Young-kwang said.
 
Even on the Korean national football team, the two have quite a history. They’ve competed at the 2006 and the 2010 World Cup together. Not only that, during the training camp before the World Cup, the two players were roommates.  
 
“He took care of me a lot so I feel comfortable,” said Kim Young-kwang. “Normally, the younger player would leave the room to make a phone call but he allowed me to stay in the room. That is what I remember the most.”
 
Although they played together for Jeonnam until 2004, this is the first time in 16 years that they are playing for the same club in the K League. While Kim Nam-il was a star player and Kim Young-kwang was a newbie, this time, it is the opposite. This is Kim Nam-il’s first season as a head coach, and now, Kim Young-kwang is one of the K League’s veteran goalkeepers.  
 
Once Kim Young-kwang competes in five more matches, he will become only the fifth player in the K League to have competed in a career 500 matches.  
 
“Our defense is young, but thanks to an experienced goalkeeper like Young-kwang, I feel confident,” Kim Nam-il said.
 
Kim Young-kwang cites his experience with coach Kim as the reason behind his confidence for the upcoming season. 
 
“Back when I played with our head coach for three seasons at Jeonnam, we were always ranked toward the top and finished runner-up in the FA Cup,” Kim Young-kwang said. “I have good vibes.”
 
When Kim Young-kwang joined Seongnam, he changed his jersey number to 41, the number he used back when he was a rookie. He says that he chose such number to feel the pride he experienced in the past.  
 
“This is my chance to repay him for his kindness,” Kim Young-kwang said. “To play the offensive football our head coach wants, our defense has to be strong. I’ll block every single goal attempt.”
 
Seongnam has got off to a good start. The 2020 K League 1 season, which has been postponed by almost two months due to the coronavirus, just kicked off on Friday, May 8. Seongnam played their first match on Saturday and picked up a 2-0 victory against Gwangju FC.  
 
“Up until now, [Kim Nam-il had been] a big brother to me, but this season, I’ll make him become the best head coach,” Kim Young-kwang said.  
Seongnam will continue their season with a match against Incheon United FC at Tancheon Stadium on Sunday, May 17.  
 
BY PIH JU-YOUNG, KANG YOO-RIM   [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]
 

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