It wouldn’t be the K-League without a strong Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma. The Yellows have won seven league titles and possess the biggest trophy cabinet in the southern half of the peninsula. It was 2006 however when the golden trophy last resided just south of Seoul. Since then, Pohang, Suwon and, most recently, Jeonbuk have claimed the mantle.
The second half of 2008 and the first half of 2009 was a tough time for the club’s fans. Kim Hak-bom had led Seongnam playing attractive and successful football but the gruff tactician’s powers seemed to fade after four years at the helm. At the end of 2008, the former powerhouse looked a little slow and predictable and it was no surprise when Kim was out of the door.
The identity of the new man was something of a surprise. Shin Tae-yong may have been called ‘Mr Seongnam’ due to the fact that he spent 12 Data HK seasons with the club as a player but when he was appointed as coach, he had little experience to suggest that he could lead the club back to the summit. As his playing career started to come to an end, Shin headed to Australia and the new A-League. The midfielder barely got a chance to show Queensland Roar fans what he was made of before injury intervened. Shin stayed on with the Brisbane-based club as an assistant coach.
Still, few expected the 39 year-old to be announced as Seongnam coach for the 2009 season. It didn’t start well. Australian football is regarded as one where power is more prized than technique. Shin seemed to confirm that stereotype by introducing a more direct style to a Seongnam team that had long been known for a fluid passing game. In came giant Montenegrin marksman Dzenan Radoncic – a striker not known for his subtlety – and from Australia came a defender that was just as big, Sasa Ognenovski.
The first half few months were disappointing. The team looked disjointed and toothless. Over time though, results and performances started to improve and in the second half of the season, Seongnam was the team in the best form. That was partly due to the arrival of Mauricio Molina. The former Colombian international quickly established himself as the leading foreign player in the league. His goals, his passing, his creativity and set piece ability have all played their parts.
Seongnam made it to the final of the championship play-off series at the end of the season, only to lose out to Jeonbuk Motors.
Even with the undoubted class of Molina, not much was expected in 2010 as Seongnam lost its midfield heartbeat. Star player Kim Jung-woo answered the call of the military and started his two-year stint with Gwangju Sangmu while partner Lee Ho answered the call of his wallet by accepting a big-money move to UAE club Al Ain.
So far at least, they haven’t been missed. Last Friday, Jeonbuk became the first team to score a goal against this Seongnam team in 2010. Prior to that, Shin’s men had won two Asian Champions League matches, defeating the highly-rated Kawasaki Frontale of Japan 2-0 before heading to Australia to win by the same scoreline at the home of Melbourne Victory.
Earlier this week came the visit of Beijing Guoan. The Chinese champions, like Seongnam, had won both games so far and took the lead through former Scottish international Maurice Ross. Three goals in the last 12 minutes from the Korean team means that Seongnam are looking very good indeed for a place in the second round.
Domestically, the start to the K-League was just as good. An opening weekend 3-0 against Gangwon FC was followed by a demolition of Incheon United. The usually solid west coast team was thrashed 6-0 by a rampant Seongnam.
Then the Yellows went to the home of the Jeonbuk and came within a whisker of winning. Only a 94th minute free-kick from Eninho gave the host a 1-1 tie and stopped Seongnam moving to the top of the K-League standings.