In partnership with K-League United, East Asian Soccer has adopted the writer’s chat format for this special feature. First off East Asian Soccer Editor Lew Dub fires the questions at Suwon Bluewings expert Scott Whitelock.
1. Most Australians don’t know much about Suwon Bluewings. Can you tell us a little bit about the club’s pedigree and the kind of support they get?
2. What kind of football should Melbourne Victory fans be expecting on Tuesday night?
That is a very good question, and one that I would really love to answer. Their 3 games so far, this season, have seen very contrasting performances. The first 3 halves of ACL football that they played saw play with a confidence and swagger that belied the young age of the squad. The passing was smooth and quick and they dominated Gamba Osaka and Shanghai SIPG, their respective opponents. Suwon attempted to keep the ball for long periods and then hit their opponents with quick attacking bursts down the wings. It was very pleasing to watch and the game plan was superbly orchestrated by their holding midfielder Park Hyun-bom. However, the latter 3 halves of football that Suwon have played in their fledgling 2016 campaign have been anything but pleasing. The passing fluency has all but vanished and far too often promising attacks are petering out because of a lack of fire power up front.
Their last game, against Seongnam FC demonstrated everything that is wrong with Suwon’s squad this year. For large parts of the game, Suwon controlled the ball and the midfield trio of Ko Cha-won, Kwon Chang-hoon and Park Hyun-bum stroked the ball around with consummate ease. But for all Suwon’s midfield dominance, they rarely registered any sort of threat on the Seongnam goal. Infact, despite having the majority of possession it wasn’t until the 41st minute that Suwon registered a shot on target. At the other end of the pitch it was more of the same, with all 4 defenders showing a significant lack of quality and in the 2nd half Seongnam looked like they would score with every attack. The veteran centre back, Lee Jung-soo, making his debut looked considerably out of place, losing possession a number of times and showing a distinct lack of pace.
We are hoping for a more attacking performance on Tuesday and hopefully Melbourne will face a tougher challenge than Seongnam did.
3. Santos has served Suwon well for three seasons, but what can you tell us about new Brazilian import Hygor?
I would love to be able to tell you anything at all about Hygor, but I simply can’t. He is yet to feature in a match day squad this season and is also unlikely to make the trip to Australia. Hygor is an unknown quality, but in truth, not much is expected of him. Last year he was plying his trade in the 2nd tier of Brazilian football and the signing of him was in keeping with the owner’s budget cutting.
Suwon supporters will be hoping that youngster Kim Gun-hee will be traveling with the squad though. The striker has come straight from playing for Korea University and has fitted into the team, particularly linking up with the midfield well and bringing Suwon’s key players into play. He is yet to score a professional goal, but he is key to the way that Suwon want to play. He wasn’t in the squad for the game at the weekend and the club have been very quiet as to the reason why. If he is in the team then he will be a very important player for Suwon on the night.
4. The Bluewings midfield is stacked with Koreans, who should Melbourne been concerned with the most?
Suwon’s midfield is their one saving grace and is vitally important as they lack quality in both attack and defence. Luckily, they have two of the better players in the K League in Yeom Ki-hun and Kwon Chang-hoon, 2 players that are at very different stages in their careers.
Yeom Ki-hun is, in my opinion, the best player in the K League. Ki-hun has something special about him that sets him apart from most players in the K League. He is very calm and neat on the ball and you very rarely see him hand possession to the opposing team, he is a pleasingly strong guy, which is something you don’t commonly see in a left winger and he is also a born leader. The K League isn’t blessed with strong leaders, in fact it is filled with quite a lot of timid personalities and there never seems to be too much talking going off on the pitch. This is something that can’t be said about Ki-hun. At times last season I could hear him shouting at his team mates over the top of the banging drum and general raucousness that goes on behind me at most games. It’s these attributes that sets him apart, in my eyes.
This is before we even talk about that magical left foot. I think Ki-hun can do just about anything with that left foot. 30 yard free kicks into the top corner, chipped passes over the defence, raking cross field, defence splitting balls and his trademark in-swinging cross in behind defences. I particularly love to watch his in-swinging crosses. When he executes them properly they are a real thing of beauty. And it is the quality that he possess in that left foot that has propelled him to be the K League’s all time leader in assists. If it wasn’t for his age (he is 32 now) I am certain he would be playing at a higher level in Europe.
At the other end of the age scale is Kwon Chang-hoon, aged 21 he is one of Suwon’s biggest assets. The midfielder made quite a name for himself last year scoring 10 goals from midfield in the K League. His great form added to his high potential earned him a call up to the national team where he has gone onto play 7 times scoring 3 goals. Recently, Chang-hoon represented South Korea in the AFC U-23 Championships, in which he scored 5 goals, helping Korea to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games.
Big things are expected of him this season and even at such a young age he is an absolutely pivotal player for Suwon. He has two superb feet and is extremely comfortable either running with the ball or playing the ball out wide and arriving on crosses from the flanks. In fact, quite a few of his goals last season came from him arriving late into the box. He is very good at creating and finding space on the pitch and with the technical ability he possesses, space is not something any team should afford to him.
There were a few rumors in pre-season that maybe he could move on to a club in Germany, but I think the right decision was made for him to stay and develop in Korea. He has superb potential and he could possibly play at the highest level. But his potential needs to be nurtured in an environment that he is comfortable in. Perhaps, in 2 seasons time Europe will come knocking, but if Chang-hoon can perform well at this year’s Olympics then maybe they will come knocking sooner.
In part two of our writers chat, K-League United poses the questions.
1. Tell us a little more about Melbourne Victory. What is their standing in A League history and how is the football club in general?
As much as it pains me to say it Melbourne Victory is Australia’s biggest club. Coming from a parochial New South Welshman that’s a credit Melbourne could hang in their trophy room, as I’m very sparing in compliments toward Australia’s 2nd biggest city. .
Victory have won three Premierships (most points accumulated in season), three Championships (Grand Final wins) and an FFA Cup. They’re closely followed by Brisbane in the trophy stakes (2 Prems. & 3 Champs), but the orange team has nowhere near the following Melbourne Victory has. Victory has averaged crowds of 22,819 over the 11 seasons of the A-League while Brisbane are third highest with 14,193 (stats courtesy Ultimate A-League).
Quite pertinent in the big club debate was the fact one of Besart Berisha’s strongest motivations for moving to Melbourne Victory from Brisbane was that it is, “the biggest club in Australia.” Heartbreaking for Brisbane fans, but reaffirming for Melbourne fans.
2. Melbourne Victory are coming to the end of their A League season and are sitting in mid table, how has the season gone so far and what are your impressions of the team’s performances?
Victory got away to a great start in the 2015/16 season. In the A-League they were five wins from seven and in November they won the FFA Cup. Then in December their season was derailed. They couldn’t manage a win in the final month of 2015, and February 2016 was the same.
It’s hard to find a definitive reason behind the form slump. Though Melbourne Victory got off to a great start the loss of Mark Milligan in the off season was always going to have an impact. Perhaps the Milligan impact had a delayed onset. The sudden loss of Carl Valeri to an, “inflammatory condition affecting part of his brain,” doubled the midfield chasm and maybe that is at the crux of Melbourne’s problems.
But is there unrest at the club? The only players with due cause to be unhappy are Fahid Ben Kalfallah and Gui Finkler. The two imports were omitted from Victory’s Asian Champions League squad, despite displaying form to the equivalent of any other players. Ben Kalfallah is contracted until mid 2017, while 30 year old Finkler is off contract at season’s end. Also of concern for Muscat was the recent transfer announcement of Kosta Barbarouses. The Kiwi is set to return to Wellington for next season.
It’s possible that things have gotten stale. This could be down to players who are going through the motions in familiar settings or a manager that has run out of ideas. I’m not confident enough to lay blame at either party.
3. Kevin Muscat was very successful as a player and someone that I know well from my time watching English football. How has he performed as a manager? And can Suwon expect the Melbourne team to play as their manager did during his career?
I’m an unabashed fan of Muscat. Many in Melbourne denounced his signing as manager despite his passionate service as a player. Muscat was immediately cast as the antithesis of Melbourne Victory’s desired style. Replacing Ange Postecoglou was always going to be difficult, but Muscat delivered.
The Melbourne media had lobbied for Ange Postecoglou’s promotion to Socceroos manager, swooning over his unwavering attacking style. Muscat, while continuing in a similar entertaining style is not one to kow-tow to media types and this has seen him gain little kudos, despite delivering the trophies that his predecessor couldn’t.
And so it is that Suwon will face a team bent on high pressing and wing-play. The current form slump may have affected player confidence though, as the club slumped to a record equalling 5-0 defeat over the weekend. For Melbourne to fire they need high involvement from Barbarouses and Berisha. Getting the ball to these men will be the duty of Bozanic, and to a lesser extent fullbacks Geria and Georgievski.
4. Who are the key players for Melbourne and what can Suwon do to stop them?
As noted above, it’s integral that Berisha has maximum involvement. He has shown lots of drive in the ACL fixtures to-date and tonight should be no different. Berisha is a winner, that finds a way, if he’s not poaching goals he’ll definitely be getting under your skin with a little niggle.
Barbarouses will play a right forward role in an expected 4-3-3 formation. The 26 year old Kiwi loves to dribble and has an eye for goal. Sometimes though Barbarouses can take the wrong options and clever marshalling by Suwon could combat his flair.
Bozanic is also key to Melbourne. The some-time Socceroo has found it hard to live up to the standard of Mark Milligan. Returning from two years in Switzerland, he has matured from his days at Central Coast Mariners but he still has a way to go in terms of composure. Suwon will profit from constant pressuring of this outlet.
Jason Geria is the other key player I’ll share my thoughts on. With Kevin Muscat as a mentor this 22 year old has blossomed. He’s fast and he’s combative. Recently rewarded with his first Socceroos call-up, Geria should be full of confidence. Suwon’s best bet it to lay deep thus neutralising Geria’s speed.