Feature

Coaching change leaves FC Seoul looking for answers

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When Choi Yong-soo suddenly left FC Seoul for Chinese Super League side Jiangsu Suning last month, it caught a lot of people off-guard. Still within touching distance of top spot in the K League Classic and with a big AFC Champions League quarter final looming against Shandong Luneng, many questioned what impact it would have on FC Seoul’s season.

And while the five-time K-League champions have now gone five matches without a win, according to Dejan Damjanovic, FC Seoul’s all-time leading goal scorer, the transition from Choi to Hwang Sun-hong has been seamless.

“He was coach of Busan and Pohang and he’s familiar with all the players and FC Seoul generally, so nothing changed a lot,” the soon-to-be 35-year-old told The World Game.

“They’re different kind of coaches with a different style. Our new coach is really taking care of trying to improve our team tactically.

“He’s a really nice guy, (the) best striker in the history of Korean, so it’s much easier for us strikers to work (with him). He understands us, he understands the offensive part (so) I’m really happy that he came.”

Despite their current form slump, which has seen them fall eight points behind league leaders Jeonbuk Hyundai, Damjanovic is convinced his team is good enough to reel in the defending champions.

“If we can go five games without a win for sure other teams can make the same thing,” the Montenegrin international said.

“We didn’t deserve not to win five games in a row, but it happened so if it can happen to us, who was the best team in the first part of the season, it can probably happen to Jeonbuk.

“(Next weekend) we have a game against them at our home, (so) if we can get those three points and have a few wins in a row we can catch them again. We just need to get back in good form and put pressure on them.”

Damjanovic, who has scored over 150 goals for FC Seoul, is in his second stint at the club after two seasons in China with Jiangsu Sainty and Beijing Guoan and the club legend is delighted to be back in the Korean capital.

“It’s really good,” he said. “I was planning to finish football here where everything started professionally for me. It’s given me a really nice life, nice moments in football and I am really thankful to FC Seoul for giving me the opportunity to came back here.”

But Damjanovic isn’t back in Seoul to ease into retirement and this season he has just one thing on his mind – redemption. His final season at FC Seoul before heading to China ended with an agonising defeat to Guangzhou Evergrande in the AFC Champions League final, something that still haunts him to this day.

“Honestly that year was a really, really tough final,” he said. “We had our chances, at home we had three or four chances to win the game and maybe everything will be different. We are always speaking about this; I will never forget that game.”

With FC Seoul drawn to face Shandong Luneng in the quarter finals of this year’s competition, Damjanovic is focusing all his energies into ensuring he gets another chance at winning the title, but has warned that Shandong, despite their horror season in China, will be no pushover.

“I really, really want to give my maximum to try to prepare myself for this Champions League because I want to play in the final again,” he told The World Game.

“I think this team has the quality to play in the final.

“Everybody is saying its going to be easy, for sure it’s not going to be easy, Shandong is making a lot of changes, they bought two new strikers. We just need to think about ourselves and our performance and being in the best mood and best shape without injuries.

“We are playing the first game at home, so it’s important to be in the best shape at that time. We have a chance, but you can miss very easy if you think it’s going to be easy and ‘it’s just Shandong’. Shandong is not a bad team, I played against them in China and they’re one of the best teams in China.”

And with Papiss Cisse and Graziano Pelle joining Shandong Luneng this week, the challenge for FC Seoul just got that little bit tougher, but Damjanovic insists he is not afraid of facing the duo.

“If we play our game we don’t need to be afraid of Pelle or Cisse, we just need to play our game. Foreigners cannot make that kind of difference if they don’t play 100 percent.”

The job of marking the pair will fall to FC Seoul’s own big name signing, Kwak Tae-hwi, the Korean international and former AFC Champions League winner joining FC Seoul from Saudi giants Al Hilal last week.

“(He’s) one of the best Korean players I ever played against,” Damjanovic said of the former Ulsan Hyundai captain. “With him our chances are bigger to go to the semi finals of the Champions League.”

And while Damjanovic shows no signs of slowing down as his 35th birthday approaches, he has started to contemplate life after football, whether that be with FC Seoul or back in his native Montenegro, where he has recently built and opened a boutique hotel in the picturesque coastal town of Kotor.

“(The) hotel is doing good, this is the first year and everyone is happy with how it’s going,” he proudly explained.

“My first option is FC Seoul, even after football. We’re going to see what happens. I have a really good relationship with FC Seoul, really open. I’ll sit with them and we’re going to see what is best for the club and for me.”

What’s best for FC Seoul right at this moment, however, is breaking their five-game winless streak and getting Hwang’s first win in charge of the club. They’ll be hoping to do just that when they make the short trip to struggling Incheon United this weekend.