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K League needs more variety

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Jeonbuk Hyundai winger Modou Barrow, left, reacts with his teammates after scoring a goal during the K League 1 match against Ulsan Hyundai at Jeonju World Cup Stadium, Sunday. / Yonhap
Jeonbuk Hyundai winger Modou Barrow, left, reacts with his teammates after scoring a goal during the K League 1 match against Ulsan Hyundai at Jeonju World Cup Stadium, Sunday. / Yonhap

By John Duerden

The K League season is entering the final third with the top two presenting a very familiar sight. Ulsan Horangi and Jeonbuk Motors drew 1-1 on Sunday. Um Won-sang gave Ulsan the lead with Modou Barrow earning the visitor a point. It means that Ulsan stays six points clear at the top though, as all know, that has often been the case in the past, but Jeonbuk usually finds a way to take the title as it has done in the last five seasons.

Jeonbuk has been dropping a few points and will be looking over its shoulder at the Pohang Steelers, just three points behind in third. Pohang may be able to make a late surge but it would be a surprise if the title goes to anywhere other than Ulsan or Jeonju. No other team has anything approaching the necessary consistency.

It would be nice if there were more teams that could challenge the duopoly at the top. Having the same two fighting it out so often does become a little boring.

More of an issue, however, is that there is even less variety when it comes to coaches. There are too many Koreans coaches on the sidelines. Only one of the 12 teams is managed by an outsider and that is Alexandre Gama of Brazil in charge of Daegu, down in ninth.

With soccer the most international of sports, having people with different backgrounds and experiences determining how teams play is hugely beneficial. All know the impact that the likes of Arsene Wenger had on an insular English coaching scene when he took charge of Arsenal in 1996. Now the best coaches in the world work in the English Premier League and they have helped to change England for the better with players training with and learning from the best in the business.

The K League is a fascinating competition, the oldest in Asia with a long history. Yet the playing style of the 12 teams in the league is too similar. There is too much emphasis on keeping things tight in defense and looking to score on the counter-attack. If variety is the spice of life then the soccer on display in the league is a little bland. If some Korean coaches had international experience and returned home to try their ideas, then it would be different but that is not the case at all.

Japan's top tier has a good mix of domestic and foreign coaches, about half and half, while other top leagues in Asia, such as Saudi Arabia have too few domestic bosses. A balance can be found, and one needs to be found to make the K-League more interesting, exciting and stronger.

It is, of course, much more complex and expensive for clubs to hand the team over to a Brazilian, Frenchman or Serbian. They are going to want to bring assistants and they need translators to aid with communication. There are also cultural differences but good foreign coaches can make a major difference on and off the field.

In the future, some clubs have to step up, look outside the borders of the Land of the Morning Calm for coaching talent and bring in some fresh faces, international experience and new ideas. The whole country would benefit.

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