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Korean Pro Football Returns

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BUSAN, South Korea — New Busan I’Park coach Ahn Ik-soo is bringing a new attitude to Busan I’Park. He replaced Hwang Sun-hong as coach last December, and he hopes that he can lead a resurgence of the team not seen since the days of the late Ian Porterfield’s tenure from 2003-2006. It was then in 2004, Porterfield led the then-named Busan I’Cons to the Korean FA Cup Championship.

Returning from a 2010 season where I’Park settled for runner-up in the FA Cup, they started this season with a loss in their opening game last Sunday 2-1 at the Jeju World Cup Stadium. Despite the disappointing opener, this season is looking promising for the I’Park. They start their home campaign this Sunday at the Asiad World Cup Stadium in Sajik-dong at 3 p.m. versus Sangju.

You wouldn’t know it when watching Korea’s World Cup fans, but in previous years, I’Park and football in general, has taken a backseat to baseball — especially in Busan, where the Giants defy all definition of fanatics. Even with the success of the Korean national squad in recent years, the K League has had trouble drawing large numbers of fans.

Chung Mong-gyu, chairman of South Korean construction firm Hyundai Development Co. and owner of the Busan I'Park, vowed to turn that around this season after being named the ninth commissioner of the K-League since its inception in 1983.

"Admittedly, pro football has been lagging behind other sports in recent years," Chung said. "I think there's been a sense of lethargy, an air of defeatism. But if we can all try a little harder, I think we can turn it around."


Ahn Ik-Soo take over the reigns for I'Park this year, promising more aggressive play

I’Park also shifted around its own management, hiring head coach, Ahn Ik-Soo. The 45-year-old former national women’s team coach, national men’s team member and K League legend plans to win over Busan fans by teaming up with the city to build the fan base and have a better relationship with the community.

He also plans to win, of course.

In a conversation with Busan Haps last Monday at the I’Park training complex in Kimhae, coach Ahn was very optimistic about the new season. Here is a summary of what he had to say through our interpreter, Soo Park.

On his coaching style:

I focus on the welfare of all the players. They are all professional. We have a long-term plan, not just for I’Park, but for all the players. They are part of I’Park, but they should also grow themselves. We (the players) need to be more aggressive than passive, not only in our play, but in the way they think.

Future plans for I’Park:

Within five or six years, we hope to have 60% to 70% of our team players from the Busan Soccer Youth Club. More people will become interested in the system if we build up the system. The long term plan is not just for I’Park, but for the players to grow themselves. We also want to meet our fans and get to know them better, like our first fan meeting last week at the stadium and also try to play an exhibition game against foreigners from the community.

Key Players for the 2011 Season:

All of them. Everyone on the team is important, not just one player. It’s a team game.

About winning over fans in a baseball town:

Once the I’Park shows the story of each I’Park game, the fans will come. I want to change the technique, and raise the value of the I’Park team.

What style of football he prefers:

I like British power, with Spanish techniques. I hope our team can follow this style.

About reaching out to the community:

We hope fans will come out and support us. We also want to reach out to ours fans and the foreign and multi-ethnic communities in Busan to make a good relationship together. We hope to have an expat night like you had with the Lotte Giants, so players and fans can meet together.


You can check out Haps' complete coverage of the Busan I’Park here.

Jeff Liebsch has contributed to Yahoo Sports, Eurobasket, Tribal Football and Yonhap News. He can be followed on Twitter at @chevybusan.

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