The K-League season began last week with some of East Asia’s most recognisable clubs also participating in the AFC Champions League.
But next week marks the beginning of the South Korea’s second division, known as the K-League Challenge, and many eyes across the nation and even abroad will be looking at how newcomers Seoul E-Land FC fare with the task of becoming the capital’s next big club.
Announced in April last year and funded by Korean conglomerate E-Land Group, E-Land FC will be the capital’s second K-League outfit and are hoping to create a rivalry with LG-backed giants FC Seoul, who are based on the other side of the Han River.
Speaking to Scotland’s Daily Record Sunday Mail, head coach Martin Rennie spoke of the experience of building a team from nothing.
“I’ve done it before, starting from scratch,” Rennie told the Daily Record. “It’s all about establishing how you want to run things.
“I have a profile for every single position. I know exactly what my right-back should do, what I’m looking for physically, technically, tactically, for every player.
“It’s my job then to find those types of players but also the right type of people. And here we had a good chance with the first 15 picks in the university draft, which meant we got good young players, then we had to find the right foreign players.”
In a country with few true derbies to speak of, E-Land have marketed themselves aggressively in order to build themselves up as rivals to FC Seoul, who were runners-up in the 2013 ACL and semi finalists last year.
“We have a good catchment area and we’re doing the media side very well,” Rennie elaborated. “We’ve also signed three players who played in the World Cup [in Kim Young-kwang, Cho Won-hee and Kim Jae-sung], well-known guys here.
“We’re getting out in the community, doing fan forums, having fans involved in the culture we’re building, making them founding members, and it’s unique to be a part of it.”
Seoul E-Land’s signings for their new squad involved an intake of several players from the second division of Japan’s J-League, as well as assistant manager Kim Hee-ho from top division side Sagan Tosu. Half-Japanese striker Robert Cullen, who played in Thailand last year after two seasons with Holland’s VVV Venlo, is another connection to South Korea’s neighbors.
“You can call it a big challenge but it’s actually probably easier to do this than it is to take a lower-level job in Scotland with part-time players and all the traditions that go along with the clubs there.
“You can choose the culture, the values of the club, the type of people, the players – whereas at other clubs you can inherit situations that are quite difficult to change.”
The former Vancouver Whitecaps manager was introduced to the E-Land Group by South Korean star Lee Young-pyo, who played under the 39-year-old Scot for the Major League Soccer side.
Martin Rennie at a Soul E-Land FC announcement | Image source: Martin Rennie
Beginning his professional coaching career at the age of 30, Rennie is studying in tandem with his coaching responsibilities for his UEFA Pro Licence with the Scottish FA, which as of 2013 requires its coaches to take up a communicative level in a second language, which gives him more motivation to learn Korean.
“I have [a Korean] interpreter who has been a huge help – it wouldn’t be the first time I’d phone him to get him to order pizza for me! But I’m working on it and learning the language.
“If you’re making the effort it helps build relationships with the fans, the players, the media and everyone else.”
While K-League’s only Scottish coach has only been in the country since July last year, he is looking forward to beginning the season.
“There are big clubs such as FC Seoul and Suwon [Bluewings], run by major corporations like Samsung, LG, Hyundai [in Ulsan]. Those clubs have big crowds and hopefully we will as well.
“I can’t wait to get started now, to see what we can achieve.”
E-Land, who are are currently in America on a pre-season tour, will make their K-League Challenge debut on March 29 at home against Anyang FC in Seoul Olympic Stadium.