The man who led the ‘relegation’ takes the helm…and fans are furious

Just over a month after being relegated from professional soccer’s K League 2, Suwon Samsung has appointed acting head coach Yeom Ki-hoon, 40, as its new head coach. Suwon fans are furious that the coach who led the club to the first relegation in its history at the Big Bird (Suwon World Cup Stadium) has taken the helm.

On the afternoon of the 9th, Suwon announced, “We have decided to entrust the mission of re-entering the K League 1 to coach Yi Ki-hoon. The contract will be for two years,” and announced the appointment of acting head coach Yeom Ki-hoon as the official head coach.

Fans are not impressed. Suwon confirmed their relegation to the K League 2 for the 2024 season on December 2 last year. It was the first relegation in the club’s 28-year history. Yeom Ki-hoon was at the helm when the relegation was confirmed. The club didn’t hold him accountable, but rather trusted him.

Suwon spent the entire 2023 season in the bottom half of the table. Lee Byung-geun and Kim Byung-soo were fired and Yeom Ki-hoon took over as acting head coach last September. The former on-field player-coach was tasked with saving the team. Given that he had no formal coaching experience, he was entrusted with a relegation battle that lasted until the very end, and many questioned whether he had the will to keep the team afloat.

Since Yeom Ki-hoon took over as head coach, Suwon have won three, drawn two and lost two. A two-game winning streak in that span kept their hopes of staying up alive, but a 0-0 draw at home to Gangwon FC in the final game of the season sealed the deal.

Yeom Ki-hoon is a Suwon legend. Since joining the club in 2010, he has made 333 league appearances, scoring 49 goals and providing 87 assists in 13 seasons, excluding his military service. He is Suwon’s all-time leader in appearances and assists, and ranks second in goals. During this time, Suwon won three FA Cup titles and two K-League runner-up finishes.

However, leader Yi Ki-hoon is hard to escape blame for Suwon’s humiliating relegation. After Suwon failed to stay up, he delivered a message in front of the home fans, saying, “We will be Suwon Samsung, reborn with the determination of reinvention. However, the club left a novice manager, who had failed to prevent relegation, with a more difficult promotion task than staying up.

To add to the anger of the fans, there was another aspect. In an official explanation of the appointment, Suwon said, “We decided that the newly appointed head coach Park Kyung-hoon is the right person to quickly resolve the biggest crisis since the founding of the club and to unite the players to return to the K League 1 once again.”

Park’s appointment was announced on Aug. 8. Yeom Ki-hoon was announced the next day, on the 9th. According to the club’s press release, the team made the decision to hire a new head coach just one day after Park was appointed. Fans reacted by saying that it was hard to understand with common sense.

The appointment of Yeom Ki-hoon had already been opposed by Suwon supporters. Last month, a media outlet reported the confirmation of the appointment, and Suwon supporters ‘Frente Tricolo’ pointed out that “a coach who has no professional experience as a head coach is not the best choice for promotion” and “it is a completely different course of action from their words of ‘changing everything with the determination of reinvention'”.

After much fan fanfare, it’s Yi Ki-hoon who has finally taken the reins. He and new head coach Park Kyung-hoon will face the media at an official media day at Suwon’s clubhouse on the afternoon of the 11th. It will be the last event before the team departs for training camp, and it will also be Yi’s first official act as head coach.

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