Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors

전북 현대 모터스 축구단 / Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors Football Club

Honours

  • Best League Finish: 1st in the K League 1 (9 times)
  • Best Korean Cup Finish: Winners (5 times)
  • AFC Champions League
    • Winners (2): 2006, 2016
  • K League 1
    • Champions (9): 2009, 2011, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021
  • Korean FA Cup
    • Winners (5): 2000, 2003, 2005, 2020, 2022
  • Korean Super Cup
    • Winners (1): 2004

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors / 전북 현대 모터스 is a South Korean football team currently playing in the K League 1, the top tier in the South Korean football pyramid. They are the most successful team in Korean football having won the K League a record nine times, and the Korean FA Cup a joint-record five times, as well as being crowned as AFC Champions League winners on two occasions. The Green Warriors come from the tourist and gastronomic city of Jeonju / 전주시, the sixteenth largest city in South Korea (with a population of over 652k) and the capital of North Jeolla Province, located in southwestern Korea. Jeonbuk Motors currently play their home games at the 42,477-capacity Jeolla World Cup Stadium, one of the many stadiums built for the 2002 World Cup, and situated in the northwestern outskirts of the city. The stadium hosted two group games during the tournament as well as the Round of 16 match between CONCACAF rivals Mexico and USA, in which the latter famously won 2-0 (the famous “Dos A Cero” game).

The origins of the club originate from the Wansan Pumas who were founded in 1993 but were initially unable to enter the K League after failing to raise the required funding. However, after eventually acquiring financial support from a local alcohol manufacturer, they joined the K League in 1994 as Chonbuk Buffalo, but this team only survived a season (finishing bottom of the table) before financial problems reared their head again forcing the club to dissolve following the completion of the 1994 K League season. As South Korea was attempting to bid for hosting the 2002 World Cup during that period, Hyundai Motors decided to get involved in football like other chaebol companies had done before them to take over the Buffaloes’ players’ contracts and launch their own new club in December 1994 called Jeonbuk Dinos to compete in the 1995 K League. The K League regards Chonbuk Buffalo and Jeonbuk Dinos as different clubs, hence the club’s foundation date being officially December 1994.

Initially, the club was a mid-table performing side in the K League, with their best season coming in 2000, which also coincided with the club changing its name to the current one from Jeonbuk Hyundai Dinos (which they adopted three years prior). They finished in their highest league position of fourth and won their first trophy, the 2000 Korean FA Cup by beating Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma (now Seongnam FC) 2-0 in the final and enacting revenge on the previous year’s final when they lost to the same opponent 0-3. They managed a second cup victory three years later by overcoming Jeolla rivals Jeonnam Dragons on penalties after a 2-2 draw, but the fortunes of the club started to improve for the better following the appointment of Choi Kang-hee as the manager in July 2005. Under his leadership, the club won their third Korean Cup by beating the magnificently named third-tier side Ulsan Hyundai Mipo Dockyard by a single goal. This cup victory qualified the club for the AFC Champions League. Despite finishing the league campaign in a disappointing 11th position, they managed to reach the final of the continental competition where they faced the Syrian champions Al-Karamah. In the two-legged showpiece, Jeonbuk beat their opponents 3-2 on aggregate with Brazilian striker Zé Carlos scoring the crucial goal in the second away leg (which they lost 1-2) to confirm the championship for Jeonbuk. The side became the first East Asian club to win the AFC Champions League under the ACL format, and (at the time) were the only side in the world to have become continental champions without having been domestic champions. However, that curious statistic would soon be rectified…

Having become the 2006 Asian champions, the owner Hyundai Motors decided to invest more money into the club to build upon this surprise success, and naturally, this started to lift the league performances of the club in the following seasons. Four years after finishing a league-low finish of 12th position, Jeonbuk finally lifted their inaugural Korean championship when they clinched the 2009 K League title by beating Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma 3-1 on aggregate in the end-of-season playoff final – a deserved title as they finished in first position during the league phase of the season. This would start a period of domination for the Jeonju-based club where they would not finish any lower than third position since their first league title, and have finished in the top two for every K League season since 2014. The club’s recent domestic domination can be clearly seen by their five consecutive K League victories between 2017 and 2021 and by the fact they have won a trophy in every season since 2014.

Jeonbuk Motors reached a second AFC Champions League final in 2011 but lost to the Qatari side Al-Sadd on penalties after finishing the one-legged game 2-2, which included an injury-time equaliser from Lee Seung-Hyun for Jeonbuk. However, the club managed to claim their second continental title five years later when they defeated Emirati side Al-Ain 3-2 on aggregate to win the 2016 ACL crown. Whilst in 2020, their fifteen-year wait to add to their Korean FA Cup tally came to an end when they defeated title rivals Ulsan Hyundai 3-2 on aggregate to complete the club’s first (and to date, only) double-winning season. In the 2022 season, Jeonbuk’s reign as Korean champions came to a conclusion when Ulsan finally clinched the title after a number of near misses, demoting the former champions to the runners-up spot. However, Jeonbuk ensured their season would not finish trophyless as they achieved victory in the Korean FA Cup by beating FC Seoul 5-3 on aggregate in the two-legged final to earn their fifth national cup in their history.

To talk about a side that has been the dominant club in Korean football in recent times, and has been crowned as Asian continental champions twice in their history, we spoke to the excellent Matthew Binns. Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Manchester City supporter Matthew (who has clearly been bereft of trophy successes this past decade as a supporter of the two clubs…) is based in South Korea, and is currently the Editor-in-Chief of the English-language South Korean football website and podcast, K League United. In addition, he regularly contributes to the K League’s official English language website and has also commentated on live K League games for the league’s international television feed. To read his articles or listen to the regular podcasts he often hosts, you can find the KLU website link, as well as his social media channels at the links below:

Q. Firstly, why did you decide to start following Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors?

I came to Korea as an English teacher at the end of the summer of 2014 and was allocated Jeonju as my teaching location. I had actually selected Daejeon but it was full. Sometimes fate has a way of intervening and steering you on a better path.

Kim Nam-il

I initially researched the team via FIFA 13 and Football Manager, quickly learning that Lee Dong-gook was a goalscoring machine. After arrival and finishing orientation, it was an international break so I had to wait a while before I could attend my first match but eventually, I was able to go and take in a lacklustre 1-0 win over Gyeongnam courtesy of a late Kim Nam-il header.

I attended mainly to find a sense of community. Being in a new city where you don’t really know anyone is difficult so attending games seemed like a good way to meet people with similar interests. Safe to say it worked as over eight years later and after many memorable matches and moments, I’m still following along with people I have met along the way.

I suppose it’s one of the reasons why I got involved with K League United also. It allowed me to meet a number of like-minded folks who wanted to watch football, write about it, and expand the footballing community beyond our own clubs.

Q. Who would you say is Jeonbuk’s best player, and coach/manager of all time, and the reasonings behind the choices?

Choi Kang-hee

I think the managerial position writes itself. Choi Kang-hee stepped into his first managerial role at the club in 2005, winning the Korean FA Cup in his first year and subsequently qualifying for the AFC Champions League the season after. After that, Jeonbuk tanked in the K League in order to win the 2006 continental crown instead. With the attention from Hyundai Motors this triggered, funding followed. Combined with his management, not to mention a couple of stellar acquisitions, which I’ll move onto in a moment, they would finally win their first K League in 2009, before winning it again in 2011 and making the Champions League final once more, losing on penalties (a familiar story for Jeonbuk). After being called in as a firefighter to save a tanking Korean National Team squad and qualify them for the 2014 World Cup (and arguably causing more of a mess in the eyes of some national team supporters) Choi returned to Jeonbuk in 2014 and picked up where he left off: winning four more league titles and another Champions League trophy.

Further evidence of his ability came after his move to China, where he eventually took over a faltering Shanghai Shenhua, saved them from relegation, and won the Chinese FA Cup in the same season, even if his tactics were little to be desired in doing so. Ultimately he was a coach I wasn’t sure of when I started following Jeonbuk in 2014, but I grew to admire his pragmatism. His teams could play glamorous attacking football, but the result was always paramount and he was never afraid to sacrifice the display in order to achieve what was required.

Also, as a side note, he was always pleasant in person despite his steely demeanour at the side of the pitch and he had lots of time for fans. He even stopped his car (a Hyundai since you asked) to speak to my friend Lex Nande and me after Jeonbuk beat Seoul 4-0 at Seoul World Cup Stadium in 2018. The less I dwell on me trying to tell him my life story at the K League awards that year though, the better!

Lee Dong-gook

In terms of players, saying anyone other than striker Lee Dong-gook would be trying too hard. Lee was himself a somewhat troubled soul having seen his career in Europe fall flat through injury and his K League return at Seongnam fizzle out in 2008. However, Choi Kang-hee saw potential in both him and defensive midfielder Kim Sang-sik (the current manager), signing both for his 2009 squad. Lee won his first K League title, picked up that season’s Golden Boot with 20 goals, and won the MVP award. After that, the rest was history. Lee would feature heavily in eight of the nine titles Jeonbuk would go on to win, and also pick up an ACL title and FA Cup along the way. He became the AFC Champions League all-time top scorer for a good while until recently overtaken by Dejan Damjanović, and remains the K League’s all-time top scorer with 214 goals to his name.

Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ for the club in both the past and present squads?

Choi Chul-soon

There are a number of names here, particularly if I’m drawing from my last eight and half years following the team. Leonardo [Brazilian attacking midfielder who played for Jeonbuk between 2012 and 2016] and Ricardo Lopes [32-year-old Brazilian forward who was at Jeonbuk between 2016 and 2019, and is currently at Japanese side JEF United Chiba] hold very special spots in supporters’ hearts, as does the dark arts of Kim Jin-su [30-year-old left back], but I would probably opt for right-back Choi Chul-soon.

Choi Chul-soon is the K League definition of a ‘one-club man’ and by that I mean one club if you disregard his mandatory military service which had to be taken elsewhere. Not only that, but it is easy to forget how long he has been playing for the club. Having signed from Chungbuk National University, Choi made his professional debut in 2006, featuring regularly and winning the Champions League that season. He conducted his military service from the end of 2012 to the start of 2014, a period where Jeonbuk also won nothing, and returned with a K League 2 winners medal around his neck to then continue helping with Jeonbuk’s top-tier dominance. He has been involved in all but three of Jeonbuk’s trophies across their history (their first three FA Cups) and, at 35, is still set for a few more years at the club.

Choi Chul-soon’s greatest moment in my eyes will always be the 2016 Champions League Final where he spent two legs in an unusual defensive midfielder role kicking the hell out of AFC poster boy Omar Abdulrahman (What did I say earlier about the manager’s pragmatism again?). Abdulrahman was never the same after that competition and faded into obscurity while Choi continues to feature for a regular stint each season in one of Asia’s greatest sides.

Q. Of the current squad, who would you say is the best player at the club and why?

Modou Barrow

I think this year has made me reevaluate a lot of the players at the club, but one player who has grown in my estimation is [30-year-old winger/forward] Modou Barrow. This is not to say I wasn’t impressed with him before, but the season he has had for both The Gambia at the African Cup of Nations, and at club level in both K League and on the continent, has cemented his name on the starting teamsheet. The hope will be that his form for the title run-in can be preserved over the off-season to ensure Jeonbuk get off to a flying start in 2023.

I also think honourable mentions to left-back Kim Jin-su and central defender Park Jin-seop are also required as both proved invaluable in keeping the Green Warriors defensively sound this season, with Kim’s performances only endearing him to supporters even more and seeing him take the captaincy role during the Champions League knockout matches.

Q. Who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent at the club?

Cho Gue-sung

After the World Cup, attention has understandably focused on [24-year-old striker] Cho Gue-sung, a player that has won everything domestically now in Korea with both division titles, two FA Cups, and the most recent Golden Boot. Having also completed his military service and has now forced himself into being Korea’s first-choice striker, he is an exciting proposition to any overseas club at present.

With that said, Jeonbuk were not that actively involved in developing him [he was bought from FC Anyang in 2020] nor were they in many of their young first-team regulars, so choosing him as well as talents like Maeng Seong-ung [24-year-old midfielder], Paik Seung-ho [25-year-old midfielder], and Kim Moon-hwan [27-year-old right-back], seems a bit of a cheat.

One player who is coming through and has been spoken about in club circles is 18-year-old attacking midfielder Kang Sang-yun, and with 15 appearances this season, plus 12 appearances and 2 goals for the B team, he seems the likely first-choice U22 player moving forward. He is also featuring regularly for the U20 Korean squad and looks to have a promising future ahead of him.

Q. Who would you regard as Jeonbuk’s biggest or historical rivals?

Jeonbuk’s closest rivals in terms of proximity are South Jeolla side Jeonnam Dragons but the Honam Derby between the pair has rarely attracted the same level of excitement that other fixtures Jeonbuk feature in, even if there have been some belters between them when they were regularly facing each other.

That said, all the fixtures Jeonbuk would consider the biggest are not necessarily the biggest for the other club involved. Due to the recent title races, Ulsan Hyundai are seen as Jeonbuk’s biggest rivals. It is a rivalry that seems fairly balanced and has thrown up some exciting matches in the last few campaigns. It is certainly now a clash that you look for on the fixture lists when they are released, although Ulsan fans will undoubtedly be also paying equal, if not more, attention to when the East Coast Derby with Pohang Steelers is set for.

For me, and for many other fans, matches with FC Seoul and Suwon Samsung Bluewings tend to throw up the most atmosphere within a Jeonbuk crowd, particularly the former, even if both of those teams consider the clash with each other far bigger than their engagement with the Green Warriors.

While Jeonbuk have dominated the Seoul fixture in the last five years, it was not always the case with both teams reasonably matched and both laying claim to being two of the better-known teams on the continent, with their rivalry reaching its peak in 2016 where, not only did Seoul defeat them on the last day to lift the title, but Jeonbuk had to overcome them in two legs in the Champions League semifinal as well.

Q. How would you describe the current performance or state of the club? How do you think this past season has gone?

Kim Sang-sik

By Jeonbuk standards, it has certainly been nothing to write home about, but the decline has been notable since the shift to José Morais in 2019. Sure, a double was won in that time, and there have still been trophies every season, but the football on show has slid away from the attacking brilliance of 2018 to a game of pointless possession. That said, if you look at the way the season ended, with that spirited AFC Champions League semifinal display, the Korean FA Cup final, and a run of games between those two competitions that only took in one loss, you wonder whether manager Kim Sang-sik had finally cracked it right at the end.

It has also been one of transition, with a lot of new players, many from K League 2, coming into the club to create a younger core while older talent, such as Han Kyo-won and Lee Seung-gi, have been called upon on fewer occasions. Sure, Jeonbuk still have a problem with finding a regular U22 player to field in their line-up [to fulfill a K League rule where an under-22 player must be part of the starting XI], but most of the squad is younger than before which puts them in good stead going forward.

I also think the failure to strengthen in the summer and address the glaring issues tipped the balance in Ulsan’s favour, especially with Horangi making a stellar signing in Martin Ádám. What exactly happened with the transfer window needs to be looked into so the same mistakes are not repeated.

Roberto Di Matteo

For now, the board have stuck with Kim Sang-sik. While patience in the stands has been tested, seeing the most significant managerial protests at Jeonbuk in a long while, Kim does have the backing of the staff and the players, plus with his history as a player and coach at the club, it buys him another roll of the dice. A slow start though, and then you can’t help but speculate on the nature of the recently reported advisor appointment of Roberto Di Matteo.

Q. Looking at the club’s history, what would you say has been the best game, result, or performance in your opinion?

Perhaps this comes with my feigned arrogance of winning frequently but some of the matches I’ve looked back on often have been the spirited losses, such as the recent ACL semifinal defeat to Urawa Red Diamonds and the ACL quarterfinal loss to Suwon Bluewings in 2018. Both were painful, but with little in way of fault to throw at the team, perhaps were the performances that showed that winning is never taken for granted by the players.

Of my time following the club then it is likely the 2016 AFC Champions League final, perhaps even the whole edition of that competition. Jeonbuk not only got through the group stages by the skin of their teeth, but they turned Jeonju Castle into a fortress befitting its name where they would lie in wait for the opposition. In fact, Jeonbuk only won one continental away game that year, a 3-0 defeat of FC Tokyo, in a performance that marked the end of an average start to the year and the seeds that something special was on the cards.

However, I’ll choose the final due to it both being the final and also how many people had backed Al-Ain to defeat them. As mentioned, Omar Abdulrahman was being touted for European success and their side had looked very impressive on their way to the tournament’s showpiece, but Jeonbuk held firm, came back from a goal down in the first leg at a packed Jeonju World Cup Stadium before then getting it done in the UAE a week later. Leonardo, Choi Chul-soon, and goalkeeper Kwoun Sun-tae all further cemented their hero status after those matches, while, somewhat amusingly, the scorer of the eventual Champions League winning goal, Han Kyo-won, would spend the following half of the next season in Korea’s third tier, tearing it apart for Pocheon doing his national service before returning later in 2017.

In terms of historical importance though, I guess the 2006 Champions League Final as it was perhaps the moment that triggered it all. This result showed the potential Jeonbuk had on offer and, coupled with the 2009 title-winning season, would ensure the club would get the backing and build the facilities it would need to dominate Korean football for the following decade and a half.

Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the club?

I think as, with a lot of clubs, the community has always been an attractive factor. I followed Jeonbuk as I was placed in Jeonju and wanted to meet fellow football supporters. It had nothing to do with their history or stature in the game. Through following Jeonbuk though, I have been fortunate to meet incredible people and enjoy many humourous misadventures around the country following the team. Sure, we’ve been fortunate enough to bask in more than our fair share of trophy celebrations along the way, but it would’ve been as equally enjoyable if we had been doing it around the K League 2.

In terms of supporters as well, while perhaps Suwon Bluewings can lay claim to some of the most vocal and inventive supporters in the division, Jeonbuk fans are certainly not to be overlooked and draw a large, passionate contingent.

With that in mind, fans have taken aim more at the club this year than in previous seasons, and not just due to the displays on the pitch. The club membership program has proved controversial, with fans paying to have priority and discounts on tickets, seats, club events, board-to-fan meetings, and purchasing shirts, etc, plus some other freebies.

For me, I think the concept had some legs when attendances were restricted in 2020 and 2021 with season tickets having to be halted due to the uncertainty of crowds being allowed, but I hope we see the back of it in 2023 and move back to just season and regular tickets. Given that the stadium is less than a quarter full for most rounds, trying to divide and squeeze that extra bit of cash out of loyal fans who effectively built and backed the club through all these years seems ill-judged.

Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors?

On the pitch, I would like to see continued success, but perhaps in a more entertaining fashion that matches the talent acquired. I would also like to start seeing some of the rewards of the B team come through, otherwise, what was the point in establishing such a controversial aspect [a number of K League sides established ‘B’ sides in the K4 League – Korea’s fourth tier].

As for off of it, continued engagement with supporters to try and make the experience enjoyable for all. Also to continue to invest in youth and to use the recent World Cup as a springboard to encourage more young fans to come and watch the games.

A massive thank you to Matthew for answering our questions on the K League 1 side Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. Remember you can find their social media accounts, and articles on K League United in the links towards the top of the blogpage.

If you have any comments, suggestions, reactions, or even your own answers to the above questions, please write them in the comments box below. Likewise, you can either email us at the94thmin@gmail.com or send a message at @The94thMin on Twitter.

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