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2021 K League in Interviews: October

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October was a particularly busy month in K League. Gimcheon Sangmu were about to wrap up the K League 2 title, Jeonbuk, Pohang, and Ulsan were all getting ready for the ACL, while Jeonnam Dragons were getting ready for an FA Cup semifinal.

Park Dong-jin

On loan from FC Seoul as part of his military service, defender-turned-striker Park Dong-jin talked about his targets before the start of the campaign and how he and his teammates were feeling heading into the business end of the season.

"My target was to win promotion and stay injury-free. Not just me but all the players are brimming with confidence. But, you can’t win just with confidence alone. We will take it one game at a time and do our best to make sure we win the title."

Full Interview: here

Stanislav Iljutcenko

Stanislav Iljutecnko moved from Pohang Steelers to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors before the start of the 2021 season. He was joined at Jeonju Castle by some familiar faces too with Cho Young-jun and Song Min-kyu both Steelers colleagues.

"It's always nice to play with players that you have played with before or which you've known a long time. Young-jun and Min-kyu I know from Pohang and we had a great time at Pohang and now we can have a great time here at Jeonbuk."

He also talked about his on-the-field battles with Dave Bulthuis which began while both players were in Germany several years ago.

"I think we have a good relationship. We played many games against each other. I think I know him well. I think he knows me well. Of course, he's a good centre-back in the K League. Maybe one of the best. I think we will have a good fight in the match, like always. I hope it is a better end for our team."

Full Interview: here

Alex Grant

Alex Grant signed for Pohang Steelers as Stanislav Iljutcenko was on his way out. The former Perth Glory man was unfortunate to pick up an injury in his first game for the club but was able to recover in time for the ACL Group Stage earlier in the year. But, he admits, he wasn't quite sure of how qualification from the group worked.

"I think the way the Champions League games were scheduled, and I think the qualifying rules this season have been slightly different compared to last season's where, even if you finished second, it wasn't a guarantee. I don't think we were aware of that going into the tournament and it was one of those things we kind of find out last minute. That was one thing that was probably going against us because I felt we did have a tough group, obviously, Johor the Malaysian champions who you know we're a very good team and Nagoya they've obviously proven over the years how strong they are and they probably were the best team in the group and deservedly so and even Ratchaburi, they fought for a tough 0-0 draw against us late in the group as well. 

Full Interview: here

Yoon Bit-garam

Not only did Yoon Bit-garam win the ACL in 2020 but he was named as the competition's MVP. When asked about the accolade, Yoon paid tribute to his teammates.

"I was able to win the award because of my amazing teammates and while working toward personal targets and team targets at the same time. I will remember it for a long time, it has been a great motivator for me this season."

Ahead of the quarter-final with Jeonbuk, the former Jeju man saw the tie as just another fixture.

"I see it as another game in our bid to win the trophy. We approach each game with the same levels of concentration and have the mindset of simply wanting to do our best. There's a bit of history with us and Jeonbuk but we are only focusing on the 2021 ACL quarter-finals so we can pick up the win."

Full Interview: here

Kang Sang-woo

Pohang Steelers went into the quarter-final clash with Nagoya Grampus without some notable first-team players. However, Kang Sang-woo revealed that he and his team were told to focus on what their strengths were.

"Before the Cerezo Osaka game, we lost to Daegu. The mood among the players was a bit low but it was going to be a game that was Korea versus Japan. The manager said to us that, even though there are injuries, ultimately we have to face the situation head-on, we have to win, not shirk away from it and that we had to find what it is that we are best at. So, rather than thinking about the injured players, we just tried to focus on what we do well. I think as one team, all working together we were able to gain a bit of focus."

Full Interview: here

Hong Jeong-ho

Hong Jeong-ho, meanwhile, talked about how he and his Jeonbuk teammates were concentrating on their own game heading into the ACL quarter-finals, rather than worrying about the opposition.

I don't think the opponent is important, whether it is a Korean team or a team from overseas. Jeonbuk aims to win, so I think it is important to play our own game... the senior players are leading the team well. The young players are also helping us with their good performances. Rather than feeling the pressure, all our players are confident. Since there are many players who have championship-winning experience, we are trying to prepare for each game with a pleasant atmosphere, not a heavy atmosphere. We will do our best to produce good results."

Full Interview: here

Samuel Nnamani 

Lastly, Jeonnam Dragons striker Samuel Nnamani talked about how the 2021 season mirrored the time he spent in Sweden with AFC Eskilstuna, enjoying a cup run and playoff push as a second division team.

We had a similar situation (to Jeonnam) when we got promoted and played the cup final as a smaller team. That year we played against the best team in the country in the semifinal. We played well and it went to the penalty shootout. They missed a lot, we scored a lot, so anything can happen."

He also spoke about how his goal in the earlier rounds of the FA Cup helped his confidence.

"I felt really good during that period of time. I think since August, I felt good playing-wise, energy-wise and have these feelings of scoring goals. I felt very happy to score in that match after playing a lot of games. It was really tough mentally, you know, but I was really motivated after that goal. In sport, the most important thing is that we have to keep trying and here we are in the semi-finals waiting to play the best team in Asia."

Full Interview: here

[READ: 2021 K League in Interviews: August to September]

Paul Neat, Shibajee Das, Matthew Binns, Ryan Walters, Peter Hampshire