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2023 Hana 1Q K League 1 Team Guide

league 2023.01.25   I   hits 1819


Looking at captains, stadiums and mascots, and also their list of titles, here is our annual comprehensive guide to the 12 teams in the 2023 Hana 1Q K League 1 ahead of the new season kicking off on February 25th.

Daejeon Hana Citizen


Manager: Lee Min-sung | Captain: Ju Se-jong | Nickname: Purples, Citizen | Est: 1997 | Mascot: Jaju | Rivals: Suwon Samsung Bluewings | Stadium: Daejeon World Cup Stadium (2001, 40,535)

Daejeon Citizen were founded in 1997 as a team for the citizens of Daejeon and owned by a consortium of local companies. When K League was decentralised, and teams didn't play at "home" stadiums as such, and teams from all around the country playing at the city's Hanbat Stadium, it was clear that the citizens of Daejeon wanted a professional football team. Thus, in 1997, Daejeon Citizen was born, a team for the citizens of Daejeon. It then became a citizen club (funded by the local government) in 2006 but the 2020 season was the start of a new era for Daejeon following a takeover from Hana Financial Group, with "Hana" added to the team's name. Daejeon suffered relegation in 2013 and 2015, with a 2014 K League Challenge (second division) title in the middle and have remained in K League 2 ever since. After reaching the playoffs with no success for the seasons prior, the Purples ensured third time would be the charm as they overcame Gimcheon Sangmu across two legs in the promotion-relegation final to secure top-flight football for the first time in seven years. While manager Lee Min-sung will certainly be wanting his side to at least avoid relegation on their return, there'll be a hope that their recent investments in the squad could reap dividends and perhaps help them achieve even more.

Honours: K League 2 (2014), FA Cup (2001)
Highest K League 1 Finish: 6th (2003, 2007)
2022 Finish: 2nd (K League 2)

Daegu FC


Manager: Choi Won-kwon | Captain: Cesinha | Nickname: Sky Blues | Est: 2002 | Mascot: Rica, Victo | Stadium: DGB Daegu Bank Park (2019, 12,415)

Founded in 2002, Daegu FC are one of the league's oldest citizen-owned clubs, where funding for the team comes primarily from the local government. Daegu suffered relegation in 2013 but, after three seasons in the lower tier, they returned to the top flight stronger than ever. The club lifted its first piece of silverware in 2018, beating Ulsan Hyundai over two legs in the FA Cup Final and subsequently earning AFC Champions League qualification for the first time. The team moved to a football-specific stadium in the centre of the city too in 2019 which saw them clock up nine sell-outs in its maiden year. In 2020, Daegu FC finished fifth and qualified for the AFC Champions League Group Stage through league positioning for the first time before setting a new league finish record in 2021 by ending the campaign in third. However, while 2022 did see them progress through to the AFC Champions League knockout stages and also into the semifinals of the FA Cup, their league form was of contrast and saw Choi Won-kwon step in as manager later in the season, replacing the recently-appointed Alexandre Gama, to guide them away from the relegation positions and finish 8th. The Sky Blues will be hoping to return to challenging for a top-half berth in this year's campaign.

Honours: Promotion winners (2016), FA Cup (2018)
Highest K League 1 Finish: 3rd (2021)
2022 Finish: 8th

Gangwon FC


Manager: Choi Yong-soo | Captain: Rim Chang-woo | Nickname: Bears | Est: 2008 | Mascot: Gang-woongi | Stadium: Songam Sports Town, Chuncheon (2009, 20,000), Gangneung Civic Stadium (1984, 22,333)

Owned by the provincial government of Gangwon, Gangwon FC were founded as a citizen club at the end of 2008 and began competing in the K League in 2009. The club spent three seasons in the second tier from 2014 to 2016 following relegation in 2013 before triumphing over Seongnam FC in the playoffs to regain their top-flight status. Gangwon FC are still yet to lift silverware but finished in the top half for only the third time in their history in 2022. Under the leadership of former FC Seoul boss, the Bears bounced back from a season that saw them nearly relegated into a top-half finish once more, with the hope that the exciting young talent at their disposal could see them climb higher this season.

Being a provincial team, Gangwon have a number of stadiums that they call home. In 2021, most first-team matches were played at Chuncheon Songam Sports Town in the western part of the province but moved to Gangneung Civic Stadium on the East Coast for the run-in. The club has also played home matches in Sokcho and Wonju.

Honours: Promotion Playoff winners (2016)
Highest K League 1 Finish: 6th (2017, 2019, 2022)
2022 Finish: 6th

Gwangju FC


Manager: Lee Jung-hyo | Captain: Ahn Young-kyu | Nickname: Yellows, Bitgoeul | Est: 2010 | Mascot: Boni | Stadium: Gwangju Football Stadium (2020, 10,007)

When army team Gwangju Sangmu departed the city at the end of 2010, Gwangju FC was born. Since playing their first season back in 2011, citizen club Gwangju are one of five clubs to have been relegated to the second tier on more than one occasion since K League 2 was formed in 2013. In 2019, Gwangju were runaway champions of K League 2, comfortably winning promotion back to K League 1. In 2020, Gwangju finished sixth in K League 1, a club record and even moved to a new football-specific stadium after 10 years at Gwangju World Cup Stadium. However, it was not enough to put off relegation the following season yet, under the stewardship of Lee Jung-hyo, the Yellows bounced back at the first time of asking, running away with first place as they had done three years prior. Gwangju will now be hoping to come through the new season unscathed and hold on to their top-flight status.

Honours: Promotion winners (2014, 2019, 2022)
Highest K League 1 Finish: 6th (2020)
2022 Finish: 1st (K League 2)

Incheon United


Manager: Jo Sung-hwan | Captain: Oh Ban-seok | Nickname: Neroazzurre (Blue-Black), Durumi (Cranes) | Est: 2003 | Mascot: Yuti | Rivals: FC Seoul, Suwon Samsung Bluewings | Stadium: Incheon Football Stadium (2012, 20,891)

Incheon United played their first season back in 2004 and by their second they managed to reach the Championship Play-off Finals where they finished as runners-up to Ulsan Hyundai. The Blue Black have not reached those heights since but did flirt with the prospect of glory once more in 2015 when they made it to the FA Cup Final, losing to Gyeongin Derby rivals FC Seoul. In the league, recent seasons have usally seen them battle relegation on an annual basis yet they have always managed to survive with some memorable last-round heroics that still burn strong in their fanbase's minds. The 2020 season culminated in Incheon pulling off the greatest of escapes despite being nine points adrift when current manager Jo Sung-hwan took over that summer. Jo's stewardship then saw them finish in a comfortable eigth position in 2021 before taking them even further last year and finishing fourth, the first time the club had finished in the top half since 2009. Not only that, their rise saw them qualify for the AFC Champions League and, with reinforcements over the summer, Jo is set to take the club on its biggest adventure yet in 2023.

Highest K League 1 Finish: 2nd (2005)
2022 Finish: 4th

Jeju United


Manager: Nam Ki-il | Captain: Choi Young-jun | Nickname: Islanders, Tangerines | Est: 1982 | Mascot: Gamgyuli | Rivals: Bucheon FC 1995 | Stadium: Jeju World Cup Stadium (2001, 35,657)

Originally founded as Bucheon SK, SK Corporation-owned Jeju United are one of the league's older teams. Now located on the beautiful island of Jeju off the south coast, the Tangerines boast of one of the most picturesque stadiums in Korea - Jeju World Cup Stadium in the city of Seogwipo. Jeju appointed current manager Nam Ki-il as the manager of the team prior to the 2020 season after having been relegated for the only time in their history. Coach Nam immediately made it three promotions with three different teams before then recording his very first top-six K League 1 finish the year after and a best for Jeju since 2017. Having made great strides, the Tangerines followed that up in 2022 with a fifth-place finish, narrowly missing out once more on AFC Champions League qualification and something manager Nam will be hoping to rectify in this campaign.

Honours: K League 1 (1989)*, K League 2 (2020)
2022 Finish: 5th

*As Bucheon SK

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors


Manager: Kim Sang-sik | Captain: Hong Jeong-ho | Nickname: Green Warriors | Est: 1994 | Mascot: Cho-a, Nighty, Search | Rivals: Jeonnam Dragons, FC Seoul, Suwon Samsung Bluewings | Stadium:  Jeonju World Cup Stadium (2001, 42,477)

Founded in 1994, it was not until the 21st Century that Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors began to claim silverware. The last decade has seen them cement themselves as a K League powerhouse, lifting all nine of their titles in the span of thirteen seasons. Club legend Kim Sang-sik took charge in 2021 in what is his first managerial job despite having spent time as a player and assistant coach at the club. Kim, a former defender himself, successfully defended the Green Warriors' K League title in his first attempt, sealing a record-extending fifth straight championship on the final day, yet his second season proved more difficult as Jeonbuk finished behind Ulsan Hyundai, bringing an end to their five-title streak. Regardless, Jeonbuk still made it to the AFC Champions League semifinals in 2022 and also claimed the FA Cup. The Green Motors have made no secret that their sights are set firmly on all three for 2023 after strengthening in the off-season

Honours: K League 1 (2009, 2011, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021), FA Cup (2000, 2003, 2005, 2020, 2022), AFC Champions League (2006, 2016)
2022 Finish: 2nd

Pohang Steelers


Manager: Kim Ki-dong | Captain: Kim Seung-dae | Nickname: Steelers | Est: 1973 | Mascot: Swidoli | Rivals: Ulsan Hyundai | Stadium: Pohang Steel Yard (1990, 15,521)

One of the founding members of the division, and celebrating their 50th year as a club in 2023, POSCO-owned Pohang Steelers, are one of the most successful sides in both K League and AFC Champions League history. Fierce rivals of Ulsan Hyundai, Pohang's last silverware was in 2013 when the Steelers did the double, defeating the Horangi in the final minutes of the season. Since then, Pohang have been working toward a return to prominence and, under the stewardship of club legend Kim Ki-dong, they initially secured back-to-back top-four finishes and a return to the AFC Champions League for 2021. While that year saw them slip down to eight, the Steelers did also go on to also reach the ACL final. Last season saw them return to outside title contenders, finishing third and securing continental football once more. The Steelers will be hoping that, under the stewardship of Kim, they can make their 50th anniversary a memorable one for supporters by going even further this year.

Honours: K League 1 (1986, 1988, 1992, 2007, 2013), FA Cup (1996, 2008, 2012, 2013), AFC Champions League (1996-97, 1997-98, 2009), League Cup (1993, 2009)
2022 Finish: 3rd

FC Seoul


Manager: An Ik-soo | Captain: Stanislav Iljutcenko | Est: 1983,2004 | Mascot: SSID | Rivals: Suwon Samsung Bluewings, Incheon United, Seongnam FC, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, FC Anyang | Stadium: Seoul World Cup Stadium (2001,  66,704)

FC Seoul are the capital city's top-flight team and have enjoyed various domestic successes over the years under different guises. Life began as Lucky-Goldstar in the early 1980s before becoming the LG Cheetahs. The Cheetahs would win three K League titles before being re-founded as FC Seoul in 2004. The club then lifted the K League title three times, in 2010, 2012, and on the last day of the 2016 season in dramatic circumstances away to then-reigning champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. Since then, FC Seoul has finished fifth, eleventh, third, ninth, seventh and ninth, albeit they did reach the FA Cup final last season as well. The FC Seoul supporters, or 'Suhoshin', will be hoping that investment over the winter will be enough to see manager An Ik-soo lead the team back to a return to prominence.

Honours: K League 1 (1985, 1990, 2000, 2010, 2012, 2016), FA Cup (1998, 2015), League Cup (2006, 2010), National Football Championship (1988)
2022 Finish: 9th

Suwon FC


Manager: Kim Do-kyun | Captain: Yoon Bit-garam | Est: 2003 | Mascot: Jangin-janggun | Rivals: Suwon Samsung Bluewings | Stadium: Suwon Civic Stadium (1971, 11,808)

Citizen club Suwon FC were established long before K League 2 began in 2013, competing in the now-defunct National League (3rd tier) up until then. Two years later and Suwon had reached the promised land of K League 1 by defeating relative giants Busan IPark in the playoffs. Relegation followed a year later but Suwon could sample top-flight football once more having won the Promotion Playoffs for a second time in 2020 in dramatic circumstanes. The Castle Park club strengthened significantly upon their second promotion and went on to secure a historic top-half finish. 2022 saw them unable to reach the same lofty heights again but they continued to prove to be tricky opposition, finishing top of the lower half. Having added to the already formidable attacking prowess of Lars Veldwijk and Lee Seung-woo, manager Kim Do-kyun will be hoping their third successive season in the top-flight will see them firing on all cylinders once more.

Honours: Promotion Playoff winners (2015, 2020)
Highest K League 1 Finish: 5th (2021)
2022 Finish: 7th

Suwon Samsung Bluewings


Manager: Lee Byung-keun | Captain: Lee Ki-je | Nickname: Bluewings | Est: 1995 | Mascot: Akilaeon | Rivals: FC Seoul, Incheon United, Daejeon Hana Citizen | Stadium: Suwon World Cup Stadium (2001, 43,288)

Suwon Samsung Bluewings are one of the more renowned names in Korean football, having enjoyed both domestic and continental success around the turn of the decade. The Bluewings also boast the reputation of being one of the better cup sides in the division, holding the record for the most number of FA Cups (five) and the now-abolished League Cup (six). One of those FA Cups came in 2019, ensuring their place in the AFC Champions League for 2020. Despite the promise shown in 2021, last season saw the Bluewings see their top flight status challenged, requiring a mid-season managerial change plus final minute heroics in the Promotion-Relegation playoff to hold on to K League 1 football for 2023. Fans will be hoping for an improved performance this season.

Honours: K League 1 (1998, 1999, 2004, 2008), FA Cup (2002, 2009, 2010, 2016, 2019), AFC Champions League (2000-01, 2001-02), League Cup (1999, 1999s, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2008)
2022 Finish: 10th

Ulsan Hyundai


Manager: Hong Myung-bo | Captain: Jung Seung-hyun | Nickname: Horangi (Tigers) | Est: 1983 | Mascot: Geonho | Rivals: Pohang Steelers | Stadium: Ulsan Munsu Football Stadium (2001, 44,102)

Ulsan Hyundai, owned by Hyundai Heavy Industries, also make up part of the K League's founding members club, having been established in 1983 as the Hyundai Horang-i. In recent years, Ulsan's success has centred around cup competitions having won the FA Cup in 2017 and a second ACL title in 2020. In the league, after coming agonisingly close in 2019, 2020 and 2021, the Horangi finally made good on their potential to claim their third K League title and their first since 2005. Ulsan fans would have to go back to 2015 for the last time their club finished outside the top four. Under the stewardship of Korean football legend Hong Myung-bo, Ulsan will be hoping to go from strength to strength as they look to successfully defend their league title as well as compete for the other two trophies on offer.

Honours: K League (1996, 2005, 2022), FA Cup (2017), AFC Champions League (2012, 2020), League Cup (1986, 1995, 1998, 2007, 2011)
2022 Finish: 1st