What the K-league opener has taught other leagues

I missed football, and many elements of the K-league opener has reminded me why: Artificial fan sounds, a somewhat sluggish affair, and a wild moment when a 41-year old legend scores. The K-League opener has reminded football fans what we’ve been missing out on – the beautiful game. I don’t even watch the K-League but the chance of catching any new football was too good to miss out on. Thankfully, the opener was streamed for free on YouTube and certain things stood out for me, which I feel the rest of the footballing world could learn and benefit from.

The artificial fan noises broadcasted around the stadium do help create the atmosphere for the viewer that there are fans around the stadium. I couldn’t catch the match from the start, so when I did drop into the stream, I was under the impression that a designated section was allocated for a group of fans. It was only much later did I realize that the noises were artificial. It did significantly alter the game experience for me as a casual fan and this is something that European teams should look to incorporate if or when their seasons resume. I remember viewing highlights of the clash between Manchester United and LASK and the lack of ambient noise made it come off as a training session instead of an actual football match.

Seeing 41-year-old Lee Dong-gook grab the winner for Jeonbuk in the 84th minute was something special to see. I remember watching Lee play for Middlesbrough in the Premier League more than a decade ago. The veteran striker failed to score a single PL goal during his time at Boro but managed to pull off a near-post header from Son Jun-ho’s corner. It was a heart-warming moment to see an absolute legend who could still muster a fine performance despite his age. By contrast, Bluewings forward Adam Taggart was quiet that night. His display paled comparison to his exploits in the 2019 campaign. The former Fulham and Perth Glory forward was sensational upfront for the Bluewings last season, banging in 20 goals in 33 league appearances.

At the same time, the match between Jeonbuk Motors and Suwon Bluewings also demonstrated how match fitness would be an issue for some time to come. Two months is a long time out of the game and even though players can maintain their overall fitness, they need playing time to build up their match fitness. The opener was a sluggish affair which is a far cry from the high standards that these teams have consistently put in over the years. Perhaps Taggart was experiencing a lack of match fitness and in due course, we could see more goals from the Australian international.

While the global pandemic has forced the K-league to postpone the start of the season, many other leagues, that were in the midst of their seasons, had to undergo an indefinite suspension. The momentum that players, like Man United left-back Luke Shaw, had been riding on has been disrupted. Therefore, it is a tough ask for players to immediately continue the fine form they exhibited before the leagues’ suspension. Fans need to understand this and not overly pressure their club’s players. Instead, we should cherish the fact that football is back.

With the Bundesliga’s official resumption around the corner (May 16, 2020), the K-league’s commencement of their season has brought hope for me that football may soon return to many parts of the globe. Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating for football matches to take in countries where the coronavirus is rampant. Safety should be everybody’s concern and people should co-operate with their respective governments so that the disease gets controlled and hence, stringent measures can be lifted. Korea has done a remarkable job in controlling the disease after it rampantly spread across the country. The return of football to Korea represents the light at the end of a long tunnel. Containment and quarantine policies around the world have robbed us of sporting events and many other activities. Even with the resumption of football, it might not be entirely the same with the absence of fans and the inclusion of more substitutions each match.

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