Scotland becomes unlikely model for South Korean football
Published on Friday 7 September 2012 14:59
WITH the national side having failed to qualify for a major tournament since 1998 and one of the biggest clubs in the country plunged into financial crisis, the days when Scotland could consider itself a pioneer in the development of football seem long gone.
But South Korea, whose national side are ranked 20 places above Craig Levein’s men and reached the World Cup semi-finals in 2002, are looking to the Scottish league for inspiration.
It’s news that will come as a surprise to many Scottish football fans, who have been calling for league reconstruction for several years in a bid to reinvigorate the game.
There are 16 clubs in the South Korean K-League, but the lack of relegation created many meaningless games late in the season when only a handful of clubs would be in contention for the title.
This year the Koreans have reinvented their league system, and have used the Scottish Premier League split - where the 12 teams are divided into a top half to decide the title and European berths and a bottom half to settle relegation - as a model.
Last year a delegation from Korea visited Glasgow to learn about the split system, and decided to adopt it this season, albeit with a 16-team league rather than 12, and with an equal number of games before and after the split, creating a marathon 44-game league campaign.
The home-and-away section of 30 games finshed on August 26, and the season will resume on September 15 with two groups of eight to determine the champion, 2013 Asian Champions League berths and relegation - also introduced for the first time this season.
“The European league system is a little boring especially in the middle of the season,” Kwon Sung-jin, deputy general manager of the K-League told Associated Press. “In Korea, we are battling against other sports such as baseball and all kind of entertainment options open to people. We need to make people pay attention to the league. The split system makes the league more exciting for the whole season. “
Scotland introduced the split system in 2001, and it has not been without its critics.
In 2010 Rangers, before the full consequences of their financial mismanagement took effect, complained about having to play three away games in a row, and their manager at the time, Walter Smith, highlighted one of the more absurd outcomes of the split format in his complaint.
“You’ve got to say that in any league in the world where the team in seventh place can end up with more points than the team in sixth place, then you’ve got a problem,” he said.
In the split system clubs can feel aggrieved at having to play more away games than home fixtures, but so far the concept has been well-received in Korea. On the last day before the split, four teams were challenging for eighth position and the chance to spend the rest of the season in the top group.
“The split system is exciting,” said Choi Yong-soo coach of FC Seoul, the team at the top of the standings when the split occurred.
“During the last game before the split, fans at the games were asking about how other matches were going and the players were too. It is new and interesting.”
Despite the general approval, K-League officials, including Kwon, acknowledge that teams at the bottom of the top group and at the top of the bottom group will likely have little to play for, but the split ensures at least one team in every match will have something to play for.
“Like capitalism, it is not a perfect system but it works for us,” said Kwon.
Taken from the Scotsman