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Suwon Samsung searching for experienced replacement after losing forward to Scotland

Sports 16:28 January 27, 2023

JEJU, South Korea, Jan. 27 (Yonhap) -- With their leading scorer having signed with Scottish champions Celtic, South Korean side Suwon Samsung Bluewings have been left searching for his replacement.

Their head coach, Lee Byung-geun, said Friday he would prefer to have a foreign player with K League experience.

Oh Hyeon-gyu, who led Suwon with 13 goals in 36 matches last season, signed with Celtic on Wednesday. His departure leaves a gaping hole in an offense that ranked 10th among 12 teams in the K League 1 with 44 goals in 38 matches.

At a preseason press conference Friday on the southern island of Jeju, Lee said filling that void is "an extremely important part" of Suwon's preparation for the new season.

Suwon Samsung Bluewings head coach Lee Byung-geun speaks at a press conference in Jeju, Jeju Island, on Jan. 27, 2023, in this photo provided by the Korea Professional Football League. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Suwon Samsung Bluewings head coach Lee Byung-geun speaks at a press conference in Jeju, Jeju Island, on Jan. 27, 2023, in this photo provided by the Korea Professional Football League. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

"Be it a foreign player or a South Korean player, we've been trying to find a player who can fit into our style of play," Lee said. "There must be some good players in Europe. But if we get someone without any K League experience, it will take that player a while to get acclimated here. We have to start winning right away, and I'd rather have someone who's played here before."

Lee admitted that he didn't want to let Oh leave at first, given his importance for Suwon. Ultimately, though, the coach decided not to get in the way of the 21-year-old wanting to realize his dreams.

"Back in the summer, Hyeon-gyu said he'd received an offer from Celtic and he said he'd always dreamed of playing in Europe," Lee said. "As head coach of this team, I wanted him to stay put. But I also wanted to open the doors for him to live his dream.

"I will be rooting for him to reach the Premier League in England, which is his ultimate goal," Lee continued. "During our offseason here, I would even like to travel (to Scotland) and cheer him on in person."

Oh rescued Suwon from humiliating relegation to the K League 2 last season, as he netted the winning goal in a do-or-die, promotion-relegation playoff match against FC Anyang.

In this file photo from Oct. 29, 2022, Suwon Samsung Bluewings forward Oh Hyeon-gyu (L) embraces his head coach Lee Byung-geun after scoring against FC Anyang during the clubs' K League promotion-relegation playoff match at Suwon World Cup Stadium in Suwon, 35 kilometers south of Seoul. (Yonhap)

In this file photo from Oct. 29, 2022, Suwon Samsung Bluewings forward Oh Hyeon-gyu (L) embraces his head coach Lee Byung-geun after scoring against FC Anyang during the clubs' K League promotion-relegation playoff match at Suwon World Cup Stadium in Suwon, 35 kilometers south of Seoul. (Yonhap)

Lee said he doesn't want to end up in a similar position this year, where Suwon will have to scramble just to stay in the top division.

"We'll try to learn from our mistakes and take the next step this year," Lee said. "Above all, we want to make Suwon supporters happy. We want to be among the top teams in the league this year."

To that end, Lee said he wants his team to be more proactive in matches.

"We have to identify opponents' weak spots right away and make sure we don't waste energy chasing them around on defense," Lee said. "We want to be able to control the tempo of the game in transition."

jeeho@yna.co.kr
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