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The Fall of Samsung's Sports Empire Ignored '10 Year Warning'

Suwon Samsung, a professional soccer team, was relegated to the second division. It is the first event for Suwon, which once boasted of its professional soccer tradition, since its foundation. It is also a symbolic scene that shows not only soccer but also the current address of Samsung Sports Group, which has been suffering a disastrous collapse together since the 2010s.

Suwon drew 0-0 against Gangwon in the final round B (lower round) of the "Hana One Q K League 1 (first division) 2023" at Suwon World Cup Stadium on December 2. Suwon FC, ranked 11th at the same time, drew 1-1 at home against Jeju United at Suwon Stadium. Suwon Samsung, Suwon FC and Gangwon, which were competing to remain in the competition, added one point each in the final match, showing no change in the ranking.

As a result, Suwon Samsung finished the season with 33 points (8 wins, 9 draws and 21 losses), the lowest-ranked 12th place, confirming its relegation to the second division direct next season. Gangwon (34 points) ranked 10th, while Suwon FC (33 points) ranked 11th, had the same points as Suwon Samsung, but was ahead in multiple points. Gangwon Kimpo and Suwon FC will decide their fate in Busan I-Park and promotion PO.

Suwon Samsung's relegation is also a big shock to the K League. Since its foundation in 1995, Suwon has had a reputation as one of the most popular professional sports clubs in Korea as well as soccer. He won four K League 1 championships, five FA Cups, six League Cups, and two Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Champions League titles.

In his heyday, he swept away star-studded players based on huge investment and support, and was even called "Real Suwon" compared to Real Madrid, the prestigious Spanish professional football team. It also contributed greatly to leading the K League's success with high-profile rival matches such as Super Match against FC Seoul, siege against Jeonbuk Hyundai, magic match against Seongnam, and Suwon Derby against Suwon FC. Suwon's fandom, including the official supporters "Frente Tricolo," was considered the most passionate fans in the K League.

However, the fall began gradually as Suwon's operating entity moved from the main group to Cheil Worldwide in 2014, just like other sports groups under Samsung. As the club's management stance changed, it was in a hurry to maintain the de facto status quo in the name of efficiency rather than investment to win the championship. Star-studded players left the team one by one, and the youth-raising players, who were raised at least, are now losing to league competitors and overseas clubs.

Suwon's squad, which was ranked first in the league's total annual salary about 10 years ago, fell to eighth place as of 2022, down to the middle and lower level of the league. Suwon is no longer a club that famous national star players or big-name foreign players want to come as a priority. In addition, the policy of recruiting pure-blooded (real blue) coaches to recruit their own team legends who have played as players in the club has also failed one after another, becoming a "grave of coaches."

The last time Suwon reached the top of the league was in 2008, 15 years ago. In the 2010s, he won the FA Cup from time to time, but it became difficult to see him compete in the league championship anymore. Suwon's league ranking for the past six seasons prior to this year was 6-8-8-6-10-12. It has become a team that is more used to chin-ups in the top split or compete for relegation in the bottom split.

Suwon ranked 10th last season and had to play its first promotion playoff. At least, he beat FC Anyang and revived from the crisis of relegation, but he failed to learn a lesson even after a major crisis. In particular, Oh Hyun-kyu, a national striker who scored 13 goals last year, was sent to Celtic (Scotland) earlier this year but failed to strengthen his power. In this season's foreign farming, Mulich (4 goals) and Vasani (3 goals) were recruited in succession and ended in failure.

Suwon fell to last place early in the 2023 season. He immediately replaced Lee Byung-geun as he ended up with no wins (1 draw and 6 losses) in the opening seven consecutive games. Afterwards, he left the baton to head coach Kim Byung-soo after acting head coach Choi Sung-yong, but was replaced again when his performance did not improve. Suwon, which failed to find a proper manager, eventually had a skit in appointing Yeom Ki-hoon, a playing coach and club legend with no leadership experience, as the acting manager at a time when relegation was imminent.

Acting head Yeom Ki-hoon did well in the last three games with two wins and one draw, but it was not enough to achieve another miracle on the already inclined field. This is not only due to the manager or players, but in the end, the shortsighted management of the club, which had been consistent only with stopgap measures such as manager change at the time without a clear plan or long-term vision, eventually revealed its limitations.

It's no coincidence or bad luck, but it's a second-tier

The sinking of a giant ship called Suwon did not happen suddenly one day. In fact, there have been numerous trials and errors and crises over the course of nearly a decade, and there have been plenty of opportunities for change and innovation. However, the club and the parent company ignored the warning sound completely. The relegation of the second division was neither coincidence nor bad luck, but a self-inflicted karma and inevitability of Suwon, which was incompetent.

Furthermore, this is not only related to the problem of the soccer team, but also to the direction of the entire Samsung sports team. Once Samsung, which always advocated "first-rateism" in the sports field, is currently having the worst dark days in all four major sports as of 2023.

In the first half of the 2010s, baseball's Samsung Lions won five consecutive regular league titles and four consecutive Korean Series titles, but since 2016, they have only finished 9-9-6-8-3-7-8th. In the last eight years, he has only entered the fall baseball league once.

In comparison to how serious this is, Samsung before 2016 was a representative strong team in the league, with only five eliminations in the fall baseball in 34 years and only one in the sixth place (1996).

In addition, the men's basketball team, the Seoul Samsung Thunder, ranked 7-10-7-7-10-10-10 in the last six seasons after finishing runner-up in the 2016-17 season. He was eliminated in the semi-finals for the sixth consecutive year and was in last place only three times.
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Sunday, December 3, 2023
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