Where’d All the Foreign Strikers Go?

June 28th, 2009 · Foreigners, Sports · 0 comments

Although the decline in the ranks of foreign players in Korean pro baseball is generally attributed to the increase in Korean athlete’s abilities (and CJ Nitkowski is now gone), the Chosun Ilbo found mostly financial reasons for their drop in prominence in the K-League.

“Where did all the foreign strikers go?”

It is turning out that the relative importance of domestic and foreign strikers in the K-League has reversed. As of the 25th in the 12-team K-League, foreign athletes had tumbled in importance. Of the top ten goal scorers, eight are Korean and just two are foreign — Chunnam’s Chuva ranks second with seven goals and Seoul’s Dejan ranks seventh with five goals. That means domestic strikers are outscoring their foreign counterparts.

This is an unusual situation, in which the old worry that “more highly skilled foreign strikers would crowd out Korean strikers” has been fading away in the second half of the 2000s. Over the past five years the number of foreigners in the top 10 in goals was 7 in 2005→6 in 2006→8 in 2007→6 in 2008.

Part of the reason is that “wealthy” teams that hired foreign strikers at high cost — Suwon, Seongnam, and Ulsan — but saw poor results on the field have closed their wallets. The wealthy teams saw their performance tumble, leading to a vicious circle of their foreign strikers scoring less often. This year Ulsan is in 14th place, Suwon in 11th, and Seongnam in 7th place, and none has a designated striker. Low-income citizen teams have seen their budgets fall twenty to thirty percent and cannot even consider signing a foreign striker. In 2007 Gyeongnam had Cabore, who led the league with 18 goals, lifting them to fourth place.

Changes in the pro game have also contributed to the change. Min Byeong-jin, sports analyst for SBS, said, “this year weak and middling teams are using their midfielders to cover up their lack of a good striker, so the opportunities for foreign strikers to get goals have considerably diminished.” This is also due to the general decline in scoring (2.7 goals last year→2.4 goals this year) but foreign athletes from Brazil and elsewhere . In the mid and late 2000s there was a “rush” for Brazilian players in the K-League, so that in June of this year 56%, or 22 of 39, foreign athletes were Brazilian. It is likely that domestic midfielders and defenders got used to Brazilian players and developed strategies to defeat them, contributing to their declining goal scoring.

Experts all see positive and negative aspects of this situation. It is good that Korean atjletes are becoming more prominent, but the poor performance of foreign athletes holds no particular meaning for profits.

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