Gwangju FC’s journey to the Asian stage has begun.
Gwangju is in third place in the K League 1 after 36 rounds. With 58 points, Gwangju is four and five points ahead of fourth-place Jeonbuk Hyundai (54 points) and fifth-place Incheon United (53 points), respectively.
Gwangju is on track to qualify for the Asian Games. The winners of this season’s K League 1 and FA Cup will qualify directly for the 2024-2025 Asian Football Confederation Champions League Elite (ACLE). The second-place team in the K League 1 will head to the ACLE playoffs, which is currently occupied by Pohang, and the third-place team will inherit the ticket. That would be Gwangju. If Gwangju falls to fourth place, they will go to the newly created ACL2. The way things are going, Gwangju will make it to Asia in either competition. After being promoted last year, the club will break new ground this year.
Gwangju’s first step in preparing for the Asian stage is to re-sign head coach Lee Jung-hyo. His contract runs through 2024, and Gwangju will be looking to reinforce his leadership with a new deal. Without Lee, Gwangju would not be where they are this year. Within a year of Lee’s arrival, Gwangju was promoted and is now knocking on the door of the Asian stage.
The “Lee Jung-hyo Magic” is the biggest and most obvious driving force behind the Gwangju surge. A source familiar with Gwangju’s situation said, “I understand that the club and the city are prioritizing his re-signing right now. They have a year to go, but they want to show a strong commitment by re-signing him.” 토토사이트
Increasing the budget is also a must, especially for the squad, as without investment in strengthening the squad, the team will struggle to juggle the two competitions. Last year, Gwangju spent about 5 billion won on labor costs. This year, it reportedly increased by 1 billion to 1.5 billion won. This is still one of the lowest in K League 1. Nevertheless, Gwangju has managed to completely erase the image of being at the bottom of the league by finishing third. Gwangju’s mayor, Kang Ki-jeong, who is interested in the team and has been visiting the stadium regularly, as well as the Gwangju City Council, are reportedly willing to significantly increase the 2024 budget to help the team make a leap forward.
Another official said, “We still have to go through a lot of processes, but there is talk of increasing the budget by about 40 to 45 billion won in labor costs compared to this year. Gwangju City is also actively trying to support its soccer team. The team has received good reviews for raising the city’s pride by going to the Asian stage for the first time.” There is also an internal policy to maximize the use of the squad by adding six foreign players.
This year, Gwangju suffered from inadequate training facilities. While Lee and his players have struggled in an environment that is not befitting of a third-place finish in the top division, it is imperative to improve training facilities. To that end, the team plans to lay new natural grass on both sides of the pitch at the Soccer Center. There are also plans to return to the World Cup pitch for the Asian competition. If the facilities are improved this year and the track construction is completed by May next year, it will be ready for the ACL. Gwangju is leaning toward playing its ACL matches at the World Cup Stadium and its K League 1 schedule at its existing stadium.
A Gwangju official said, “We are now on the verge of entering the real Asian stage. The club and the city are also preparing for 2024 under the assumption that we will play in the ACL. We will prepare meticulously to make sure there are no mistakes.”
In many ways, Gwangju is in the process of preparing to be a team worthy of the Asian stage.
“There’s nothing I can do outside of the game, so I’m just waiting. I’m looking forward to the support of the club and the city,” he said, adding, “I want to go out with ACLE, ACL2 is good, but I want to test our limits on a higher stage. We will fight to the end and play to win against Jeonbuk and Pohang.”