On the 11th, Suwon Sports Complex, where the first derby of the season was held between Suwon FC and Suwon Samsung. Park Hee-joon (21) and Kim Joo-chan (19), who started as Suwon’s starters, were replaced at the same time in the 20th minute of the first half, and Jang Jae-woong 메이저놀이터(22) and Lee Dae-gwang (20) of Suwon FC also came out of the ground side by side in the 24th minute of the first half. A total of 9 players were replaced in the first half of the 6 games of the 3rd round of the K-League held on the 11th and 12th. All of them were young players around the age of 20.
It is rare for a player to be replaced in the first half in soccer, but it is common in the domestic K-League. This is because of the ‘U22 (Under 22) Rule’ of the Professional Football Federation, which states that at least two players under the age of 22 must be included in the list. This system started in 2013 as a regulation for under 23 years of age in order to give young players a chance to participate and to nurture them.
If this is violated, only two substitutions per match are allowed. If two U22 players start, or if there is one starter and one substitute, five replacement cards can be used. Because of this, young players who are still lacking in skills step on the ground first, and the odd thing is repeated that they are replaced with the main players early. There has been constant criticism regarding this, but recently Lee Seung-woo (25, Suwon FC) revealed, “Which country has such a regulation?”
There are, of course, positive effects of the system. Lee Dong-gyeong (26, Germany 2nd division FC Hansa Rostock), who debuted in Ulsan in 2018, increased her chances to participate and improved her skills through this system. Young K-leagues joined the national team by age group and achieved good results on the international stage.
However, some point out that it does not fit the K-League 1 situation. Currently, the K-League 1 is so competitive that up to three teams out of 12 teams can be demoted, so it is difficult to guarantee young players to play for a long time as the system aims. Commentator Yoon Jong-seok said, “Rather than competing based on skill, the reality is that there is a ‘soulless replacement’.”
Some people are calling for the abolition of the system altogether, saying, “The U22 rule has also affected the college football world.” It is said that college players over the age of 22 retire early as their chances of making a professional debut decrease, and some even drop out of school out of a sense of shame. An official from the Professional Football Federation said, “We are reviewing and reviewing the current status of the system every year.”