Incheon Korean Air, looking for their fourth consecutive title, finally decided to make a final change to their foreign players. Head coach Tommi Tillikainen’s stubbornness could not hold up in the face of the destructive power of Murad Khan (24-Pakistan).
Korean Air announced on Wednesday that it has “completed the public announcement of the replacement of foreign player Murad.”
Lincoln Williams (31-Australia), who helped Korean Air win the title in each of the last two seasons, was forced to pack his bags ahead of the season after suffering knee and back problems.
“Murad is a high-potential player with good physicality, strong offense and good blocking ability,” Tilikainen said in a statement. “He has worked hard over the past eight weeks to fit in with the team and we believe he can help us achieve our goal of winning the title.”
Korean Air was the heavy favorite heading into the season. The variable was Lincoln. He had only played 12 games before his injury on Nov. 25 against Seoul Woori Card, and as his injury worsened, Korean Air turned to Murad as a temporary replacement.
Even before his injury, Lincoln’s impact was minimal. While the void left by Lim’s meteoric rise hasn’t been readily apparent, Lincoln had the least amount of offense among the seven men’s volleyball clubs. There were calls for him to be replaced, both within the organization and among fans.
However, Tilikainen has been conservative in his approach to change. He took over ahead of the 2021-2022 season and Korean Air has since won the title for the second consecutive season. If you include his predecessor, this is the third consecutive season that Korean Air has won the title.
In the process, Korean Air’s foreign player of the year was Lincoln. Since his arrival, Tilikainen has played a fast volleyball, a volleyball that doesn’t differentiate between starters and non-starters. Lincoln was the one foreign player who understood Tilikainen’s philosophy and style of volleyball better than anyone else.
After Lincoln was diagnosed with an eight-week injury, Korean Air brought in Murad as a temporary replacement on Dec. 22 last year, but Tilikainen didn’t actively utilize him after that. The reasoning was that he still needed time to get to grips with the team’s style.
In his second game, on December 29 against OK Financial Group in Ansan, he scored 28 points and shot 61.36% from the field, but in the next game, he started from the bench. He barely saw the court against Woori Card, who were in a tight race for the lead.
However, it didn’t take long for Murad to prove his worth. Against Cheonan Hyundai Capital on March 12, he started the game as a substitute but exploded in the second set.
Murad has been competitive in the V-League. In 11 games this season, he has 152 points and an offensive success rate of 57.20 percent, including an explosive 52-point outburst against Hyundai Capital on March 12. His offensive success rate was 72.73%.
Of course, Murad hasn’t been a one-trick pony since then. Lim Dong-hyuk has been Korean Air’s breakout star this season, and even in their most recent game against Suwon KEPCO on Nov. 11, Tilikainen used Murad only in the first and third sets.
However, his assessment of Murad seems to have changed somewhat since the beginning of the temporary substitution. While Lim still looks more like the starting apogee spiker, Mourad’s presence in the lineup has allowed the team to play a variety of tactics depending on the opponent and how they plan to respond.
The team was also sad to say goodbye to Lincoln. “Lincoln has contributed greatly to our success over the past two seasons and has helped shape our current style of play,” said Tilikainen. “This season, Lincoln strived to make history, but unfortunately, due to various injuries this season, she has decided that she can no longer continue with the team. We wish Lincoln the best of health and luck for the future.”
After Lincoln recovered from his injury and participated in team training, Korean Air had to make a final decision as the eight-week diagnostic period came to an end. After much deliberation, Korean Air decided to go with Murad.
“Murad is a high-potential player with good physicality, strong offense and good blocking ability,” said Korean Air head coach Tomi Tilikainen. “He has worked hard over the past eight weeks to fit in with the team and we believe he can help us achieve our goal of winning the championship.”
“Lincoln has contributed greatly to the team’s success over the past two seasons and helped shape our current style of play,” said Head Coach Tilikainen, who said goodbye to Lincoln, “Lincoln has strived to make history this season, but unfortunately, due to various injuries this season, he has decided that he can no longer continue with the team. We wish Lincoln the best of health and luck for the future.”
Korean Air is 17-11 with 53 points, closely trailing leader Woori Card (55 points). After finalizing Murad’s appointment, Korean Air will face OK Financial Group on Thursday before hosting Woori Card on Sunday in a match that could determine whether or not the team regains the lead.