17 for 2017: From Barcelona to Verona, Girona, and Tripoli – The End of the Barca Boys –

It comes with great sorrow that I cover one of the saddest things that have happened in 2017 – the official end of the Barca boys. It was my coverage of the Spanish youth kids (the Barca trio + Kim Woohong at Real who just transferred to FC Seoul + Lee Kangin) that landed me this Tavern position almost 5 years ago, and in the summer of 2017, all three of the Barca boys ended up leaving Barcelona. Let’s review the career trajectories so far of the Barca trio that gave us so much hope over the past couple of years.

Jang Gyeolhee was the first to move, to the odd destination of Asteras Tripoli, a mid-table Superleague Greece side. Without any professional-level football under his belt, Jang was assigned to the Tripolis U-20 team. Jang was actually hit the hardest by the FIFA ban – being the youngest (April 97), when Lee Seungwoo became eligible (January 97) by turning 18 Jang was not, delaying his return to competitive football by a whole half-year. He did play the next season with Juvenil A (as a left back!) but with the Barca youth system in chaos and forseeing a lack of opportunities had he continued with Barca B, he chose to leave.

Unfortunately, it is extremely hard to get a reading on what’s going on over in the U20 Greek scene – the soccerway page doesn’t even give us goalscorers or starting lineups. That being said, somehow someone out there is uploading goals and ball touch videos of Jang, and it seems he is still playing in that 치달 style (치고 달리기, or hit-and-run, a style frequently used to describe Gareth Bale’s playing style by the Korean media). It also seems he plays wide forward, not wingback like he did at Barca. Youtube 장결희 for many more:

 

 

In late August, Paik Seungho became the second to leave Barcelona. The first to join Barcelona (the real trendsetter tbh) also started playing again in January 2016, but after a season with Barca B, decided to transfer across the street (almost literally) to Girona FC, currently a mid-table La Liga team based in Catalonia. However, the whole not-playing-for-3-years thing caught up to him and having not played many professional matches, PSH was allocated Peralada, or Girona B, a team that plays in the third division of Spanish football.

I can’t claim to watch Peralada play live, but the same guy who uploads the JGH vids has uploaded a ton of PSH vids as well, and I’ve gotta say I’m actually still very excited for this guy. His dribbling is on point and he still shows that smooth ball control that he exhibited at Barcelona. Most importantly, he has played almost every match of Peralada’s season without getting injured, and has more appearances than anyone on the team except for the goalkeeper. I honestly think there’s a good chance PSH might be deemed good enough for Girona A next season. Ironically he hasn’t scored yet (and I say ironically because he somehow found the back of the net in nearly every game leading up to the U20 World Cup), but I am sure the goals will come.

 

 

Lee Seungwoo – once described as the crown jewel of La dMasia and hyped as the heir apparent to Lionel Messi himself – was in an incredible run of form before that FIFA ban hit back in 2013. MVP awards at every tournament, insane goal returns – he even outshone his partner in crime Carles Alena, who made a Barca first team debut not so long ago (what could have been, perhaps?) When the FIFA ban came around he decided to stick at Barcelona for three years (instead of say going to the K League on loan, which I still maintain was the logical thing to do).

When January 2016 came around the rust showed, which was to be expected. But what worried fans the most was the fact that LSW hadn’t quite improved on his weaknesses (mainly physicality). He still hasn’t improved on that, and even now he thinks he’s faster than everyone (which he isn’t anymore). He did get a good run of games with Barca B alongside Paik Seungho, and unlike his fellow Korean teammate actually got a good run in the UEFA Youth League, but ultimately decided his future was elsewhere. Surprisingly, however, not very many teams actually put in bids for LSW. Hellas Verona had been interested, as was Borussia Dortmund. While Dortmund interest never materialized, Verona’s did in the final days of the transfer window (8/29). So LSW wrote an emotional goodbye to Barcelona and after 7 years at La Masia, packed his bags for the Serie A.

The past half a season has been a little disappointment for LSW. His (very) raw talent is still there, but with his appearances limited to sub appearances and with his team playing so terribly poorly (even worse than PJS’s QPR and KBK’s Cardiff) LSW hasn’t really been able to show what he’s made of (whereas PSH has played ~17 * 90 minutes and clearly runs the show for Girona B).

It’s not all doom and gloom for Lee, however – in this clip of his first (and only) starting appearance against AC Milan in a cup match, you can see that he’s still alive (I mean that in the Korean sense, as in 살아있네) – the really quick feet, those diagonal runs and fairly creative passes are quite evident. But it’s also evident that he loses the ball and falls down far too often.

Lee Seungwoo clearly has a lot to work on, but given his drive and work ethic perhaps he can make a name for himself. He won’t win a Ballon d’Or like we all hoped but he is getting minutes, and with his raw talent perhaps he can get to Son Heungmin’s level – though he certainly won’t get that good with a team like Verona…