With the month of July and the summer transfer window coming soon to a close, Joon is back to bring you one more update about the whereabouts of Korean players abroad. In this edition: info and insight about Hwang Ui-jo’s recent move to Bordeaux and transfer rumors about midfielders Paik Seung-ho and Park Jung-bin.
Hwang Ui-jo to Bordeaux
In terms of career progress, Hwang had an amazing last 12 months. Having scored a tournament-high nine goals at last September’s 2018 Asian Games, HUJ helped lead the U-23 KNT to a second consecutive gold medal and exemption from compulsory military service. He continued his impressive run as a leading goalscorer with J-League team Gamba Osaka. Through 27 matches in 2018, HUJ had scored 15 goals and made one assist to prevent his club from facing relegation. By the end of the year, the Korea Football Association had awarded the 26-year-old with the accolade of “Year’s Top Footballer.”
Prior to the KNT’s Asian Cup campaign the following winter, HUJ had expressed his dream desire to play in Europe, telling reporters “If I get a good opportunity, I want to take it and play there.” He did not fail to impress with a playing opportunity at the Asian Cup, scoring crucially in group stage matches against the Philippines and China PR. HUJ would also continue displaying his top-tier form domestically by scoring four goals in fifteen matches in the first half of Gamba Osaka’s 2019 campaign. With the 2019 summer transfer window fast approaching, many goal-needy clubs throughout the world grew more and more aware of his impressive showings.
Many, such as Major League Soccer’s Vancouver Whitecaps, came calling for the talented striker’s services. Vancouver, in particular, had already signed key KNT teammate Hwang In-beom to a two-year deal lasting through 2020. Despite this, HUJ rejected a prospective North American move for a preferred transfer to Europe. On July 19, he officially signed a four-year contract with Ligue 1’s Bordeaux, becoming the first Korean player to play professionally for the Girondins. After appearing in a club friendly against Galatasaray last Sunday, HUJ seems fit to become the French club’s starting striker this upcoming Ligue 1 season.
With only three seasons of foreign experience under his belt, he will be facing a noticeably more difficult challenge in France for the Girondins’ 2019-2020 campaign. Can HUJ stay committed to his dream of competing in Europe and adapt to this vastly new challenge? Can he continue netting for a team that could only produce an average of 0.9 goals per match in Ligue 1 last season?
Despite the criticism for his Asian Games selection last summer, HUJ has been able to prove skeptics wrong through quality recent performances on both the domestic and international stages. Entering the prime of his career, he has been gearing up to cement his status as Korea’s number one choice at the striker position. A move to Bordeaux would help his cause immensely.
HUJ has slowly climbed the Korean footballing ranks and become one of the KNT’s most exciting players to watch in recent months. Now it is time for him to prove himself on a grander stage and perhaps become one of Korea’s most coveted players over the next few seasons.
HUJ has a genuine opportunity to establish himself as one of the league’s best goalscorers through his new prominent position. If he can come to Bordeaux with a confident mindset, he can properly contribute to a club in need of higher powered offense. With strong shooting playmaking ability in the box, HUJ has what it takes to bring his club to new heights in French football.
Paik Seung-ho to leave Girona?
A newcomer to the KNT senior side, midfielder Paik Seung-ho will be looking to make his mark on the European main stage this upcoming season. Having been in Spain since the age of 13, PSH has been looking into breaking into La Liga since his youth days with Barcelona. Like his KNT compatriot, Lee Seung-woo, however, PSH had been forced off of Barcelona’s youth roster due to FIFA allegations against La Masia. Unlike others on his team, PSH continued to hone his skills away from home in hopes of staying fit enough to compete for a roster spot at 18.
Until earlier this year, the former Barcelona youth had spent two seasons with Girona reserve team CF Peralada, making 54 domestic appearances and scoring twice. However, this season, Girona decided to jump ship from its contract with Peralada, bringing PSH back to his original Catalonian club for this upcoming season. Last season, the youngster made six appearances with Girona, including his debut against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu for Copa Del Rey.
Unfortunately, for PSH, however, Girona finished 18th in La Liga last season, meaning that the team is now set to play in the Spanish second division this upcoming year. He will need to find sufficient playing time if he’s looking to break into the senior national team. With a return to fourth-division Peralada out of the question, certain teams in the Bundesliga and Ligue 1 have been registering their interest in the young Korean talent. (Nimes and Dijon are among the rumored Ligue 1 teams interested in PSH.)
In addition, the Korean media has also reported that Premier League teams Bournemouth and Aston Villa have also shown interest in PSH. He has shown that he can compete at a high level, especially after a team-leading 95.8% pass completion rate in his international debut against Iran last month. Even prior to the matchup, manager Paulo Bento had expressed his support for the Girona player, stating that “selecting Paik has more to do with the certainty I have of his abilities than his mere potential.”
The kid can clearly play. He has the potential to be a star and torchbearer for Korean players in Spain, along with Lee Kang-in. The question is whether he can find this success on the domestic level next season with a sufficiently competitive squad.
I’m calling it. A three-man midfield consisting of PSH, Lee Kang-in, and Jeong Woo-yeong will lead the way for any successes the Korea senior team accomplishes this next generation. With veteran midfielders Ki Sung-yeung and Koo Ja-cheol both retiring after last January’s Asian Cup, PSH is now faced with the task to keep Korea’s midfield strong. They will eclipse their direct predecessors in doing just that and more in future international competitions.
With that being said, I think PSH would highly benefit from a move to a Ligue 1 team next season. The Bundesliga would prove a bit too fast-paced for the youngster, but Ligue 1 allows younger talents like PSH to showcase their skills on a sufficiently competitive level. In this way, he could prove himself on a bigger stage and later find himself playing for Premier League teams such as Bournemouth in the more distant future.
Right now, Girona would find an uphill battle to climb back into La Liga, facing other favorites for promotion like fellow relegated clubs Huesca and Rayo Vallecano. As one of two non-EU reserve players allowed for Girona, PSH would likely thrive and find great playing time in the Segunda Division. But that’s not exactly the quality of play that the midfielder should be experiencing at this early stage of his career. A Ligue 1 move would best fit him, and I think he will eventually leave Girona this summer. If not, he is certainly leaving in one of the next two transfer windows.
Park Jung-bin to Ligue 1?
Still a mostly unfamiliar name to many Korean football fans, Park Jung-bin has spent the entirety of his career in Europe, starring as both an attacking midfielder and forward. Originally a member of the VfL Wolfsburg youth academy, PJB spent his first year in professional football on the Wolfsburg reserve team. After spending the next two seasons with 2. Bundesliga clubs Greuther Furth and Karlsruher, he departed to Denmark in search of more playing time.
There, PJB found sufficient opportunities, spending the 2015-2016 season at Hobro IK and subsequently spending the next three at Viborg FF. At Hobro, he would make 22 domestic appearances with two goals, while at Viborg, he would go on to make 44 domestic appearances, netting on five different occasions. In light of recent successes in Denmark, PJB is now looking for playing time in more prestigious leagues.
This month, PJB has already been on trial with Ligue 2 club Troyes AC and Ligue 1 club Nîmes Olympique. The 25-year-old has already made quite an impression at Nîmes, delivering two assists for the club in a 2-1 preseason win against Toulouse last Saturday. With an impressive weekend showing, PJB has given himself an opportunity to continue his trial at Nimes for the remainder of the week.
According to the UEFA league coefficient ranking, the Danish Superliga ranks 16th while Ligue 1 sits as the fifth best league in Europe. A move to Ligue 1 or 2 would prove quite a major jump for the former Bundesliga trainee. In spite of successful training sessions in France this past month, it’s unclear whether PJB could really make the marquee breakthrough to a top five European football system.
Just based off of some knowledge I have of PJB’s game, I believe a move to a second-division club in Europe’s “top five” best suits him. With experience in the 2. Bundesliga, PJB is no stranger to playing for a team awaiting promotion to its country’s coveted first division. In addition, with him having no military exemption, this may prove his last chance in gaining the attention of the KNT for an Olympic overage player selection.
This is a more interesting situation considering PJB isn’t on the radar for a lot of Korean football fans. He’s a good player who would thrive in any of the bigger Asian leagues. Impressively, though, he’s managed to stay in Europe in hopes of playing for a more renowned club. Ligue 1 may prove to be too big of a jump, but a move to Ligue 2 would suit him well if he’s up for the challenge.