The World Cup is coming, here you can find out a little bit about the players making the trip to Brazil.
*I use the term ‘attacking midfield’ in two ways. One as a more general term, any player who’s primary position is in the three attacking midfield roles (in the 4-2-3-1). And another as a more position specific term, a player who plays centrally behind the striker (the ’10’).
*Also, Koo Ja-Cheol will be included in the ‘strikers’ section of the series as the KFA has designated him as a forward and not a midfielder.
Name: Son Heung-Min (손흥민)
Senior Caps: 23
Club: Bayer Leverkusen (Germany)
Position: Left midfield/Wide forward
In a recent interview, Son Heung-Min told reporters that he decided he really wanted to be a professional footballer when he was a ball boy for FC Seoul (back around 2008), and he saw Lee Chung-Yong make a great play during a game. Fast forward several years, and Son dropped out of high school (and Seoul’s youth system), went to Germany, joined up with Hamburg SV’s youth academy, lit up the Bundesliga, and now, at the tender age of 21, has the weight of a nation upon his shoulders. If there is a more hyped/expected player on the national team this summer, I don’t know who it is, as seemingly every pundit has stated that Son Heung-Min is the key player for Korea. A heavy burden for the team’s youngest player, but Son seems confident in his ability to carry the load, and given his record in Germany and recent national team matches, why doubt him?
An incredibly gifted attacker. Son Heung-Min has pace, power, dribbling ability, finishing, and genuine two-footedness. Generally Son finds himself stationed on the left side of midfield, both for club and country. There he excels at playing on the counter when he uses his pace to exploit any spaces left behind the defense, and then cuts inside to shoot. Son has said he’s perfectly comfortable playing more centrally, and that could be where his long-term future is, as he would have more influence during games. A weakness? If one must be mentioned then it would probably be his lack of party tricks. Numbers or a high quality defender can shut Son down if they get their positioning right as Son doesn’t really have the ability to beat defenders without using his pace and space.
An absolute lock to start in Brazil, Son is very much considered the future of the national team. He will be expected to chip in a good number of goals if Korea wants to do well, both in Brazil and the future. Son had a good first season with Bayer Leverkusen this year, but it will be interesting to see how long he sticks around. One figures that it’s only a matter of time before big money and names (likely from England) come asking around.
Name: Ji Dong-Won (지동원)
Senior Caps: 26
Club: Augsburg/Borussia Dortmund (Germany)
Position: Wide midfielder/attacking midfielder
Ji Dong-Won is a player that seems to divide opinion of both Korean and international fans/watchers. Ji burst onto the scene at the 2011 AFC Asian Cup, a tournament he likely wouldn’t have played a part in had Park Chu-Young not gotten injured. After a bit of a slow start, Ji exploded and ended up scoring four goals. Just one less than teammate Koo Ja-Cheol, who he combined excellently with. Ji grew up in the Jeonnam youth system, and eventually made his debut with the first team when he was just 18 years old, a fairly rare thing in the K League as most go to university before starting their pro careers around 20-21. Ji spent two seasons with Jeonnam before he moved to Europe on the heels of his Asian Cup showing. Sunderland was his destination, and Ji became a bit of a cult hero when he scored a late winner against Manchester City. But ultimately Ji struggled to adapt to the Premier League, and he was eventually loaned to German club Augsburg. Ji proved much better in Germany, and he played a significant role in their survival during the 2012-13 campaign. Ji returned to Sunderland, and once again struggled, and later it was revealed that a clerical error also contributed to Ji’s lack of appearances. In any event, Ji once again went to Augsburg, this time on a short-term permanent deal, with the club also announcing that Ji would move to Borussia Dortmund in the summer.
Ji Dong-Won is a versatile player. Initially brought up as a striker, since his move to Europe, clubs have tended to use him as a midfielder, either as a ’10’ or a wide midfielder. When Ji played for the U23 team at the Olympics, Hong Myeong-Bo used him as a wide midfielder, and likely will use him in a similar position in Brazil. Ji has a lot of raw ability, but it still needs a fair bit of refining. With his club career going start-stop, it feels like Ji has taken a step back overall in terms of his development. At his best, Ji is someone who can create space for others, has a decent shot, and good technical ability. He’ll also do the dirty ‘unglamorous’ stuff off the ball, which coaches love.
It’s difficult to say exactly what will happen in Ji’s future. Straightening his club situation out will be the biggest priority. This summer he will officially sign with Dortmund, but lately rumors have been swirling that they’ll loan him back to Augsburg for a year. But even that move carries some risk as Ji hasn’t been a regular for Augsburg in his second spell there. Getting regular time with a team that will further his development is key. If Ji gets back on track with his club, he should have a good chance to claim the striker role for Korea as well.
Name: Kim Bo-Kyung (김보경)
Senior Caps: 26
Club: Cardiff City (Wales)
Position: Attacking midfielder/wide midfielder
When Park Ji-Sung was asked to pick the player who would succeed him in his position, he picked Kim Bo-Kyung. No pressure. Kim is another player who started his professional career in Japan. When he was 21 Kim signed a contract with Cerezo Osaka, but was loaned to 2nd division side Oita Trinita. He performed well with the side and even managed to make Huh Jung-Moo’s 23 man squad for the 2010 World Cup. After that he returned to Cerezo and did well in Osaka. Ultimately Kim didn’t spend too long with Cerezo, just one and a half seasons, as the 2012 Olympics cut his second season short. After the Olympics he moved to Cardiff City, a slightly surprising move given that Cardiff was in the English Championship. But the move seemed a good one as Kim got plenty of time in his first season with the club, something that might not have happened if Kim had signed with a Premier League side. For the national team, Kim’s progress has been a bit stop-start. Kim scored a brace during World cup qualifying against Lebanon, seemingly giving the idea that he was Park Ji-Sung’s heir some credence. But since then he’s only scored once and he’s drifted in and out of the team as Son Heung-Min has become more prominent and Kim’s form has waned.
One of the biggest things to come out of Kim Bo-Kyung’s move to Cardiff is that Malky Mackay moved him from being a left midfielder to a more central role. Kim did very well in the central role, offering good link up play between the midfield and forwards. In his limited time in that role with Korea he has done well, and tends to offer more of a link than his colleague Koo Ja-Cheol. But, Kim doesn’t offer as much attacking threat as his shooting, while decent, isn’t spectacular from distance. As a wide player, he’s a hard worker with good technical ability, but the last couple years have rusted his wide play.
Most likely a back up for the three attacking midfield positions, Kim will be a valuable back up option. It will be difficult for Kim to break into the starting XI due to the quality of the two starting wide midfielders and Hong’s slight favoritism of the central attacking midfielder ahead of him. Another problem facing Kim is what his position is long-term. Mackay seemed to see him as a central attacking midfielder, but Solskjaer doesn’t seem to know where to use him. Sometimes he’s been central, sometimes, wide, sometimes as a more orthodox central midfielder. Figuring that out will be the most important thing for Kim next season.
Name: Lee Chung-Yong (이청용)
Senior Caps: 53
Club: Bolton Wanderers (England)
Position: Right midfielder
The other half of the ‘double dragons’ (쌍용), Lee Chung-Yong started his career in the FC Seoul youth system before eventually moving to Bolton Wanderers in England. Lee was brought into the FC Seoul system by former national team manager Cho Kwang-Rae. At the time Lee was just a middle school student, and upon joining Seoul he also dropped out of school, a rarity in Korea. Lee was joined by other notable FC Seoul players such as Go Myeong-Jin and Go Yo-Han (as well as Ki Sung-Yueng). Lee was gently eased into the team, and only made a few substitute appearances as a youngster, spending most of the time playing with the Seoul reserve team. He started to become a regular in 2007/2008 when he was just 17/18 years old under Senol Gunes. Lee would move to England and Premier League side Bolton Wanderers in the summer of 2009. Unlike many, Lee did not struggle too much in adapting to life in England, and in his first season with Bolton he was a solid performer and was named the club’s best player for 2009/10. Sadly for Lee Chung-Yong, he suffered a serious injury at the beginning of the 2011/12 season, and missed virtually the whole year. Also Bolton were relegated from the Premier League that season as well. Lee returned the next year as the club battled (unsuccessfully) to return to the top flight. Lee’s form for Bolton has flitted a bit as he’s recovered from his injury. He’s stated that he’s virtually back to full health, but there seems to be some lasting effects from the injury. As Lee’s form has flitted, his place in the team has also been in and out.
A tricky winger, Lee Chung-Yong used to be a bit of a throwback player, someone who preferred to stay wide and provide assists rather than cut inside and score. These days, Lee still prefers to make chances, but he seems more comfortable cutting inside before playing the killer pass. Lee is a wonderfully gifted technical player. He has great control of the ball, quick feet, and is very agile. Lately he’s also shown that he’s perfectly happy to track back and do the dirty work on defense as well. If there is one criticism of Lee’s game it’s that he often is too reluctant to shoot, and even when he does his finishing leaves quite a bit to be desired.
Recently, Lee Chung-Yong was named vice-captain for the national team, so he’ll certainly be a starter in Brazil. With Bolton spending at least one more year in the Championship, many in Korea have yearned for the ‘Blue Dragon’ to move to another side (preferably in the Premier League). Rumors have come and gone, but Lee has been firmly committed to the northeast club. A good showing this summer will likely bring more inquiries, and Lee has said he’ll consider his future after the World Cup.