This is tough. National team centreback Hong Jeongho has transferred from his European club of three seasons, FC Augsburg, to Jiangsu Suning of the Chinese Super League.
A surprising casualty
It’s normal nowadays to see decent, but not exceptional Korea or Japan-based Koreans make the jump across the East China Sea to join the Chinese Super League. Before Hong Jeongho, we had Jung Wooyoung from Vissel Kobe moving to Chongqing Lifan, Jang Hyunsoo from FC Tokyo moving to Guangzhou R & F, Oh Beomseok from Suwon Samsung to Hangzhou Greentown, Kim Juyoung from FC Seoul to Shanghai SIPG, Kim Keehee from Jeonbuk to Shanghai Shenhua, Yoon Bitgaram from Jeju United and Kim Seungdae from Pohang Steelers, both to Yanbian Funde… the list goes on and on. It’s also becoming alarmingly normal to hear big name players looking to cash in like Ezequiel Lavezzi, Ramires, Hulk, and more recently, Graziano Pelle, sign huge contracts to play in the Chinese League.
The class of Korean player we probably assumed was safe from all this was the well-established Korean playing in Europe. Hong Jeongho had a contract until 2017 at Augsburg, and signed for a 2 million dollar transfer fee back in the summer of 2013. With 56 appearances and lots of good performances to boot, Hong was considered to be a decent centreback playing at an adequate level.
So why’d he make the move?
A few reasons. Firstly, with Markus Weinzeirl heading off to Schalke to become their new gaffer, it was expected (or at least, hoped) that part of the Korean Augsburg trio would join their manager at his new club. However, with the giant Naldo signing there, combined with Benedikt Howedes, perhaps Hong saw long stints on the bench awaiting him. Furthermore, if Schuster (the new Augsburg gaffer) had demonstrated to Hong that he wasn’t in his plans, it made sense that Hong would seriously look elsewhere after that.
Secondly, Hong has been plagued with injury problems for quite a while and spent lots of time trying to recover from this throughout his career and more particularly in the last year or so. On the final year of his contract, it’s pretty clear that the club and Hong both wanted to cash in while they could and this offer, likely high in dollar figures, was one that was too tempting to resist.
Is this a good or bad move for Hong?
Maybe Hong is concerned that his career could be coming to an end quicker than he would have hoped. With uncertain injury issues, Hong likely wanted to grab this transfer, get paid handsomely at a club he should, in theory, be starting at (**though Australian Trent Sainsbury is VERY similar to Hong and plays RCB as well…), and not have to worry too much about regretting turning this offer down if he must nurse another injury laden season at some other European club.
National team wise, it doesn’t really hurt his chances a great deal, as most of his competition for call-ups or starting roles play in China or Korea and Hong, when on his game, has a case to make for being the best centreback out of all of them.
Career wise, however, it’s more than a bit disappointing. It shows in essence a lack of ambition or desire to take a risk from Hong. An absence of willingness to forge his career in Europe, to make a spot for him at a club, to make the case for upward career moves (club prestige-wise), even if it means he might go through uncertain moments on the bench or with fitness.
And to me it’s the lack of determination that’s troubling. The craving of the easier road. The notion that one of our most promising defenders will likely retire in the Chinese Super League, content with being paid instead of doing his everything to play against some of the world’s best in a challenging European environment, is repulsing. A player who, according to his former manager Markus Wienzierl, has the potential to go up against the world’s finest in the UEFA Champions League by playing for Dortmund or Bayern Munich. It’s one thing for average or decent-but-not-yet-European K League players to move to China. It’s another for a prominent Korean to not want to fight on.
Does anyone remember the last time a Korean transferred to Europe? Not only are we having players not transfer to Europe anymore, but the only KPA that had a good season all of last year was Suk Hyunjun! And now we have KPA’s giving up as well. That’s the real tragedy.
So I understand why Hong Jeongho took the money, but it sucks. I understand why the CSL does what it does, but it sucks. And you know… people say Korean players are too polite on the pitch. That they don’t have ruthless mentality. That they don’t take risks. It’s becoming alarmingly evident that this kind of languor carries over to transfer market. And it’s fucking frustrating.
Extra Time: Oh, and Choi Yongsoo, the new manager of Jiangsu Suning, you who made this deal happen? Fuck you.