2019-20 Korean Players Abroad Preview: Ligue 1

Hwang Ui-jo of Bordeaux reacts during the Ligue 1 match between Bordeaux and Montpellier at Stade Matmut Atlantique on August 17, 2019 in Bordeaux, France. (Photo by Anthony Dibon/Icon Sport via Getty Images)

The 2019/20 European Club season is finally underway and it has already been fantastic! Manchester United completely thrashed Chelsea on Frank Lampard’s opening day as Chelsea’s new manager! Sheffield United, a side that has not played in the Premier League since 2006, duked out an exciting 1-0 victory against Crystal Palace and showed that they deserved to be in the top league! Barcelona lost their season opener to Athletico Bilbao! A very active summer transfer window is bound to shake up all European competitions this year and keep your eyes peeled for even bigger transfers to come in the winter. The guys at the Tavern think it will be a huge year for Korean footballers in Europe and that’s awesome for everyone! Hwang Ui-Jo has made his move to Europe and has had his Ligue 1 debut already. Can’t wait to see the Korean duo of FC Freiburg tear it up in the Bundesliga. Hwang Hee Chan has been dominating in the Austrian League. And EVERYONE is waiting to see how Lee Kang-In’s future will unfold as he did not move away from Valencia CF this summer like everyone expected him to.

Alright, enough with the fluff. Let’s get to why we are really here! The French Ligue 1 Conforama…more specifically, Hwang Ui-Jo and Suk-Hyun Jun!

Hwang Ui-Jo #18 Girondins De Bordeaux

Ui Jo Hwang of Bordeaux during the friendly match between Bordeaux and Genoa at Stade Matmut Atlantique on August 4, 2019 in Bordeaux, France. (Photo by Anthony Dibon/Icon Sport via Getty Images)

Hwang Ui-Jo’s transfer to the french side Girondins De Bordeaux was definitely the most low-key, but refreshing transfer of the summer. Hwang Ui-jo has become somewhat of a talisman for his country and ex-club Gamba Osaka of the J-League. Not only was he apart of the KNT that won the 2018 Asian Games which granted all the players on that team military exemption, but also the winner of Golden Boot with 9 goals. For a few Hwang Ui-Jo fans his performance at the Asian games was no surprise as he tallied 20 goals for Gamba Osaka in the 2017-2018 season. 

It was well known to the public that Hwang Ui-Jo was seeking a move to Europe at the end of his contract at Gamba which was ending at the end of 2019.  After the Asian Games, there were a lot of transfer rumors about the players of the squad such as Jo Hyeon Woo and Kim Min Jae, but not much about Hwang Ui-Jo so I don’t know if anyone could have predicted his move to Bordeaux, except Paulo Bento and Paulo Sousa (Bordeaux’s head coach). The two Paulos are reported to be pretty good friends as they were apart of the Portuguese “Golden Generation” during 1994-2006 and the two coaches have been talking about Hwang Ui-Jo and a few other Korean nationals for quite some time now. Sousa reportedly even watched every Korean fixture since Bento took over.

The transfer negotiations lasted about 2 weeks after Bordeaux and Gamba formally announced the possible deal. It was a fairly quick transfer due to the fact that Bordeaux paid Hwang’s buyout fee of $2million and offered him around the $2million per year. After receiving a very heartfelt farewell from Osaka, Hwang linked up with his new club in Washington D.C for their USA preseason tour. Four days after his medical and official signing, Hwang played the 2nd half against Montpellier- showed a lot of potential. He has started both league games against Angers and Montepellier. A fair performance…we will talk about that in a bit. 

First lets talk about Girondins De Bordeaux and how Hwang Ui-Jo fits in…

Girondins De Bordeaux is one of the oldest and most decorated clubs in France, but unfortunately have not lived up to their prestigious legacy in the recent years. French football legends Zinedine Zidane, Christopher Dugarry, and  Bixente Lizarazu all once played for Bordeaux. Korean national, Kim Kyung Joong, played for the team in 2012- making Hwang Ui-Jo the second Korean to play for the club. Last season, the club placed 14th in Ligue 1 with 10 wins, 11 draws, and 17 losses. Paulo Sousa has implemented a few different systems and tactics after taking over in March 2019, half way through the season. Under the command of Sousa, Bordeaux mostly operates in a 3-4-2-1 formation, heavily relying on the wingbacks to get up and down the field . Sousa also likes the slow and steady build up from the back and expects the forwards to find space between the defenders. Sound familiar? Many Portuguese coaches seem to like this tactic, same goes for our very own Paulo Bento. So how does Hwang Ui-Jo fit into this system? First, let’s talk about his competitors…at first glance people might say it’s Jimmy Briand, the veteran striker who scored 7 goals last season, but I personally think Hwang and Briand will play together a lot this season. Jimmy Briand is more of a creator/hold up play type of striker and Hwang Ui-Jo is a striker who prefers to use his pace to find/create space and get behind the defense.  Hwang Ui-Jo will be mostly likely be utilized as a winger or a number 8 or even a 7 in a 3-4-2-1 or 5-4-1 that can easily transition into a 3-4-3 with three forwards looking to run at defenders. And that is what I saw during the friendly against Montpellier at the Audi Stadium. Hwang Ui-Jo played behind Jimmy Briand, running at the opposition’s defense from the left and the right. His overall performance was solid, had a clear chance at goal, but I think the nerves might have played a part in a pretty bad miss. Something to note was that he was playing unusually deep and pushing the ball forward from the middle of the pitch which is not his forte, but he actually looked comfortable and connected with his new teammates pretty well. Hwang’s main competitor for minutes will actually be Nicholas De Preville and Francois Kamano. Very similar styles and positions, but I think Hwang Ui-Jo can win the favor over both of them since Hwang Ui-jo has a natural knack for goals and Bordeaux really struggled last year in that aspect, only scoring 34 (6th to last in the league) and Hwang’s style fits really well within Sousa’s tactics.

Gordon’s predictions of the Club’s and Hwang Ui-Jo’s performance. 

Bordeaux will probably be a mid table team that could possibly fight relegation, but Sousa is a proven coach who will get as much as he can out of his players. As for Hwang Ui-Jo, in his first two league games for Bordeaux against Angers and Montepellier, he played really deep. Often, seeing Hwang play box to box and drifting left or right. His movements were really good, but just not creating enough to make anything happen, but he did surprise me with his build up play. In his Ligue 1 debut against the Angers, he aggressively pushed the ball forward and contributed in the attack, which was really good given that it was his debut. Unfortunately, he missed a point blank shot for his first Ligue 1 goal. Shrug that one off, son. He started the second game as well. I don’t know if Sousa wanted to change things up after a 3-1 defeat, but Hwang played an almost number 10 like striker…? and it wasn’t pretty… Bordeaux lined up in a 5-3-2 that sometimes changed to 4-4-2 and Hwang struggled to get in on the offense. Playing box to box is not the type of player he is. Again, his build up play wasn’t bad, but he just could not create anything for himself during the few times he was forward. He did get fouled right inside the opposition’s box, but the referee was not calling anything that day! As for Hwang Ui-Jo’s season, I think he will need some time to adjust to the new league. I predict he will struggle at the beginning of the season and barring any injuries he will find his form by the January transfer window, regardless he will get plenty of chances under Sousa.  I will say it will be a successful season for Hwang Ui-jo if he can hit the back of the net 8+ times. 

KNT and 2022 Qatar WC qualifiers…with Hwang Ui-Jo

Hwang Ui-Jo will be the Korea’s number 1 striker for awhile, hopefully all the way to Qatar. He can flat out just get BUCKETS, somehow he finds a way to score every time he is called upon. It’s pretty safe to say the team’s performances during the June friendlies against Australia and Iran were pretty underwhelming until Hwang Ui-Jo came to the rescue and scored out of nowhere in both games. That is just the type of player he is. He can be having a quiet night, but he will capitalize on the smallest opportunities and that’s why Bordeaux is excited to have him.

Suk Hyun-Jun #10 Stade De Reims

Image result for suk hyun jun stade reims

Another Korean Striker to look out for in Ligue 1 this year is the long time journeyman, Suk Hyun Jun. Starting from the age of 17, Suk Hyun Jun has played in the Netherlands, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, and now France. He started his career by audaciously approaching Ajax for a trial and Martin Jol actually signed him! After he spent about two years with Ajax, he spent another two years in the Erevidisie with Groningen and Maritimo. Not being able to solidify himself in the Netherlands, he made an almost career ending move to Saudi Arabia, but somehow he was playing in the Premeira Liga of Portugal a year later. With an impressive 13 goal season with Vitoria Setubal  he caught the eyes of Porto, the crown of Portugese football. Unfortunately, he never really got to play for Porto as the team was stacked so he was loaned out to three different teams in two years. A loan spell to Troyes where he tallied 6 goals in 26 appearances during the 2017-18 Ligue 1 season helped him move to Reims at the end of 2018. The following year, he scored 4 goals in 24 appearances for Stade De Reims and I believe he is going to look to prove himself once again this year.

Stade De Reims and how Suk Hyun Jun fits in

Stade De Reims is another highly decorated Ligue 1 team who has been struggling in the past decade. The team was promoted back to Ligue 1 in 2016 and has had some ups and downs. Their first year back in Ligue 1 saw them fight relegation and eventually staying up through playoffs. Last year, they pulled off some classy upsets against the top tier teams like Olympique De Marseille and Paris Saint Germain which saw them sitting comfortably at 8th by the end of the season. They opened up this season with an win against OM, where Suk Hyun Jun scored in the 90th minute. Nice start for both player and club.

David Guion, Stade De Reims’ head coach, has been with the club since 2012. He started as the youth team coach and then the Reims B team coach. David Guion took over for Olivier Guégan in the middle of the 2016 season in Ligue 2. After turning the team around and winning promotion, David Guion earned a contract to lead the Reims until 2019. One of Guion’s first transfers in Ligue 1 was Suk Hyun Jun so you can assume the commitment to the player is there. Guion likes to play a conservative 4-2-3-1, relying heavily on the three players behind the one striker to create much of the team’s offense. They don’t really score much, but they also don’t get scored on much either due to Guion’s conservative style. I would say Suk Hyun Jun is either 2nd or 3rd choice for Guion. As of right now, Dia and Oudin are ahead of Jun on the pecking order, but Oudin often plays as a right winger, opening up minutes for Suk Hyun Jun. Dia and Oudin are fast and quick players who will run at defenders and try to get in behind the backline. Suk Hyun Jun is more of your target man who can do a little bit of everything. He is really quick for a targetman, good in the air, got a cannon for a leg, has good enough vision, and his 6”3 frame doesn’t hurt. His biggest downfall might be that he doesn’t do any of them at a high level. He can’t really be trusted to hold the ball for too long, not fast enough to outpace defenders, not the best at creating his own chances, and he doesn’t out muscle everyone, but I do think he understands time and space very well and he needs to use that advantage to get extra minutes this year.

Gordon’s predictions of the Club’s and Suk Hyun Jun’s performance. 

Last year was definitely a successful campaign for Stade De Reims and I think they will continue on their form this season. They have already started the season brightly, beating Olympique De Marseille and drawing RC Strasbourg. The club hasn’t brought in any significant talent during the transfer window, but their players are young and full of potential. I think they will end up around mid table again and shouldn’t have to worry too much about relegation. As for Suk Hyun Jun, he will get enough minutes, but I don’t see him starting regularly. He will be the occasional starter due to injuries and suspensions, but his main role will be a 2nd half substitute to give the opposing defense a different look. It will be a successful year if he can bag over 30 appearances and 6+ goals.

KNT and 2022 Qatar WC qualifiers…with Suk Hyun Jun

Okay, I know I will get some slack for this one, but I really like Suk Hyun Jun as a 2nd option for the Korean National Team. Bento does not and this is clear, because the only time I saw Bento lose his composure was when Suk Hyun Jun missed a point blank goal against Uzbekistan. But, Suk Hyun Jun brings a lot of attributes that no Korean player possesses at the moment. His experience and his ability to provide different options and schemes is important to any team. Most of the strikers we have available right now are very similar and I think that could hurt us in certain situations. If Suk Hyun Jun can pull together some solid performances for his club, he will get one of the overage call ups for Tokyo 2020 and he deserves it imo. He is a Korean footballer legend in many rights and needs the military exemption. He has spent his whole career in Europe, bagging over 30 goals. That’s well over the tallies of Park Chu Young and Seol Ki Hyun, who are living legends of Korean football. If he wins a medal for Korea at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, he will have etched his name in Korean football history. I would really like to see him play at the 2022 WC, but he will be close to 32 years of age and hopefully younger players like Oh Se Hun and Cho Young Wook will mature and be ready. Then again, NEVER count Suk Hyun Jun out…He is THE Korean Journeyman!

Let us know what your predictions are on Hwang Ui Jo and Suk Hyun Jun!

About Gordon Kim 4 Articles
Korean Football Fanatic since 2002!


  1. Thanks for your work. It’s appreciated.

    Just FYI so we can get the names right. The surname is Suk/Seok and given name is Hyun Jun (pronounced Hyun Joon), so no more Suk-Hyun, please.

    I noticed the caption for the first Hwang Ui-Jo had his name wrong, too, Jo Hwang ui (not sure if that was the writers or the source that got that wrong).

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