Here’s another installment of the 2019-2020 Korean Players Abroad Preview series, this time covering Koreans in 2. Bundesliga, Germany’s second tier. In this article, Joon provides info and insight about VfL Bochum’s Lee Chung-yong and Holstein Kiel’s Lee Jae-sung and Seo Young-jae. Another article about Korean players in the Bundesliga will be released very soon. Stay tuned!
Does anybody still remember Samsung’s Galaxy 11 ad campaign from 2014? It’s been five years, and looking back now, it’s pretty astonishing to see Lee Chung-yong’s name amongst the likes of Ronaldo and Messi. I get that his selection on the alien-battling roster was obviously a PR stunt for the Korean phone market, but it just looks even more far-fetched now. Though, he had something, having been the best player for Bolton Wanderers in his first two seasons with the Trotters.
Simply put, LCY hasn’t had the best of luck since he injured his foot during his 2014-2015 season with Bolton. The following season, the KNT’s “Blue Dragon” would sign for Crystal Palace only to see himself struggle for a first team roster spot. Failing to garner the support of his managers, LCY would attempt to return to Championship-dwelling Bolton on two different occasions.
His first attempt would dissipate due to one particularly significant injury in Crystal Palace’s midfield in the middle of their 2017-18 season. After Bakary Sako went down back in January of last year, manager Roy Hodgson needed all the depth he needed to sustain a passable midfield. LCY’s second chance at the end of the season would also ultimately fall through. He would fail to get the work permit that would have allowed him to stay in England for one more transfer.
Having extended his contract for a second season with VfL Bochum, LCY now has a chance to make a well-needed final European splash in Germany. Despite only playing in 23 matches last season, the 31-year-old has started his club’s first three matches in all domestic competitions this year. Although Bochum is likely to stay mid-table in the German second-division for this season, the former FC Seoul player still has quite a bit to play for.
At the ripe age of thirty-one, LCY has yet to retire from the KNT, leaving him on track to become one of Korea’s older mainstays for some years to come. As World Cup qualification matches approach, the winger’s experience may be needed for some stability against opponents that can be easily overlooked. Although the KNT’s group isn’t too difficult, it’s important that players understand the importance of winning an international match to prepare for greater challenges ahead.
Like I mentioned previously with Ki Sung-yueng in the Premier League installment, I believe LCY’s European career is soon coming to a close. Unlike others, however, I see him returning to the K-League for the final stretch of his career. Whether that happens at the end of this season is the real question. Either way, I’m here to support him for every last significant moment in his career. Let’s hope he continues with his services and does well, in the meantime, for the Westphalians.
After four-and-a-half highly successful seasons with Jeonbuk, Lee Jae-sung would find himself playing in one of Europe’s top five football systems. Strangely though, many in Korean football media were perplexed to find out that he was going to Holstein Kiel. One of the more enigmatic clubs in the 2. Bundesliga, LJS’s new club has only been in the second division since the 2017-18 season.
Despite the team’s shock finish in third in the 2. Bundesliga that particular season, many criticized LJS’s £1.5 million deal as much too small for the K-League’s 2017 MVP. Some dismissed the transfer entirely, believing that LJS had the potential to play, instead, for a club in the Bundesliga. The dissent of KNT fans everywhere was at a grand high, but all that talk hasn’t proven to be well-warranted so far.
After playing 29 matches for Kiel last season, LJS has put up meager numbers, merely scoring five goals and creating seven assists despite his several starting opportunities. Despite recording two assists on his 2. Bundesliga debut, he had only recorded one assist in the 2019 calendar year up to March of last season. The transition to German football has clearly already caught up to the veteran midfielder, who struggled mightily to make the proper passes needed for chances last season.
With two more seasons left on his contract, LJS has some time to prove that his performances in Korea were far from a fluke (because his performances were truthfully excellent in the K-League). The 27-year-old has started this season off okay, scoring once in his team’s 6-nil rout over fifth-division Salmrohr last Sunday. However, it’s going to take more than the occasional goal to ensure that LJS has a consistent role in Kiel’s starting lineup this season.
The future holds a lot for the K-League standout if he can prove himself as a reliable creator on his current stage. Perhaps a more lucrative deal lies in his path in capitalizing on his earlier career as one of the K-League’s most successful players. His success would not only say a lot about LJS, but it could potentially also reveal a lot about the quality of the Korean domestic football system. Let’s just say that he has a lot more to play for than just himself.
Having moved to Germany right out of college, Seo Young-jae has skipped the Korean professional system entirely for a direct route to a European club career. Spending three seasons with Hamburger SV’s reserve team, SYJ would move the following season to MSV Duisburg. After making appearances in six league matches, his club would get relegated at the end of the season, finishing in last place in the 2. Bundesliga.
To return to a stage on his playing level, SYJ would sign a one-year contract with Holstein Kiel, uniting himself with fellow countryman Lee Jae-sung for the 2019-2020 season. The 24-year-old from Wonju is mostly unknown to KNT fans, but he has made a stretch of seven appearances for the U-23 national team from 2015 to 2016. Barely missing the cut for the 2016 Olympic roster, SYJ may be able to impress enough to make an overage spot in the 2020 Tokyo games.
However, his time is limited. With only one year to prove his worth, SYJ may find himself back in Korea next season. The left-back has yet to make a league appearance, having received an unreported injury last week that has left him off the bench for Kiel’s last league match. When he does return, Kiel will have lots of Korean eyes following its every move in its hopes of promoting to the Bundesliga.
The club was very close to achieving the feat a few seasons ago but is now expected to finish mid-table according to FiveThirtyEight projections. If SYJ does happen to make the most of his contracted stint with Kiel, he may be able to flesh out a career in Germany’s second division. It’s just a matter of time before he gets the opportunity he deserves to make that happen.