2019-2020 Korean Players Abroad Preview: Bundesliga

The wait is no more! Joon has now come back with a preview for Korean players in the Bundesliga. Here, he covers Freiburg summer signees Jeong Woo-yeong and Kwon Chang-hoon, along with new Mainz forward Ji Dong-won. The article also includes a bonus entry for Augsburg reserve player Cheon Seong-hoon who has quickly made strides for a first-team spot over the last year. Enjoy the read!

Freiburg Frenzy

For their 2019-2020 Bundesliga campaign, Freiburg will be looking to capitalize on the same success that Augsburg has achieved with the Korean market over the last few years. Signing winger Kwon Chang-hoon from Dijon and burgeoning young midfielder Jeong Woo-yeong, Freiburg will have KNT fans everywhere turning their heads for Korea’s next Bundesliga stars. These two low-risk, potentially high-yield signings may bring Freiburg the attention they have so desperately longed for on the global stage. 

Although the new signees are currently slated to play in the same position on the Freiburg roster, both players do not see themselves as competitors. KCH, in particular, has been supportive of his younger teammate, commending him for possessing “great potential.”

Fellow Tavern writer David Yoon and I have already discussed these signings in more detailed fashion on a KPA transfer article several weeks ago. You can read it here if you’re interested. 

Freiburg is set to make its season debut against Mainz for the “Korean Derby” this Saturday at 9:30 AM ET. KCH is a questionable appearance due to injury, but there is a decent chance that JWY will be used as a substitute late in the match. 

Jeong Woo-yeong

In search of a consistent first-team playing opportunity, Jeong Woo-yeong left Bayern Munich to join Freiburg this summer on a £5 million four-year deal. He is also on a one-year buy-back clause, but with opportunities at Bayern not guaranteed, JWY will likely be staying at Freiburg for some time. One of the KNT’s most coveted youth talents has already found some club-level success, helping to lead the Bayern reserves to a Premier League International Cup trophy.

JWY has seen considerable success this preseason, making major strides to become a future starter during his new club’s summer friendlies. He would make his mark right away, blasting a right-footer off a corner for a goal in his first match against Sportverein Linx as a second-half substitute. He would later start in a friendlies against Turkey’s Kayserispor and Serie A’s Cagliari while making appearances against the likes of Stuttgart and others.

So far the Incheon United youth has enjoyed his time adjusting to his new environment, praising manager Christian Streich for his blunt criticism. In one interview, JWY likened his boss to a South Korean father who “always talks directly when his kid does something wrong” but also “praises you directly when you do something well.” And Streich has returned with the positivity, referring to his new Korean signees as “very polite and motivated guys.” 

When the 19-year-old makes his season debut, possibly this Saturday, he’ll be looking to mesh with the offensive setup orchestrated by Streich. Likely playing behind two forwards, Nils Petersen and Luca Waldschmidt, JWY will need to quickly adapt to Freiburg’s firepowered offensive tactics meant to press teams with similar talent. He’ll have little time to slow down and take a deep breath in crucial Bundesliga relegation battles. 

And that might be exactly the kind of playing structure that JWY needs to be around if he’s going to look for success elsewhere in the future. If he can quickly adapt to Freiburg’s attacking style of play, there’s no doubt that he can perform well for prestigious clubs with similar playing styles. For that reason, many fans liken the young star to other Korean attackers who made their mark in the Bundesliga, including Son Heung-min. 

The stakes are high for JWY, but if he can match his expectations, there’s no doubt he has a more promising future ahead of him. Perhaps a more promising future than his predecessors.

Kwon Chang-hoon

Through their £3.5 million pursuit of Kwon Chang-hoon, Freiburg has efficiently boosted its options for offensive production this season. In fact, they’ve basically robbed a bank by signing the crafty attacker, especially considering Eintracht Frankfurt had offered £10 million for him last summer. But that £6.5 million difference may have been worth it for Dijon when you take into account their dire situation last season.

A fan favorite back in France, KCH proved critical in Dijon’s efforts against relegation to Ligue 2. Despite having missed the first half of the 2018-2019 Ligue 1 campaign, he returned last Winter, providing The Mustards with four goals in 24 total appearances with the club. One of those goals includes a nearly neck-breaking, season-saving effort against Lens in the Ligue 1 relegation playoffs. 

As far as individual ambitions are concerned, KCH has seemingly made the right career move, carrying out performances in a relatively more competitive environment in the Bundesliga. Working alongside skilled forwards like veteran Nils Petersen, the 24-year-old has the ability to improve his finishing for better delivery of goals in season-defining situations. KCH has the ability to bring Freiburg fans some well-awaited glory in nail-biting league and cup matches as long as he can stay healthy.

But his fitness is already becoming a concern. Having missed the first half of July due to a neck injury, KCH had since returned shortly for preseason starts against Stuttgart and Kayserispor. Unfortunately, he was subbed off early in the latter match due to a calf issue he picked up in-game. The injury might leave him out of the Freiburg lineup for three to four weeks, meaning he could miss the league-opening “Korean derby” against Mainz on Saturday.

Still, KCH’s experience as Mr. Clutch may come in handy for Freiburg as FiveThirtyEight projections predict the club to finish 15th in the Bundesliga this season. Let’s hope he carries momentum from good performances this upcoming season to the 2020 Olympics. We know the KNT is going to need him as an overage player in Japan next summer.

Ji Dong-won

https://twitter.com/1FSVMainz05/status/1150093434767794176

Approaching his eighth Bundesliga season, Ji Dong-won has been through the wild ups and downs that many Korean football players face after moving abroad. Starting out as a youth standout in the K-League, he quickly captured the attention of Premier League club Sunderland at the age of 20. After struggling to make regular appearances there for three seasons, JDW decided to make the switch to Bundesliga club FC Augsburg, uniting with KNT teammate Koo Ja-cheol in 2014. 

Since then, he’s made some impressive showings when given opportunities to play. In fact, his potential was so high that Borussia Dortmund signed him to a four-year deal in 2014 based off the attacker’s youth and early European experience. Sadly, the deal fell through after six months with injuries derailing JDW’s ability to impress the club enough to progress out of the reserve side. Instead, he would return to West Bavaria on a contract for the next three-and-a-half seasons where injuries would continue to impede his career development. 

The record speaks for itself. JDW found himself out on injury during his second stint with Augsburg on at least four separate occasions. This includes the 2017-2018 season when he was loaned out to Darmstadt after starting the Augsburg campaign out on injury. The only full season JDW has played over the last five years was the 2016-2017 season in which he would net four times on 36 appearances throughout all competitions. 

This season, JDW will be trying his hand with another Bundesliga mid-table dweller, having left Augsburg to join Mainz 05 immediately after last season. Unfortunately, he won’t be able to replicate the success he had three seasons ago after injuring his knee once again, this time during preseason training. The club officially reports that JDW will be out between three to five months, alluding that he may not return to full condition by Bundesliga’s Winter Break. 

However, not all hope is lost. Despite the inconsistencies he’s faced in finding consistent playing time, somehow JDW manages to shine in times his club needs the most. Remember his magic moment in a 2011 PL match against Man City? Sunderland fans will always hold JDW in cult regard for that goal. He also scored a brace against Dortmund last season that dashed his former club’s hopes in winning their first title since 2012. 

In these frustrating times, it’s easy to forget that JDW is still chock-full of talent. Due to his ability to play anywhere in an attacking position, he has the versatility to fit into the systems of most Bundesliga clubs. According to manager Sandro Schwarz, JDW “is able to play on the wings, or as a second striker.” His current club plays with “lots of attacking action coming from the centre of the field,” which may additionally allow for JDW to even adopt a role as an attacking midfielder. 

When JDW returns to Mainz a few months down the road, he’ll have to quickly adapt to a young team looking to forge an identity. Knocked out early in the DFB Cup by local rivals FC Kaiserslautern, Mainz will be allocating full attention to their league campaign. They are unlikely to challenge for even a Europa League spot, but with a good mentality, the 05ers can finish comfortably mid-table this season.

Let’s hope this new club focus is put into good use and JDW gets the experience he needs at the height of his career.

Bonus: Cheon Seong-hoon

Augsburg hasn’t given up on their Korean fanbase altogether. With the departures of long-time players Koo Ja-cheol and Ji Dong-won, the club has decided to take one more stab at the Korean market by signing 18-year-old Cheon Seong-hoon. The Incheon United product arrived in Westphalia to join Augsburg’s U19 youth team last December. Shortly after impressing in the U19s, CSH would quickly climb a step in the Augsburg youth ladder to play with the club’s official reserve team. 

Later, the teenager would make his first appearance on the FCA senior squad in a March friendly against 2. Bundesliga’s Dynamo Dresden. CSH would continue impressing with the U23 squad, starting in a match against Ingolstadt’s reserve team a few weeks later. Then, CSH would get his first glimpse at the big leagues, making his first senior squad inclusion in a league match against Stuttgart on last April.

Throughout this summer, CSH has shown nothing short of improvement, making several appearances in preseason friendlies with his club’s reserve team. Just a few days ago, he scored against the German fourth-division’s FV Illertissen after coming on as a second-half substitute. His regular squad inclusions have made the young midfielder an Augsburg’s mainstay with the club having included him on the first team roster for this season.

The eighteen-year-old forward will likely continue making consistent appearances for the Augsburg reserve team for a good bulk of this Bundesliga season. However, it’s also likely that CSH will make his season debut for Augsburg in a German cup match or minor league tie as a substitute. If he can stay on top of his game, we’ll likely begin to see more of the new Augsburg pickup next season. In the meantime, let’s keep our eyes on the lookout for him!

4 Comments

    • Yep, though, it was supposed to be. There was a possibility that JWY and/or KCH were going to return from injury, but neither of them were 100%. KCH had some obvious issues (but still listed as a potential sub), but it was unclear whether or not JWY was banged up enough to be left off Freiburg’s lineup entirely. Turns out he was.

      And, of course, as mentioned in the article, JDW is out for the next few months. It’s pretty disappointing to see how things ended up.

      However, there might be one next week in the Premier League. Ultimately, it depends on whether Steve Bruce decides to use Ki Sung-yueng or not. Also, I can’t guarantee a start, but I’m sure Son is making his season debut next Saturday. I’ll live-tweet the match on the Tavern Twitter account if any of them are slated to make an appearance. And we’ll see how it goes from there…

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