2023 Korean Transfers Series: Lee Kang In to PSG? + Every Club Linked So Far

It seems that the summer of 2023 may be a very eventful one for Korean footballers abroad. Lee Kang In is 100% going to leave Mallorca, Kim Min Jae looks likely to leave Napoli well, Hwang In Beom is way too good for Greece, Hwang Hee Chan is somehow linked to a few clubs despite stating his intention to stay with Wolves, and rumors are floating around about pretty much every one of our players abroad except for Son Heung Min unfortunately. Therefore I will delve into a series of transfer posts for each of our players abroad. Kicking off that list is Lee Kang In. So read on for an epic summary of every club Lee Kang In has been linked to.

I had been slowly writing this post along with Kim Min Jae’s over the past week, but I am rushing it out now even before my U20 World Cup recap due to the recent news that Lee Kang In is very close to a move to PSG.

This really came out of nowhere – I first saw serious links to PSG 1-2 days ago (though they had been name dropped casually in the past), and now there are already reports coming out that a medical has been completed and that negotiations are going well. This is probably the biggest and highest profile sudden transfer news that us Korean fans have seen since… Park Ju Young’s Arsenal hijack?

The 2019 U20 world cup golden ball winner really had quite the breakout season this year and established himself as one of the best dribblers in the world – all this playing for a defense-first club that never gets more than 50% of possession.

Even my non Korean casual football fan friends know of Lee Kang In, and ask pretty much any Korean fan and they’ll tell you LKI will likely surpass SHMs heights establishing him as the greatest player of the next generation of Asian footballers, perhaps even the Asian GOAT. Just like how we knew that Kim Min Jae was special and could achieve great heights since his Jeonbuk days, we know that LKI can succeed at literally any club. No matter where he goes, he can bring something to the table. As we often see with Asian players though the difficulty is in getting foreign managers to see this. So enough introduction – lets discuss some transfer links LKI has had so far.

Initial EPL Links

Initially it was said that the interested clubs were all English. Newcastle, Wolverhampton, Aston Villa were brought up. As much respect I have for these teams none of these links were too exciting. Aston Villa of the three sounded to me like the best fit because of Unai Emery and his favored 4-2-3-1 formation. To this day I strongly believe that LKI is an attacking midfielder not a winger as so many news outlets say. Wolverhampton, with all due respect, did not seem like a big upgrade from Mallorca and for Newcastle LKI would likely be playing out wide. Not necessarily a bad thing, but he doesn’t quite fit their insane pressing system and Newcastle were likely going to assemble a very deep squad by the time August 2023 came around. I also felt at the time that Lee Kang In would strongly prefer to stay in Spain given that he has lived there since age 10-11, so despite these links I assumed that he would wait out for Spanish clubs.

Man City was also reportedly interested too, but this seemed like just another rumor and nothing of substance. I will discuss Man City later in this post.

To this day, Aston Villa remains interested apparently. According to the Birmingham Mail, in an article that came out just yesterday 6/12, after talks with Atletico Madrid recently fell through (more on that later), Aston Villa remains the most likely destination. We’ll see how true that is in the coming days with the PSG story still ongoing.

Atletico Madrid, Real Sociedad, Real Betis

To this day it baffles me that only Atletico Madrid showed concrete interest in Lee Kang In out of all the La Liga teams given how amazing he has been despite playing for a team that plays a defensive 5-4-1 and can’t string together 2-3 passes or attack effectively.

The Atletico Madrid links first came out early May, but reports later came out that Atletico were not willing to pay his buyout fee.

So it seemed like the interest had died down, but two weeks ago it was reported that their interest was back. In return for a little less cash, Atletico were reported to be open to sending some youth players to Mallorca on loan (most likely Rodrigo Riquelme). There were also reports that LKI’s arrival was dependent on the departure of Yannick Carrasco.

I was slightly ambivalent on Atletico only because he doesn’t 100% fit their system, but given that they were a consistent Champions League club that has often challenged the great La Liga duopoly, I was cool with it. They didn’t play a 4-2-3-1 but I figured that he would play in the midfield in their 5-3-2, or beside Griezmann up top as a “shadow striker.” And given that Barcelona and Real Madrid are unfortunately so saturated, this seemed like the best bet.

On 6/8 I saw reports that the move was very close to materializing. However, on 6/12 (literally yesterday, around when the PSG rumors first came up):

Apparently, Lee Kang In’s insane performances raised his transfer price and Atletico were not willing to pay up. There were also disagreements on which youth players they would send. Now this REALLY baffles my mind – is one of the best players in La Liga outside of Barca/Madrid … not worth a measly 15-20 mil? I know La Liga clubs are poor but man they pay much more for players not nearly as good as Lee Kang In. For a longer summary and more details on the Atletico saga, read the article here.

Other Spanish clubs merely rumored to be interested were Real Sociedad and Real Betis (both play #10s and are good clubs in Spain) – these seemed to make sense but in the end, nothing ever materialized.

Manchester United

Man United seem to be interested in literally everybody these days, and Lee Kang In was reportedly on their list too. But nothing concrete from them either. They’re also way too saturated in the attacking midfield department so I won’t spend much time on this one. But if you’re a Man U fan maybe the below video will be up your alley:

Tottenham

Tottenham were also reported to be interested but after seeing what Son Heung Min is going through (possibly the Asian GOAT unable to win any silverware despite playing alongside one of the best strikers in Europe), like with Man United, I don’t want to entertain this rumor too much further.

Napoli

[Update 6/15: Napoli appointed Rudi Garcia as manager, and now I’m suddenly much less enthusiastic about this rumor]

There was an article in Italy about how Napoli wanted to tap more into the Korean, Japanese, and American markets after the great success of Kim Min Jae. Hwang In Beom and Lee Kang In were name dropped in that article. And seeing that Piotr Zielinski appears to likely be on his way out of Napoli, Lee Kang In is the better fit of those two in Napoli’s midfield. If Andre Frank Zambo Anguissa were to leave though Hwang In Beom would be the better replacement, but that’s a discussion for another time. Sadly, that one article is all we got and there have been no real inquiries from Napoli for LKI that we know of so far. However, according to Le Parisien: “A Paris, le son de cloche est légèrement différent. Luis Campos, le conseiller sportif du PSG, négocie bel et bien la venue du Coréen mais cherche encore à faire baisser le prix malgré deux offres venues du championnat d’Italie à 25 millions d’euros chacune.” – two offers from Italian clubs… hmm.. Napoli? AC Milan (would also be cool) maybe?

To me this is an ideal move, It makes sense realistically – not just wishful thinking – because he would play in his preferred position in attacking MF (he’d also provide depth in RW) in a strong team that would benefit from a creative playmaker and technician like Lee Kang In. He would 100% make sure that Zielinski, a great player in his own right, would not be missed.

That being said, there are two major downsides to this move: 1) Napoli has no manager right now and I don’t think they’re going to find someone like Spalletti and 2) they may lose all their core players. These are big big risks to choosing Napoli.

PSG??!?!?

This one REALLY came out of nowhere, but in the last 1-2 days, there were reports that PSG was seriously interested in signing LKI. PSG had been named dropped before in the list of clubs rumored to be interested but I thought that their interest was very peripheral like with Man City, Man United, or Napoli. But now we’re here:

On one hand PSG is a very good team that is likely to win silverware. They have the $ and the influence to rebuild a good squad. He gets exposure at a top top club, and worst comes to worst he can get loaned out. It has also been reported that PSG is cool with LKI missing part of the season for the Asian Games and the Asian Cup.

Some downsides to this move: PSG isn’t a club that is known for developing young talent. Also, like Napoli, PSG are without a manager. Who knows what position they would play him in? Would he slot out wide in the front three where Messi/Neymar have been positioned last season? Or would be play in the middle? Would he even play? Korean media is stating that he got assurance of playing time, but I’m not entirely sure how that’s possible when there is literally no manager making that decision. No foreign media outlet thus far has mentioned that he is getting guaranteed starting XI time. And as a nation we REALLY can’t have LKI waste away on the bench e.g. Renato Sanches or being pushed out to loan like Julian Draxler. We know LKI’s tremendous value but apparently he’s not even worth 15 million to Atletico, a sentiment his future manager could share.

The squad is pretty saturated at the moment. In midfield there’s Draxler and Wijnaldum coming back from loan (both attacking mids), and they already have on their books Renato Sanches, Verratti, Vitinha, Soler, Fabian Ruiz, and Zaire-Emery. That’s a lot of competition. Carlos Soler and Lee Kang In were reported to be on bad terms when LKI left Valencia too. Out wide obviously they have Mbappe (looks likely to leave as he stated he is not renewing his contract), Neymar (may also leave).. new signing Marco Asensio.. and some of the names above could deputize out wide. I suspect that Lee Kang In is being signed to play out wide. Which is fine… but not his best position.

Right now it seems that Julian Nagelsmann is the favored candidate for the PSG job. Did he request Lee Kang In specifically? His teams are very attack minded and press HARD. From what I can gather his teams favor a 3/5-back formation. 3-4-3, 3-5-2, 5-3-2, you get the idea. I figure LKI would slot in as a wide player in a 3-4-3 or an attacking midfielder in a 2 up top system, which would be more ideal. Luis Enrique has also been linked to the job, and I can’t help but suspect that LKI would be favored a little bit more under him, but I’m literally only going off the fact that they both speak Spanish – kind of a flimsy rationale.

There’s also the fact that Ligue One is not as competitive as Spain Italy or England. Minor point but still worth a mention.

I also want to question – how did all of this go down? Apparently Lee Kang In has already passed through the airport in Paris and completed a medical in the beginning of the week according to L’Equipe. But hasn’t Lee Kang In been training with the national team in Busan for the past few days? I guess details will come out later in the day.

Wishful thinking: Barcelona, Man City

LKI would really thrive in a possession and midfield domination based system like Barcelona and Man City. Barcelona would honestly be perfect as he suits their playing style, and it’s in Spain which is surely where he’s the most comfortable. The issue is that Barcelona are pretty set in midfield with Pedri, Gavi (both younger than LKI and probably never leaving Barca) and De Jong. Likewise you could throw in Real Madrid, but with Jude Bellingham on the way for a monster transfer fee there is no chance Lee Kang In would play regularly (also given Tchouameni, Camavinga, Valverde). With Man City the chance to work with Guardiola would be amazing – he turned a talent like Gundogan into one of the world’s best, and KDB also really became world class under him too. Lee Kang In has every characteristic Guardiola would want in a midfielder. Sadly, these two clubs are almost certainly not making a move for him any time soon.

Closing remarks

I am a little bit nervy about PSG because there are question marks surrounding where and if he would play. I trust that Lee Kang In and his agents know better than me though. He is more than good enough to play and if he does, that would be amazing, but foreign managers often don’t see eye to eye with Korean fans (exhibit #1 Arsene Wenger). Lee Kang In being at the center of a rebuild for PSG sounds good to me. Really didn’t see Ligue One coming though.

Just a word of caution: though a lot of very reliable sources are saying this is essentially a done deal, things can always fall through last minute (not saying I want things to), and you can’t say things are done until a contract is signed and the player is seen holding his jersey. I can’t say I’m too thrilled about PSG as an institution and the French League, but this is overall still a great upgrade from Mallorca. And I know that he is more than good enough to play for them whether it’s on the wings or in MF.

Among what I’ve listed so far, my personal preferred totally biased non-professionally-opinionated destinations in order would be:

1) Barcelona if Pedri or Gavi for some weird reason transfer out (not happening)
2) Man City to replace KDB or Gundogan (again, not happening)
3) Napoli if Osimhen, Kvara, and Kim Min Jae stay AND they get a world class good coach (probably not happening)
4-6) Atletico de Madrid, PSG, and AC Milan
7) Real Sociedad. Lee Kang In has always been called the “next David Silva” in Spain so it works out. I still remember a tournament Lee Kang In played in either 2013-2014 against the youth academies of PSG (lol), Real Madrid, and Juventus, where he played really well and David Silva himself commented on Twitter (or some other social media platform) “Who is this kid?”
8) Manchester United
9) Real Betis
10) Aston Villa
11) Newcastle
12) Spurs
13) Wolves, and finally …
14) staying at Mallorca (definitely not happening)

Does this make me sound like an EPL hater? Absolutely not, I just think that the specific EPL clubs linked don’t really make much sense for LKI in the light of more concrete interest from PSG. And of course, my thoughts on this situation will evolve over time, and I may change around the ordering of this list accordingly. I know I am a little bit more glum about PSG (out of an abundance of precaution) and more bullish on Napoli than others. But no matter where he goes I know Lee Kang In, if all is fair in the world, can become a starter and a essential player in his future squad.

As an aside, circling back to why I’m starting with Lee Kang In in this series of transfer roundups: I admittedly have a stronger affinity for LKI than I do for other Korean footballers. I started out watching football seriously in 2010 after the South Africa World Cup. I particularly interested in our youth players abroad at the time such as Lee Seung Woo, Paik Seung Ho, Jang Gyeol Hee, and Lee Kang In because they were literally my age, and updated their BigSoccer Korea pages regularly. I was really into learning Spanish at the time (I was remember I was a sophomore in high school taking AP Spanish 2010-11). I followed and participated in Barcelona and Valencia forums online watching the Infantil and Cadete levels whenever I could find a stream. Roy, the founder of the Tavern of the Taeguk Warriors, reached out to me to write for the site in 2013 as the first guest writer specifically as the “youth expert” because I knew more about the Spain-based youngsters than most Korean football fans online, so these players have a special place in my heart. Fast forward 13 years later (crazy how time flies) and we’ve both grown up – he’s a national hero and superstar, while I’m a few years out of medical school and still bumming around at home watching Lee Kang In play on a weekly basis. And regardless of where he goes, I will continue to watch and follow not only his progress but all our other Korean footballers as well.

About Jinseok 259 Articles
Diehard Korean football fan. https://www.taegukwarriors.com/jinseoks-story/

5 Comments

  1. Thanks for this write-up and summary of all the rumors, etc. Lots of question marks but would be exciting to see LKI play for PSG. Crazy how undervalued he is.

  2. Love the analysis as well as the personal note at the end (which I relate to! Been following this kid for forever). Im also worried about PSG but fingers crossed it all works out – feel like Kang In has had one of the most atypical career paths of the best Korean players and he’s always managed to succeed.

  3. Lee Kang In has what it takes to make it at PSG but I am still concerned that there are too many attacking midfielders on the team. He might be only playing cup matches depending on the new manager’s preferences. Lots of uncertainty at PSG right now in terms of personnel..

  4. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited for a player until LKI. He can very well become world class like Sonny but he is not there yet. And for that reason, I would prefer him to moving to Villa for the sake of his development. He’d be get starting minutes in a very competitive league while playing attacking football under a great manager who speaks the language he is most comfortable in. Too many variables at PSG with a vacant manager position. They also have nothing to play for in their local league.

  5. Fantastic piece and very thought provoking. You did a great job summarizing the nuances of this PSG news. On one hand it’s a great move, but there are a lot of factors that complicate things. I also don’t know how to feel about the prospect of becoming a PSG fan

1 Trackback / Pingback

  1. 2023 Korean Transfers Series: Kim Ji Soo to Brentford FC Confirmed | Tavern of the Taeguk Warriors

Join in the Tavern's conversations -Leave a comment...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.