Hwang In-beom and family angry over derailed transfer to Hamburg by “shady” agent [UPDATE 2.15]

Hwang In-beom: the Tavern's pick for Man of the Match against Uzbekistan

{Update: if have been keeping tabs on our transfer saga of Hwang In-beom since we published this 2 days ago, there’s been questions coming in and I’ve got some answers to provide context further down in the post…}

Parrying criticism from some quarters of the Korean public unhappy with his move to Vancouver in the MLS, Hwang In-beom issued a press conference February 9th, an unusual event that doubled as Daejeon’s send off for their wickedly creative 22 year old attacking midfielder. Hwang had been singled out as one of the few in Korea’s Asian Cup squad that shone bright in an ultimately futile tournament run. The public outcry, while it has slightly abated in recent days, centered largely on a perceived setback to his career, what with offers turned down from higher profile European clubs like Werder Bremen and Hamburg. Those tangible options represented an opportunity that Hwang himself admitted could’ve directly led to fulfilling his dream of playing in Europe. In the press conference last weekend, however, Hwang toed a deferential line in respecting his hometown club. He described the Daejeon Citizens, Korea’s first community club when they jumped onboard the K-League in 1997 as “…not always been operated well,” with respect to it’s paucity of revenue and it’s ability to be competitive in the shadows of Korea’s larger chaebol clubs. Hwang had hoped that the record transfer fee offered from Vancouver could “reward the players and fans,” and appeared to side with the notion that this transfer would be mutually beneficial. Hwang is set to leave for Vancouver on February 15th.

Behind the scenes however are new revelations about the deal and how it originally transpired. It is the source of intense anger from Hwang In-beom’s own circles, with the distinct feeling that Hwang was not best served with this deal. There are some previously undisclosed factors leading to this strange transfer saga:

  • What has been established previously: Before the Vancouver deal was inked, three German clubs submitted formal offers to Daejeon for Hwang. Hamburg SV (2.Bundesliga) offered a base transfer fee of about $900K USD (which would rise to $1.5 million if all of the options were triggered -dependent on Hwang’s performance). Bochum (2.Bundesliga) offered only $600K. They were never really in the race, but their offer was a formal one. The only top tier Bundesliga team to make an offer came from Werder Bremen – the amount negotiated was unknown. Of the three German clubs, it appeared Hamburg made the biggest offer for Hwang’s services.
  • Vancouver offered to pay Daejeon $1.8 million directly as a base transfer fee without any options (unlike Hamburg, who offered to pay the transfer fee in installments).
  • The agent negotiating Hamburg’s offer with Daejeon was none other than Thies Bliemeister, who represents Son Heung-min and Hwang Hee-chan. Had Hwang In-beom went to Hamburg, he would have also been represented by Bliemeister and his vast network of contacts across Europe. He is considered one of the most reputable agents in Europe as well. Bliemeister went to Daejeon directly with an offer from Hamburg, only to get turned down.
  • According to our sources, it is confirmed that Hwang In-beom and his family were adamant that he wanted to join Hamburg. Hwang Hee-chan, one of In-beom’s closest friends, played a key role in convincing him to opt for a move to Hamburg. The two were really excited about the prospects of playing together. 
  • In-beom and his family knew that he was offered a bigger salary from Vancouver (he is listed as a Designated Player, with higher salary in MLS’s convoluted contractual system), but still insisted on his going to Hamburg. Going to Europe has always been his dream. In-beom was also convinced that playing for Hamburg would give him a chance to play in the Bundesliga’s first division next season; additionally, the chance to be represented by Bliemeister could have eventually given him a larger pay so as long as he performs in Europe. Instead, Hwang was given talking points about the MLS being a pathway to Europe (ie Alphonso Davies and Miguel Almiron), along with incidental assurances from Paulo Bento, the current Korea manager, that an MLS move was not going to end his national team ambitions.
  • Daejeon president Kim Ho and agent Lee Young-jung decided to send In-beom to Vancouver instead of Hamburg despite In-beom’s wishes. It’s astonishing, on the surface, that they chose to go against the player’s will over an amount ranging between 200-300K. The key factor is that they wanted to collect money straight up rather than having to wait for the options to be triggered. In the end, Lee Young-jung would pocket a bigger agent fee from the Vancouver deal.
  • The real kicker here is that Lee Young-jung is not even In-beom’s original agent, nor is he acting as his full time agent. In-beom’s original agent is a former Daejeon team manager, but Lee Young-jung acted as an agent for Vancouver’s prospective Asian signings. He more or less swiped the negotiating rights under the table by convincing Kim Ho and Daejeon over his ability to get more money for the deal (how did the ‘stealing’ of a player occur? In-beom’s original agent appears to have been frozen out official communications with the club, in a state of virtual incommunicado. Lee Young-jung next move was to then try to sell In-beom on a bill of goods about Vancouver being the best ticket to Europe). Could Kim Ho have received something in return for running things through a completely different agent on this particular plan? There’s no smoking gun evidence that has surfaced, but it does raise some troubling questions due to the opaqueness over the handling of the deal. According to our source, In-beom’s original representative is completely distraught at having his player stolen right from under him. There’s little to no recompense for the former agent at the moment despite hanging with him through thick and thin.
  • After swiping the rights for In-beom, Lee Young-jung brought in his son (who also works as an agent under Lee Young-jung) and got him the position to negotiate between Vancouver and Daejeon. In other words, Lee Young-jung stole the player rights for In-beom and didn’t even work on the deal himself -yet still pocketed a significant amount of money from it. Another glaring incident (welcome to Korean football).
  • Our source spoke directly to In-beom’s father, who is absolutely frustrated and expressed anger over the machinations that did not adequately address In-beom’s wish to play for his preferred club of choice. In-beom himself is still upset and was opposed to the Vancouver move. However, he didn’t want to publicly fight his hometown club and preferred to leave in any way possible. He knew his talents were being wasted by staying in K-League 2.
  • Who is Lee Young-jung? He has earned a notorious label since the late 1990s for sending Korean players to the J-League after setting them up to believe that they were working with an agent who knew how to get them to Europe. He is the one responsible for Ahn Jung-hwan transferring from Perugia to Japan in 2002 in the aftermath of THAT spectacular World Cup run when Ahn’s stock was at an all-time high. He is also the same person who lied to the public about Kim Nam-il after the 2002 World Cup, claiming Kim would join Feyenoord. Instead, he negotiated for Kim to play for a much less profile club in Excelsior while promising him that he’d join Feyenoor the following season. That never happened. Kim Nam-il eventually returned to Korea.

The Tavern has been keeping tabs on Hwang In-beom for several years (including this profile back in 2016). Addressing his transfer from a big picture view, the perception that the MLS is the quasi-retirement playground of aging European based superstars is beginning to fade. Hwang In-beom’s transfer is part of the change in that paradigm, and the transfer news made some waves in North American soccer circles. That a transfer to Vancouver was considered a poor career move or at least a lateral move for In-beom may be not be entirely accurate; In-beom is moving out from a K-League 2 club to a top flight club in North America. Lee Young-pyo’s endorsement of Vancouver and the probable immediate inclusion in the starting lineup for the Whitecaps could offset some of the concerns in settling for Vancouver.

However, the fact remains that Hwang In-beom will be losing time in checking-off his own personal career goals, since his target was to play for high profile clubs in Europe. His performances for his club and in international tournaments for Korea had garnered enough buzz on its own merit to get him on the radar. He wouldn’t have had to wait in the MLS for a vaunted move across the pond – Werder Bremen and Hamburg fit that bill in a nutshell. It’s bewildering to think In-beom conceivably could’ve made Hamburg’s roster over the past weekend to aid their cause of earning promotion back into the Bundesliga [they currently sit atop of the 2.Bundesliga table]. His ticket was right in front of him, and he would have been represented by Son Heung-min’s own agent: that alone would have made this the opportunity of a lifetime. Additionally, in the Hamburg squad, he could’ve been paired with Hwang Hee-chan – thus transitioning and integrating him to a vastly different culture and language more smoothly (than to a club without any other Korean compatriots). It is NOT easy to get a move to a viable club in Europe under these favorable circumstances. The current move to the MLS might be considered a “stepping stone” but if the Alphonso Davies and Miguel Almiron transfers are considered the exception rather than the rule (particularly knowing how incredibly convoluted MLS contracts are with respect to MLS ownership of player rights, etc), it’s a reminder there are NO guarantees. That’s not to mention the risk of injuries on turf pitches and fatigue inducing cross country travel schedules.

What remains now is the ultimate fate of Hwang In-beom, how well he can adapt to life in the MLS, and after that gauntlet of avoiding crunch tackling injuries, if he gets another chance to make his dream move a reality. In the rearview mirror, there are still questions to ask about ethical lapses from the front office at Daejeon on down to how representation was swiped out from under Hwang’s original agent that led to the final conclusion, one that ultimately disallowed Hwang’s dream of playing in Europe in the immediate future.

Hwang In-beom: the Tavern’s pick for Man of the Match against Uzbekistan. Photo/Yonhap

The facts that our sources uncovered from this unfortunate transfer saga allows this conclusion: in certain cases (particularly in Hwang In-beom’s), Korea professional football players are not represented with their best interest in mind. Beyond that, we’re not going to pontificate further, or try to deliberate on the wider impact beyond what’s being presented for the first time to the public. Whether or not action takes place within and/or outside the Korean FA, K-League clubs and between all the ancillary agents and player reps, that’s beyond our scope and reach.

We want to simply inform, and let the established media, the Korean diaspora at large, and the universe revolving around Korean football including appropriate representatives within FIFA digest the information presented. The ball is now at your feet.

UPDATE Wednesday night US EST: There’s a number of people who have sent some good questions about the article. Keep them coming – I’ve had some questions myself. I’ve been hunting for answers to those questions and I should be able to get that out on Thursday. It should offer more context to the situation. Keep an eye out here for updates.

UPDATE Thursday 2/15: Happy Valentines day – I’ll be here to update in stages at a time this evening [my wife will be quite upset if we miss date night]. Right, so let’s get to it.

One of the questions that I’ve had and a number of people who twittered at me was: if Hwang and his camp were so unhappy, why didn’t Hwang In-beom simply put his foot down, insist on keeping with his original agent and force the issue with Daejeon and try to come closer to the Hamburg deal? The answer of course is a bit complicated. The understanding that I have is that Hwang (as a number of media outlets have previously reported in various forms) is really that loyal to the club – enough that he didn’t want to upset anyone at the club, rock the boat and burn bridges there along with the community that he feels fostered him to this point. It’s his hometown club that took him on since he was 8 years old* (not precisely sure about the age he joined Daejeon, but without looking it up, it’s a ballpark figure). What is clear: Hwang In-beom alone made the ultimate decision to go with the Vancouver deal (and along with it, the agent/agency that brokered it, even as it wasn’t his own agent). However it is more than likely Daejeon did a full court press on Hwang to go along with the plan. A quick aside, it probably didn’t help that Lee Jae-sung’s transfer last summer to Holstein Kiel didn’t see the windfall to Jeonbuk as many had expected. Setting that lower-than-expected transfer fee as a recent benchmark may have factored in to Hamburg not offering more in their bid for Hwang In-beom.

We’ll pause for the next question before moving forward: wouldn’t it be sensible for Daejeon to go with the deal bringing in the biggest transfer money?  Yes, on the surface, Daejeon were within their rights and within the realms of reason to opt for the larger figure. Somewhere between 200K and 300K was the difference between Hamburg’s transfer amount (with options triggered with performance benchmarks met) and Vancouver’s 1.8M. That difference in amount isn’t inconsequential: $200-300K could buy a decent player -within Korea – with above-average qualities. That’s a legitimate factor to consider. However, both transfer figures offered from both clubs are very large dollar amounts for a club like Daejeon. Either transfer amount would be considered sizable in respect to the very limited budget/resources the citizen club usually operates on. With both amounts on the table, while not being exactly equal, it then becomes unusual for a club to completely go against the player’s wishes regarding club destination of choice. That’s where the factor and influence of a certain Lee Young-jung on the mind of Daejeon president Kim Ho comes into play. In the end, Hwang is, in many respects, coerced to move to a different club. Coerced is perhaps too strong of a word; as mentioned before, Hwang did had the final say. Undoubtedly, Hwang was weighed down by pressure to go along with the plan – with club representatives tugging on his emotional heartstrings by presenting him a picture of his boyhood club that could do so much more, with just a little bit more money – if he can just cooperate.

If one looks at an (even) bigger picture, the one involving the national team setup gearing up for another World Cup qualifying run- that picture would probably prefer Hwang go challenge himself in Europe. Daejeon is under no obligation other than their own self interest as a club. But there’s the rub, perhaps the bigger, long term picture should have been considered -one that envisions clubs across Europe seeking the next Son Heung-min or Lee Kang-in by poring through established K-League clubs with solid records of developing, then sending their exceptional players abroad with some regularity. A bigger picture that then pays mutually beneficial dividends that could have the reciprocal boomerang effect of strengthening/deepening the pool of candidates for Korea’s national team.

I might have more to say on the matter tomorrow, but for now another bit of new information: Hwang In-beom has since acquired a new agent to represent him. He’s a Portuguese agent affiliated with Pro11 agency. As far as we can ascertain, the company is above board. Hwang’s new agent is scheduled to meet Hwang when he arrives in L.A. on Friday to join up with Vancouver for their pre-season training.

Extra Time:

Son Heung-min and his weary Tottenham Spurs side return to Champions League action on Wednesday (Thursday early morning in Korea) as they square off against Borussia Dortmund in the knockout phase. It will be a challenge as Spurs are without Kane and Alli – still out injured, but Dortmund has a rash of injury concerns as well. In Son, at least Spurs has a consistent BVB killer. Son has enjoyed playing against certain teams, but the one (statistically) he loves facing the most is Dortmund, having scored 8 goals against them (including a memorable one against them last year in the Champions League -see twitter post below), the most out of all the clubs he’s faced. That stat alone may give him the extra energy boost he needs to overcome the German side when they visit Wembley Stadium. Oh, that and Son happens to be in very good form, 3 consecutive league goals since a disappointing Asian Cup, 11 Premier League goals total and 15 goals across all competitions- this despite missing quite a bit of the season including time off for his Asian Games gold medaling adventure that prolonged his career. [Observation: opposing teams better watch out when Son has an awful time in KNT uniform. After Korea was knocked out in the 2016 Olympics, an angry Son came back to north London, kicked ass and took names, with a plethora of goals and a Premier League Player of the Month award in September of that year to boot]. Kickoff for leg 1 is at 3pm US EST / 7am on Thursday Korea Time.

////// UPDATE : unless you’ve been in a cave and just emerged, you know that Son scored his 9th career goal against BVB on Wednesday and helped his side defeat Dortmund at Wembley Stadium by a score of 3:0 in the 1st leg. Should Spurs take care of business the 2nd leg in Germany, they will be on their way to the quarterfinals of the Champions League for first time since 2011. Meanwhile, Son continues his incredibly fiery form, netting 11 goals in his last 12 appearances. In addition, stats show that Spurs has won every time Son has scored in this season.


About Roy Ghim 454 Articles
The old Tavern Owner


      • It’s just a matter of good grammer, ‘the’ Major League Soccer is grammatically incorrect. You wouldn’t say ‘the’ Major League Baseball, MLB has The National League and The American League, but as a whole it’s just Major League Baseball. Using a ‘the’ to precede The Premier League or The Bundesliga or in English The Federal League are all correct grammatically. Besides all that ‘the’ MLS just sounds stupid.

    • Hmmm…I see your point, though some of my multiple personalities will argue with you on that one. Depending on the day, I may use MLS, and on others, it might end up as the MLS. If the latter shows up in future musings on the Tavern, apologies in advance! Mein hamneeda

  1. Thank you so much for this write up, what an eye-opener. I hope this gets picked up by other media outlets, they dig into things and corroborate/clarify. Korean outlets like Yonhap or sports dailies, so there can be domestic outrage, but also MLS and generally soccer-centric ones, so there’s also intl. pressure to clean things up.

    If everything happened as you’ve described, a glaring light has to be shined on this. S.Korean soccer can’t advance if such despicable, shamelessly self-serving characters are allowed to operate in positions of authority and influence.

    As for Hwang IB, hoping he gets past the disappointment quickly and becomes an orchestrating maestro in Vanc.; way I see it, not trying to put down MLS, but if he can’t succeed there, what chance would he have had in Europe?

    • Well said. There could be worse situations for Hwang to go into. If cards are played right from here on out, who knows, other opportunities can emerge. The path forward is never a straight one, (particularly for Korean footballers). Meantime, back in Korea, there are people who need to come into the spotlight for further scrutiny…I’ll just leave it at that.

  2. Thank you for this article.
    I hope this “agent” gets pancreatic cancer, pure evil and greed, nothing less.

    Outstanding writing and truly eye opening that, good old fashioned journalism.

    Thank you!!!!!

  3. There is a report that Hwang In-beom spoke to former Whitecaps FC player YP Lee and that that conversation did play some role into him accepting Vancouver. Is that not true?

  4. Some say Hwang In-beom could have easily forced his move to Europe but could it really been as easy as these people say?

    From what I read In-beom wanted to move to Benfica few years ago but Daejeon denied that move because Benfica wouldn’t pay what Daejeon wanted.

    They say he could have denied the Whitecaps offer and waited til summer transfer window but would the European clubs really come with offers that would satisfy Daejeon? What happens if the chinese league decided they want In-beom that summer and offers massive cash, now In-beom is in same situation as winter.

    I read the Euro clubs are worried he doesnt have first league experience so are wary, so I dont think the clubs that can afford him will come for him.

    I think In-beom just wanted to leave Daejeon as soon as possible to get out of this dam club that refuses to let him go unless it massively benefits their own selfish desires.

  5. To be clear on Acosta, MLS convoluted contract structures had nothing to do with that falling through (nor do they act as a barrier in any way shape or fashion to a move). The transfer broke down primarily because the two sides were $4-6 million apart on their valuation and could never close the gap. DC United ultimately nixed the deal because PSG did not offer enough money.

    • Thank you for that clarification. I’m going to edit that piece as I misunderstood the mechanism for Acosta deal falling through. I think however, there has been some deals that’s been walked away from clubs outside the US because in part to the complex nature of the deals that involve MLS taking ownership of player rights, etc. (hopefully I’m on the mark on that one – where’s the crossing my finger emoji?)

  6. MLS is a retirement league that offers no incentive for quality players like Hwang, nor is it viewed as a ‘springboard’ to Europe. He has no business playing over there and his family should sue the agent that set him up for this travesty. Worst news on par with KMJ’s move.

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