After a negotiation that initially ended on extremely ugly terms, it seemed as though we would not see ex-KNT captain Ki Seung Yeung’s return to the K League. Yet after a brief stint in Spain, Ki and FC Seoul were finally able to reach an agreement, and in late July it was announced Ki would be returning to Korea. This past weekend, Ki made his long-awaited return appearance in the K League, entering the match against Ulsan around the 65th minute. Seoul was down 2-0 when Ki entered, and proceeded to give up another goal for a 3-0 loss.
A New Yet Familiar Return: Ssangyong, FC Seoul, and KNT
Overall, this match attracted quite a bit of media attention before it was even played. It was only right that Ki make his return against Ulsan, as this match would feature numerous familiar faces. This Seoul-Ulsan match was a reunion of sorts; the main headline was regarding the faceoff between “Ssangyong”, the nickname given to the Lee Chungyong, Ki Seungyeung combo (“Ssang” in Korean is related to “double,” and both their names end with the sound “Yong”). In addition to this, there were many other dynamics at play in this match. In addition to Lee Chungyong and Ki being teammates in their FC Seoul days, Ulsan Midfielder Koh Myungjin was actually also a long time stay at FC Seoul. He played for the club from 2003 to 2015, spending 4 years with Ki, 6 years with Lee Chungyong, 4 years with Park Chuyoung, and 12 years with Go Yohan. Furthermore, Kim Taehwan and Shin Jinho both spent significant time in their careers playing for FC Seoul. In a sense, this match represented the past, present, and future of FC Seoul.
This match also featured numerous players with connections to the National Team. As seen in the highlights, Park Chuyoung and Ki were sitting next to each other on the bench, reminiscent of the numerous years they spent together on the KNT. Aside from the two, numerous players with World Cup Experience (Cho Hyunwoo, Park Jooho, Lee Chungyong, Go Yo Han, Hong Chul) as well as KNT Experience (Kim Taewhan, Lee Donggyeong, Cho Youngwook, Han Seunggyu, Kim Keehee, Kim Taehwan) were either in the starting lineup or the bench. The game even featured Park Jungin, who scored two goals against the Senior National Team in a scrimmage against the U23 team, as well as Won Dujae, the most recent Asian U23 Championship MVP who people are now calling the next Ki Seungyeung due to both his passing ability and physical presence.
In this match, Ki clearly showed why he was once the captain of the national team. Actively involved in Seoul’s quest for a comeback, he had numerous touches of the ball and even showed a few pinpoint long balls. Seeing Ki’s passing mastery for the first time in a while was extremely exciting.
However, Ki also showed clear signs of age and deterioration. This matched confirmed and magnified a recently formed flaw of his game: lack of speed. This led to problems both on attack and defense. On defense, Ki could not play as an active defensive midfielder. He looked somewhat lost and stood still as he watched the already lacking FC Seoul defense try to handle Ulsan’s dangerous attack. This was particularly seen in Ulsan’s attack in the 83rd minute. After a counterattack, Ulsan took a total of 4 shots within thirty seconds and could have easily scored a goal. In this entire time period, Ki basically circled within a few feet of space. He was not marking anyone and did not look like he was in a position ready to quickly go for the ball if it came near him. On offense, while Ki made good passes from the back and middle third, he was too slow to try to make any sort of penetrating runs in the attacking third.
Ulsan midfielder and captain Shin Jinho’s performance in this game was particularly noteworthy. Within Ki’s first few touches, Shin pressed hard, resulting in two fouls. Ki was visibly a little bit rattled dealing with Shin’s aggressive defense. Shin’s excellent pressing prevented Ki from making passes comfortably.
Overall, while this match was an exciting return of one of Korea’s most well-known footballers, it also showed that FC Seoul still has a long way to go. Ki may be too slow to be a productive defensive midfielder who stays back on offense to focus on long balls and build up, but he also seems to lack the quickness and sense to play as an attacking midfielder. It may be the case that Ki is still recovering into match form. Furthermore, FC Seoul may have already been too fatigued by the time Ki entered the match, and the opponent was also the league-leading Ulsan squad. It is too early to make a judgment about whether Ki can be successful in FC Seoul. One possible strategy may be to make his midfield partner Go Yohan, the energetic, quick, and flexible captain who can both help out aggressively on defense and make good runs on the attack.
Another noteworthy component of Ki’s future with the team is his leadership. In the 57th minute of the match, Ki could be seen conversing with the FC Seoul coach Kim Hoyoung, most likely about how the team should move forward in the match. FC Seoul’s leadership is quite sensitive at the moment. The original head coach, Choi Yongsoo, was fired for poor play, and Kim Hoyoung is an interim coach. With the right synergy and chemistry, Ki could significantly help the FC Seoul coaching staff regain authority in a locker room they probably don’t have great relations with at the moment. However, Ki was previously not hesitant to express disappointment with the FC Seoul front office. It is still to be seen how Ki’s relationship with FC Seoul management will develop.
Watch the highlights from the match as well as Ki’s touches below.
Bonus: Won Dujae’s performance in front of Ki