Happy New Year everyone! Now that it’s January 2019, the winter transfer window is open and the K League offseason is in full swing. We thought we would take a look at what the year has in store for our favorite Korean footballers. I’m going to focus on the Asian Games squad, since they have won military exemption and could have more opportunities to transfer abroad, but there are some other Korean players that should have interesting years ahead of them!
Jo Hyeonwoo-Enjoy a Daegu FC farewell
Jo Hyeonwoo has been an instrumental part of Daegu FC’s rise from the K League 2 to become the best citizen club in the K League 1. San Cho (his heroic World Cup nickname) has won multiple goalkeeper of the year awards and his rock solid play between the sticks has propelled Daegu to their first KFA Cup title and a ticket to the AFC Champions League. Jo will hopefully christen Daegu’s new football arena with some more sparkling performances, see how well the club can do on their maiden Asian Champions League campaign, and listen to offers to go abroad in the summer 2019 transfer window. No Daegu FC fan will begrudge him for wanting to test himself in Europe but this spring will be all the more sweeter if the Daegu fans can get to see him in their new stadium before he departs. He will have struggles getting a work permit to play in England with the Brexit issues, but with the hype that came from his World Cup exploits and his military exemption, it’s plausible that other European clubs will come calling.
Song Bumkeun-Rebuild the Europe hype
Leading up to the 2017 U20 World Cup, Song was getting a lot of hype and offers from Germany after he had performed so well in the pre-tournament friendlies. After the tournament however, Song decided that the offers in Europe weren’t what he was looking for so he instead ended up signing for Jeonbuk Motors. He went from strength to strength, quickly winning the starting job and helping Jeonbuk to another K League title. He deputized well when Jo Hyeonwoo was injured at the Asian Games, and with a military exemption he is certainly now even more attractive than he was to European clubs just a year ago. It remains to be seen when he will receive an offer that he really wants to pursue, but being starting goalkeeper for the best club in Korea at 21 is quite something (although his starting job might be under threat with the arrival of Lee Beomyoung). His next goal might be to see if he can help Jeonbuk to the AFC Champions League title and make a senior debut in Paulo Bento’s national team. Hopefully it’s not a matter of if but when Song moves to Europe.
Kim Younggwon-Find a new club
Kim Younggwon, one of the redemptive stars of the World Cup, currently doesn’t play for a first-team club right now. Because of the CSL’s rules on foreign players, Kim Younggwon was demoted to the Guangzhou Evergrande reserves when the club signed a 5th foreign player after the World Cup. The rules state that you can only register 4 foreign players for your first team and name 3 in your matchday squad. Unfortunately, Kim was the odd man out and he’s since been playing for the reserves. There is currently a rumor that Galatasaray are interested in him so that would certainly be an upgrade if they’re committed to giving him consistent minutes. But really, even just playing in the K League for the first time in his career would be better than being a reserve in China.
Kim Minjae-Turn down the China Money
We all saw that rumor that came out about Kim Minjae verbally agreeing to a huge contract and transfer fee with Beijing Guoan. However, since the initial report, we have heard very little about it. On Dec. 20, the CSL kept their rules on foreign players intact so Kim Minjae wouldn’t be considered an Asian player in the CSL. Instead, Kim would have to fight for his place in the matchday CSL squad with Beijing’s other 3 foreign players. In the Asian Champions League, Kim would most likely be one of the first names on the team sheet because the AFC has a 3 foreign players plus 1 Asian player rule. Although the salary increase is astronomical, here’s hoping that Minjae looks at his starter status in the K League and ACL at Jeonbuk, bets on himself making his way to Europe in the future or even after this Asian Cup, and turns down the riches of the CSL.
Kim Jinya and Cho Yumin-Make Senior National Team debuts
Kim Jinya was a workhorse for the Asian Games squad at leftback, playing every match and impressing with his work rate and offensive thrust. However, that hasn’t been noticed by Paulo Bento just yet. The same goes for Cho Yumin. Cho was a reliable centerback at the Asian Games and he could certainly make the KNT if he keeps playing well for Suwon FC.
Jeong Taewook-Win a starting role at Jeju United
Jeong Taewook was used very sparingly in Indonesia and struggled to nail down a role in his rookie season with Jeju United. Hopefully 2019 is a bit more kind to him and he can find more minutes and get the chance to learn from Jeju’s veteran Australian centerback Aleks Jovanovic.
Lee Siyoung and Hwang Hyunsoo-Help their squads excel in the K League 1
Lee Siyoung will be in the K League 1 with Seongnam FC after their promotion this year and it’s always important for a promoted team to get off to a strong start to avoid a relegation fight. For Hwang Hyunsoo, he’s going to want to avoid a repeat of FC Seoul’s nightmare season that saw them finish 11th and have to win the K League Promotion-Relegation Playoff over Busan IPark.
Update: Lee Siyoung was loaned to Gwangju FC for the the 2019 season.
Kim Moonhwan-Win Promotion with Busan IPark
Paulo Bento has already named Kim to his first ever Asian Cup with the senior squad and it seems like he views Kim Moonhwan as a RB of the future for the national team. So for the 2019 season, Kim should make it his goal to win promotion out of K League 2. Busan came very close this past season, falling to FC Seoul in the playoff final. However, with Seongnam promoted and Asan Mugunghwa in a bit of a transition, the K League 2 could be there for the taking and Kim could help Busan to claim the title and guaranteed promotion.
Paik Seungho-Pursue a Loan Move
It’s been a rough transition away from La Masia for Paik Seungho. Although he signed a professional contract with Girona FC, another Catalan La Liga club, he has struggled for minutes with them. So far he has only made matchday squad appearances, unable to get off the bench in league play. While he can get minutes for the reserves, it’s in the third tier of the Spanish league. He should push for a move to first-team minutes with a loan move as soon as possible.
Update: Paik finally made his Girona first team debut today in the Copa Del Rey, so we’ll see if he can find a way to break into the squad in the next few months.
Kim Jungmin-Get promoted to Red Bull Salzburg
Kim followed in the footsteps of Hwang Heechan and moved to Austria to join Red Bull Salzburg. A promising central midfielder who draws comparisons to Ki Sungyeung, the next step for him will be to move up the ladder from FC Liefering to Red Bull Salzburg. Paulo Bento will be looking to replace Ki in the next qualifying cycle so Kim has to be working hard at the club level to get into the conversation.
Hwang Inbeom-Choose the Best Career Move
Hwang had a breakout year in 2018, helping Asan Mugunghwa rise to the top of the table in the first half of the season, winning the Asian Games, and then getting Daejeon Citizen to the playoffs to cap it all off. Especially at the Asian Games, the Taegeuk Warriors attack looked much more cutting and potent with him involved and Paulo Bento has given him a constant role in his midfield. This winter, Hwang has a big choice to make as there are multiple clubs after his signature. Clubs like Bochum, Hamburg, and Moncheongladbach from Germany, Deportivo Alaves from Spain, and even the Vancouver Whitecaps from MLS have all expressed interest. Hwang has to meet with the managers and technical directors to get an idea of how they plan to use him and help him develop as a player. As long as he chooses a club that is committed to playing him regularly, it’s the right move even if he goes to MLS. For those that doubt the quality of MLS, remember that Alphonso Davies was just sold to Bayern Munich, Tyler Adams has moved to RB Leipzig, and Miguel Almiron is rumored to be heading to the Premier League.
Lee Jinhyun-Get back to Europe
Lee got a loan to Austria Wien in the fall of 2017 and impressed in the first half of the season before injuries derailed his time in the Austrian league. At the end of his loan, he returned to Pohang Steelers and once again showed his potential with goals and assists. He is now a fringe member of the senior national team, on the standby list for the Asian Cup. If he starts off the season for Pohang Steelers strongly again, he should see if there are clubs in Europe interested in him once again.
Hwang Heechan-Get Hamburg to the Bundesliga
It sort of came as a surprise towards the end of the transfer window, but relegated Hamburg signed Hwang on a season-long loan and are right at the top of the 2.Bundesliga table. Hwang has been a regular starter in attack and if he can bag some goals and help Hamburg to promotion, a permanent transfer could be on the cards.
Lee Seungwoo-Stay Patient
It seemed just a few months ago that Hellas Verona wasn’t going to be the right place for Lee. After a season spent on the bench in Serie A last season amidst a relegation season, this season started the same for Lee. Even though he had been a impact sub at the Asian Games, Paulo Bento dropped him from the senior squad and he was still on the bench in Serie B. However, patience has paid off as Seungwoo is now starting on the left wing for Hellas, scoring a cool scissor kick goal, and could get right back to Serie A as Hellas are now in the playoff spots. So the goal for Seungwoo is to keep working hard and being patient because the time will come for him in Paulo Bento’s squad as well.
Update: I posted this on Patreon Friday night. By Sunday morning he had gotten a surprise call-up to replace the injured Na Sangho at the Asian Cup.
Na Sangho-Move to K League 1
The K League 2 MVP should really try to take the step up to the K League 1 and cut his teeth in the top league. There are rumors that Jeonbuk Hyundai want to sign him and if the champions are interested, other clubs will be as well. He might not get the hype that Hwang Inbeom gets, but for the past few years he’s been great for Gwangju FC in the second division. It’s time to try to make the step up!
Hwang Uijo-Keep the Momentum going
2018 was an amazing year for Hwang Uijo. He had been scoring goals for Gamba Osaka in the J League but almost nobody expected that he would be able to replicate that for the Korean national team. When he had played for the Taegeuk Warriors in the past he had really disappointed and there was a lot of criticism when he nabbed an overage spot for the Asian Games. However, the rest was history. He finished the tournament as top scorer and has kept scoring for Paulo Bento’s squad. If he builds upon his 2018 success at the Asian Cup, maybe a move to Europe could become a possibility. While the top leagues like the Bundesliga/La Liga/EPL could be a step too far, the 2.Bundesliga and Ligue 1 have become good homes for other Korean footballers so he should give himself a shot!
Anyone I missed? If you’ve got some wishes/goals for your favorite Korean player, put them in the comments below!
Photo Credits: TheKFA Facebook, Daegu FC Instagram, Gulf News