Last week, FIFA barred Barcelona prospect Lee Seung-woo from playing for the renowned La Masia academy team due to a technicality in an obscure FIFA article dealing with international transfers. Barcelona is expected to challenge that ruling, but last weekend all three of the Korean youth players were kept out the lineup for their respective teams. As it turns out, FIFA has recently extended that ban for the Koreans and 2 other international prospective academy players.
They aren’t household names (yet), but who exactly are these Korean youngsters? They are training in the world’s most prestigious football academy, so it’s tantalizing to imagine that someday, they may become the first Koreans to suit up for FC Barcelona’s first team- provided Barca officials can figure out a way overturn the FIFA ruling.
The focus of today’s post will be around our first and oldest La Masia player, Paik Seung Ho. He plays with the Cadete A team as a center mid- typically the RCM in Barca’s 4-3-3.
Profile as of October 2014:
Juvenil A; Central Midfielder; 178 cm; Born March 1997
Strengths: “Controlling the game”, passing, vision, set piece delivery, ball control / first touch
Weaknesses: I would say “the physical aspect” but this guy has grown a ton since when he first started playing for Barca. In his most recent highlights he wins headers, stays firm when tackled, and even put in some slide tackles of his own.
Ultimate role model: Andres Iniesta
Paik was the first out of our three to enroll in FC Barcelona’s youth academy, joining the Infantil A squad in the 2010-2011 season. Back in the spring of 2010, he was insanely hyped – he had recently come from a U14 tournament that left Barcelona and Real Madrid vying for his signature. Multiple news sources declared the same statement, word for word: “Barcelona coaching staff admit they have never seen a player with so much ability at his age since Lionel Messi.” (it’s certainly typical news-source embellishment but hey he’s obviously very highly rated so..)
Upon arriving in Barcelona with his parents (his father is an athletic professor at the Seoul National University), Paik was converted from a striker to a midfielder. His performances were quite outstanding, to say the least. A number of his matches are on youtube. Here’s an excerpt:
And the very first video of him that ever came out:
At the end of an impressive first season with the Infantil A squad, he signed a five year contract that would keep him at the club until he was 19 years old. Which is, by the way, a huge deal – five year deals, even for youth players, is extremely rare.
2015 February update: I am now informed that 5 year deals are not sanctioned or recognized by Fifa – the maximum for non professional players is apparently three years, which explains why Paik is due to sign a professional contract very soon.
Paik’s second season, with Cadete B was even more successful, having started nearly every game and scored quite a few goals. In fact, after a mere 12 matches into the season, he scored seven goals, all seven of them coming from his last seven matches. He finished the season scoring 12 goals having started 23 out of 26 matches – the team’s 4th highest scorer. Members of Blaugranas.com, the Barcelona board, lauded him as a key figure in Cadete B’s success and drew comparisons to Andres Iniesta. This past summer he captained the Cadete A team in a tournament held in Korea, where he stated himself that Iniesta is his greatest role model.
This current season, Paik’s third with Barcelona, has been his most difficult yet. With the arrival of French starlet Theo Chendri and the coach’s occasional decision to play right back Josimar Quintero in central midfield, Paik has seen limited minutes so far. By limited, I mean that he’s started less than half the games so far. An article I read on totalbarca.com, however, indicates that not all hope is lost. The players who emerged from La Masia as first team starters all went through hardships and limited playing time due to competition. Looking at Sergio Busquets’ youth career, you wouldn’t think he was bound to become one of the world’s top defensive midfielders; on the other hand, Bojan Krkic smashed La Masia records and scored way more goals than Messi did. Yet he is struggling now because he did not know the meaning of failure and when he was benched for a while, his confidence hit rock-bottom. Perhaps Paik will emerge from his challenge stronger than ever. Only time will tell.
Jinseok’s Update nearly 2 years later:
Paik Seung Ho’s progress since 2010 has been very interesting. It’s had its ups and downs but the man himself seems to be overcoming those challenges and thriving in the Barcelona system. An article came out very recently regarding Paik’s call up to the U19 NT, despite the fact that he’s still just 17: http://sports.media.daum.net/sports/soccer/newsview?newsId=20140925150005651
There are two takeaways here: first, the U19 coach holds him in very high regard. In Kim Sang Ho’s words, Paik controls the game extremely well for someone his age and his passing and vision is very good, making Paik competitive enough to start for the team. His skillset apparently fits very well with the passing football the team plays.
The other main takeaway, which I find really reassuring, is that despite being banned from league play, all this time Paik has had a physical coach helping him to refine his technical skills and fitness. I think we can safely assume that Lee and Jang have also been making the most of their time.
Hello everyone, my name is Jinseok Yang and I am a
high school senior from Dublin, Ohio college sophomore in New Haven, Connecticut. Before I finish here, I would like to thank Roy Ghim for giving me this opportunity. I’ve followed this blog since it was created, and I’m honored to be writing articles for one of the largest, most frequently updated Korean Football blogs in existence. Look forward to articles about Lee Seung Woo and Jang Gyeol Hee, the two other youth players, next week!