I mentioned it briefly in Evelyn’s ‘Midweek Listings’ post, but I suppose it’s worth mentioning again. Hwang Hee-chan has officially signed his first professional contract, but with Austrian-club Red Bull Salzburg, not Pohang Steelers.
The fact that Hwang signed overseas wasn’t terribly surprising. In our K League podcast, Jinseok mentioned that it looked likely that Hwang would move abroad. But the nature of his move has generated a bit of controversy here.
— FC Red Bull Salzburg (@RedBullSalzburg) December 16, 2014
Basically, Hwang went out on his own and signed the deal with RB without the knowledge (or consent) of Pohang. Pohang stated that they learned about the deal by seeing articles on the internet. The club is, understandably, quite upset with how things have transpired. Since Hwang had not signed a pro-contract with them, there is virtually nothing they can do about the situation. The club’s only claim comes from the fact that he was part of their youth team setup. I’m not entirely clear on the legal specifics, but I imagine (as said previously) that the situation is similar to when European clubs (read: English clubs) snap up young players from other teams’ youth systems before they sign professional deals. A small fee will be paid to Pohang, and that will be it. It most likely will certainly not be what Hwang is likely worth.
The time since Salzburg announced the deal + Pohang’s statement about it, has not revealed too much new information, but the general feel here seems to be widespread condemnation for Hwang, mainly with regard to how he did the deal. ‘Rash’ seems to be a common theme among the articles written here. They tend to portray Hwang as a young player with dreams of Europe who simply jumped at the first chance he got, regardless of whether it was a good choice or if it was done properly.
The other result of Hwang’s choice, and a more concrete consequence, is that he will be subjected to the K League’s five-year ban for not signing his first professional contract with a K League club. Hopefully it is not something that will affect his career much, but you never know. A best-worse case scenario is one where Hwang fails to make it with Salzburg, and spends the next five years bouncing around smaller lower league clubs in Europe. Perhaps he could find himself in a similar situation as Sagan Tosu’s Kim Min-woo. A player who went on trial with PSV (while a player with Yonsei University) only to fail and find himself on the outs back home. Kim’s story seems to be turning out okay, but there are no guarantees.
Personally, I have conflicting thoughts about the move. It is not my place to tell a talented, young player that he should not move to Europe and should stay in Korea, but I do feel a tinge of regret that Hwang opted to depart before he ever really showed the country what he could do. The league (and Pohang) are in need of quality attackers, and Hwang could have been a wonderful addition. As a fan of the league, I always lament the fact that so many are so quick to try and get away from it (this is probably worth a separate post).
Salzburg seems a decent choice of team for Hwang to “get his feet wet” with. It’s away from the high-pressure, bright-lights of the bigger leagues and that will hopefully give him time to bed in (and play). Assuming Hwang does well during his initial time with FC Liefering (where he’ll initially go), Salzburg does offer the chance for Hwang to possibly experience European football, as Salzburg will virtually always finish in one of Austria’s European spots.
Hopefully everything will work for Hwang Hee-chan and for Pohang.