Fans of Lee Kangin like myself have been waiting for this moment ever since our little left-footed prodigy made his way to Spain from Korea. We’ve been watching him since his early days on a Korean reality show called 날아라 슛돌이 (Shoot-Dori on KBS Happy Sunday). We were enamored by his skill then and were all so proud when he moved to Valencia’s youth system in July 2011. He’s taken the necessary steps from Valencia’s youth squad to finally reaching the peak of the first team. Even then, he has still had some major obstacles in front of him, and they were becoming frustrating for the player himself and his fans to deal with.
When he joined the first team in late 2018, nobody doubted his talent and potential. However, under then club manager Marcelino, who ran a defensive counter-attacking 4-4-2 formation, there really wasn’t an ideal spot for the play-making Kangin. He struggled to contribute defensively and as a winger, and the #10 number and position that he truly desires was occupied by then captain Dani Parejo.
He still showed glimpses of his genius, even in a system that didn’t fit his style. Most of us thought that after his U-20 World Cup showing in 2019, where he took his Korean squad all the way to the final (losing to Ukraine 3-1) and also took home the Golden Ball (tournament MVP), that he would be on his way to being a consistent starter and getting sufficient minutes at Valencia. However, that just wasn’t the case, and after a few changes at manager and a very mediocre 2020 season by Valencia’s standards, many of his fans were left wondering if it was time to pack his bags and look elsewhere.
However, as things started to unravel at Valencia and the outlook started to look bleak for the club, the outlook for Kangin ironically, somehow improved. After murmurs on social media about the younger players (Kangin and Ferran Torres) having a rift with the veterans on the squad (Dani Parejo and Geoffrey Kondogbia) started to emerge, it really looked like the end was near for Kangin’s tenure at Valencia, especially with his good buddy Ferran being shipped out to Manchester City. Right here, right at this point in time, is where the tides began to change. I believe this is where Peter Lim put his executive foot down and said it is time for a shift.
There are many reasons for this decision obviously, and they all lead to Kangin getting everything he wants on the pitch for himself. At what cost though? Lim is currently having a fire sale, letting go of experienced and quite honestly good players left and right. Parejo? Gone. Coquelin? Gone. Rodrigo? Gone. Kondogia, Chereshev, and more are supposedly on the chopping block. Financially, the COVID19 pandemic has hit every soccer club pretty hard, and Valencia is no exception. Lim seems to want to go with the youth, and hired Javi Gracia (former Watford manager) to execute his plan. That plan seems to heavily center around Kangin. He gets to play the position he desires, he’ll probably get the #10 jersey he’s been coveting, heck they even gave the kid the captain’s armband for their last preseason match with Levante. This is what we all wanted, but now is it too much? Are we putting too much pressure on the shoulders of a 19 year-old? I really wish Kangin was in Takefusa Kubo’s position. The 19 year-old Japanese prodigy has the ideal situation. Signed with Real Madrid but he has been on loan the last two seasons to Mallorca and now Villareal to develop his skills. There’s no pressure on him to carry Real Madrid at all. Kangin doesn’t get that opportunity. He is going to sink or swim, right here, right now, as a 19 year old on a team in immense turmoil. Do I believe he has what it takes? Of course I do, I have the utmost confidence in his abilities. In saying that, he has not reached his peak as a player, and he is nowhere close. His conditioning and work rate need improvement, his defense is frankly speaking, a mess. Nobody can forget the two reckless challenges he was handed red cards for recently. Even so, there is just so much to like about the kid’s offensive abilities and they will be fully on display this upcoming season, which has me giddy to say the least.
The question does remain: will him being a focal point lead and translate to Valencia victories? That is the major question we are left with, and again Valencia is going to be relying heavily on their younger players, all pretty much unproven. If things don’t turn out the way people are hoping, the blame is going to fall squarely on the shoulders of Lim and Kangin. There is already a nasty divide between the fans and owner Lim. The hashtag #Limgohome is everywhere on social media when it comes to anything Valencia-related, and unfortunately since Kangin is Lim’s perceived “favorite”, Kangin gets a fair bit of that hate too. Winning, and winning often is really the only way to turn that around. It remains to be seen if that is going to happen and now with a different set of obstacles in front of Kangin, he’ll have to rise to the challenge as he has done time and time again, to prove he is deserving of his present situation. This will just be the first time he actually gets to try and prove that on the pitch for Valencia he has the goods. As a fan of Kangin, that is a bet I would be willing to go all in on.