The Next Generation: Potential K League Transfers to Europe Part 2

We continue exploring some of the talented K League players who have the potential to make a move to Europe in the future. In case you missed it, Part 1 of this series featured Cho Gue Sung, Oh Hyeon Gyu, Yang Hyun Jun, Lee Han Beom, and Kim Ju Sung. Many more names to be featured ahead!

Seol Young Woo
Age: 24
Position: LB/RB
Club: Ulsan Hyundai
2022 stats: 34 apps (29 starts), 0 goals
Military service: pending

Kim Hak Beom once said this of Seol Young Woo: “He has great potential and is one of the top talents Korean football must develop.” SYW has quite the resume at the age of 24 – Young Player of the Year in the 2021 K League season, current K league champion, 2020 AFC Champions League champion, called up at the U17-U23 levels, and was one of the only bright spots in an otherwise dismal 2020 Olympic run. He’s pretty good at both defending and going forward, and as we know KNT LBs have usually erred on the side of good attacking and bad defending. My biggest worry for SYW is that he might not get a shot at military exemption now that he’s 24. I’ve never seen a FB make it to a squad as a wild card, and I’m not sure if Hwang Sun Hong or whoever the U23 manager is will rate SYW highly enough to take him over younger domestic FBs. I do think he’s better than our U21 RBs or LBs though. 

I’m not saying he should necessarily be our starting LB or RB, but I’ve always questioned why this guy has never at least gotten a callup to the senior KNT considering how weak our fullback position is. Bento himself has usually favored Yoon Jong Gyu (SYW pipped YJG to the Olympic squad last year). 

As usual, Namu wiki says the following: He mainly plays as a left fullback for Ulsan but since he is right footed, he can also play as a right fullback. However, when playing LB his cross timing is often delayed because he usually crosses with his right foot. This was a disadvantage that showed itself in the early stages of 2021 but recently has been attempting more left-footed crosses. Seol Young-woo’s greatest strength is his soccer intelligence. He is not remarkably physical or fast, but can beat opponents with dribbling technique in offensive situations and be in the right place at the right time to intercept balls or stop an opponent 1v1 on defense. His overlapping and crossing is good, and it’s difficult for opponents to grasp his attack pattern as he can cross with his left or cut inside to use his favored right foot. Perhaps owing to inexperience, he sometimes commits fouls or has lapses in judgment, but overall, his defending is excellent. 

As an aside I encourage everyone to explore the Namu wiki page for our players on your own as well – lots of good information.

Song Min Kyu
Age: 23
Position: LW/RW
Club: Jeonbuk Hyundai
2022 stats: 22 apps (15 starts), 3 goals
Military service: pending

Most of us will be familiar with Song Min Kyu as he is a fairly regular name on the KNT with 13 apps and 1 goal to his name since his international debut in 2021. Prior to the 2022 season, there were lots of rumors about a move to Europe – Udinese, Fenerbahce, and Celtic (it really is always Fener and Celtic…) were rumored to be interested but nothing materialized and SMK went on to have a somewhat decent season for Jeonbuk – had a dip in form early on but started to find it again in the latter half of the season. In early 2022 SMK did state that he wouldn’t consider any European transfers until after the 2022 Qatar World Cup – a choice that Lee Dong Gyeong might be regretting not taking. So there is still a chance he might take the leap abroad, but at the moment no rumors seem to be circulating.

Excellent at breaking through defensive lines and finding space, he is good at link up play and surprisingly strong in the air despite not being exceptionally tall. The tempo of his dribbling is irregular and unpredictable, which poses a real problem for defenders. He is strong physically as well, and does not get outmuscled in 1v1 duels. Because of his good balance and strength he is good at keeping the ball and withstanding pressure. Overall, he is evaluated as a well-rounded striker. Weaknesses include slow speed, poor defensive ability, and sometimes choking in front of goal, the latter of which was on display during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Jeonbuk fans have been saying that SMK must be used as a second striker, saying that he is not suited out wide, as Jeonbuk’s play style requires a winger to be more actively involved in defense. Still, towards the end of the season, he started to regain his former form and has recorded goals and assists in key matches. 

Um Won Sang
Age: 23
Position: RW
Club: Jeonbuk Hyundai
2022 stats: 33 apps (10 starts), 12 goals
Military service: pending

I love watching Um Won Sang play, because he brings something different to the table compared to other Korean footballers. Everyone who has watched him play knows what it is – blazing speed. And although speed is the one thing that comes to mind when you think of UWS, he’s not a one trick pony anymore. I used to think he had terrible first touch and finishing, but he’s improved quite a bit this season and is becoming a more well-rounded player. He’s been scoring more and has noticeably improved his technique compared to last year, while still being able to outrun pretty much anyone in the K League.

It has been theorized that when finalizing the 26 man squad for the World Cup, Bento chose Song Min Kyu over Um Won Sang for that last attacking midfield/winger spot. He ended up getting jersey #26 as well and was never subbed on during the whole tournament. Sometimes I wonder if a player like UWS would’ve been the move – someone who can bring a different dimension and at least create problems for a tired opposition in the 70th or 80th minute. Because I guarantee you against Uruguay or Ghana UWS could’ve made runs behind the opposing fullback with his pace alone.

UWS has yet to be linked to any European clubs, but I have a feeling he could make the move in the coming seasons. 

A winger whose strengths are his fast and agile movements enough to be nicknamed KTX [Korea’s high speed rail system] or Um-Salah. He can run 100m in under 11 seconds and knows how to outrun the defense with pace and good body balance. Even though his ability to withstand a physical fight is poor, he is smart enough to consistently draw fouls while maintaining possession of the ball. He has excellent stamina and is a great help to the team when switching between offense and defense. The only downside is his technical skill. His ball control can be clunky with poor first touch, and although he actively participates in defense, there are cases where he loses his man due to poor positioning.  However, when he moved to Ulsan Hyundai in the 2022 season, his coach turned many of these weaknesses around. Hong Myung Bo asked him to be more proactive and be more involved centrally rather than just helping move the ball forward through the half spaces, and through this process his connection with his teammates and his ability to score goals have improved. This season he has established himself as a top-notch winger in the K League. 

Kang Seong Jin
Age: 19
Position: LW/RW
Club: FC Seoul
2022 stats: 34 appearances (24 starts), 1 goals
Military service: pending

Kang Seong Jin is a 19 year old getting a lot of attention at FC Seoul. A tall, very technically gifted left footed RW who scored a brace on just his second cap for the KNT against Hong Kong, he is near the top of every list regarding the most exciting young talents of the K League. The Athletic even highlighted him in their “My Football Journey” series of young talents who could represent their country in 2026.

Personally, I think he’s very raw – a little more so than the other U21 players I’ve highlighted in this post. I say this because while there’s no doubt that KSJ turns heads with his skills, he still hasn’t refined them to the point where he can reliably beat defenders 1v1 or turn those skills into goals and assists. For example, he is very fond of the Arjen Robben maneuver of cutting in from the RW to take a shot, but hasn’t managed to land a goal doing this just yet. He’s close though – maybe next season? I’ve seen YouTubers compare him to Neymar or Lee Chung Yong. Clearly he isn’t going to be a starter for Barcelona or Bolton Wanderers (which the latter two were able to pull off around this age) next season, but I do hope he can develop into that kind of player in the future. 

In place of Namu Wiki and Youtube highlights, I recommend the Athletic article linked above which goes into much more depth than I can (and has good representative videos as well). 

Goh Young Jun 
Age: 21
Position: AM
Club: Pohang Steelers
2022 stats: 37 apps (31 starts), 6 goals
Military service: pending

GYJ’s most famous attribute is his height at only 168 cm, but he more than makes up for it with technique and creativity. He made his senior KNT debut against China in the EAFF and as of late has been a regular in the current U23 setup. I watched the friendlies against UAE this past month and he was one of our standout players. 

A typical technician, his dribbling, technique, and speed is of a high level. He covers a lot of ground, and it is impressive to see him penetrating left and right on offense. Although he is not a flashy player, he has an excellent understanding of space and has the ability to find his way out of tight spaces. His weakness is his physique – at less than 170 cm, he shows a lack of strength in physical battles. Also, his decision-making in front of goal needs improvement. However, he is still very young and is starting to overcome his height limitations and scoring ability.

I actually think that GYJ’s physicality isn’t that bad, at least against U23 UAE opponents. I didn’t see him muscled off the ball too often and when he did he got fouls out of it. But it was very entertaining to see the contrast between him and Oh Hyeon Gyu, who looks a full size bigger than most players on the pitch. Korean media has been comparing him to Shaqiri – I’m not a fan of comparing players to other players, but it’s not hard to see why this comparison gets made. 

Cho Hyun Woo
Age: 31
Position: GK
Club: Ulsan Hyundai
2022 stats: 36 apps (36 starts), 0 goals
Military service: exempt 

Everybody, even foreigners, knows CHW after his incredible displays in 2018. Call me delusional but I still hold out hope that CHW can really cement his place as our #1 as our first GK in Europe. For a goalkeeper 31 isn’t that young either. 

I think that when it comes to the World Cup, when Korea is up against opposition with heavy firepower, a reliable shot-stopper is more useful than a goalkeeper who’s better at build-up play like Kim Seung Gyu. I was so hopeful to have our first goalkeeper in Europe after Cho’s heroics in 2018, but alas. At least he’s killing it at Ulsan. His club performances alone and his military exemption should be enough grounds for him to transfer to bigger leagues, where I am CERTAIN he’d do well. He has the skills. But for some reason Korean keepers only go to the J League, and CHW himself has only been linked to Middle Eastern clubs. 

Cho Young Wook
Age: 23
Position: FW/LW/RW
Club: FC Seoul
2022 stats: 37 apps (27 starts), 6 goals
Military service: pending

I like Cho Young Wook a lot. He’s made a lot of contributions to our national team setups throughout the years, and he’s played in basically every major youth tournament (2017 U20, 2019 U20, AFC U23 championships) except for the two important ones – the 2018 Asian Games (because Son Heung Min and Hwang Ui Jo took his spots) as well as the 2021 Tokyo Olympics (also because of Hwang Ui Jo + Kwon Chang Hoon). He’s not flashy but pretty good for K League standards, and he’s only 23 with 4 caps to the senior NT. Unfortunately his position is extremely saturated. CYW has had European links here and there – I’ve seen him linked to HSV before the 2021 and 2022 seasons – but nothing seems to have materialized. 

Kim Moon Hwan
Age: 27
Position: RB
Club: Jeonbuk Hyundai
2022 stats: 28 apps (26 starts), 1 goal
Military service: exempt 

After a fairly solid display at the World Cup I won’t say too much about KMH – he didn’t have a good time at LAFC but I feel like he has it in him to succeed at SOME decent club in Europe. The question is, can he attract the attention of a team looking for a RB? KMH is probably not at the top of European scouts’ list of right backs – but like Cho Hyun Woo he also has military exemption and showed that he has what it takes to succeed internationally. A man can hope for our first RB in Europe since Cha Du Ri. 

In the first post / Part 1 I mentioned that I’d roughly divide this series into 1) the impending transfers, 2) the transfers that may happen down the line, and 3) the transfers that I really wish would happen but sadly have a lower chance of happening. We’ve finished #2, and now we’re moving into #3. So here are some players who I’ll be keeping an eye out for in the coming season. This section is admittedly heavily influenced by the positions we are lacking on the KNT.

Kwon Hyuk Gyu
Age: 21
Position: DM
Club: Busan I Park
2022 stats: 24 apps (19 starts), 0 goals (combining Gimcheon and Busan)
Military service: exempt 

The go-to defensive midfielder for the current U23 generation. Has military service out of the way and was a regular for Gimcheon Sangmu in the 2022 season. DMs never really stand out much in a game, but in the U23 games I’ve seen he was pretty good and not as error prone as JWY Sr. In that epic trainwreck against Japan where HSH made a very silly decision to play three attacking midfielders, when Kwon was subbed on, Korea stabilized defensively. Will we ever see a DM in Europe though? Especially coming from the second division of the K League? Probably not, but man would I love to see a DM boss it in the K League and earn a move abroad.

Kang Sang Yun
Age: 18
Position: DM
Club: Jeonbuk Hyundai
2022 stats: 15 apps (14 starts), 0 goals
Military service: pending

The youngest entry of anyone on this post, this kid is only 18 years old (born in 2004… wow I’m old). Yet he seems to have become Jeonbuk’s first choice defensive midfielder in the latter half of 2022, with 14 starting XI berths since May. 18 year olds in the K League are really rare. I have admittedly not seen him play before because he has no U20 or U23 caps yet (makes sense given his age), but definitely someone to keep an eye out for. I’m a little nervous though with Kim Geon Woong coming into Jeonbuk next season (he was the DM for the 2018 AG gold medal run)

Won Du Jae
Age: 25
Position: DM
Club: Ulsan Hyundai –> Gimcheon Sangmu
2022 stats: 21 apps (15 starts), 0 goals
Military service: starting military service as of 2023

In 2019-2020 WDJ looked like the answer to our defensive midfield woes. Sadly he regressed quite a bit in 2021 and 2022, with very lackluster showings for club and for our 2021 Olympic run. He is going to Gimcheon Sangmu this coming season – maybe he’ll find form once again.

Kim Tae Hwan 
Age: 22
Position: RB/RWB
Club: Suwon Bluewings
2022 Stats: 31 apps (23 starts), 0 goals
Military service: pending

Suwon’s starting RB/RWB for the past 2 seasons, he has gotten a lot of accolades and attention as a rising star. Very high workrate and stamina, good at going forward, pretty good defending at least at the K League level. The first time I saw him was in the ill fated AFC U23 tournament – HSH made the decision to play him as a RW, and it didn’t work out so well in retrospect. But he has done well for club and I hope he can continue to improve. 

Lee Jun Jae
Age: 19
Position: RB
Club: Gyeongnam FC
2022 stats: 32 apps (17 starts), 1 goal
Military service: pending

One of our U20 RBs playing for Gyeongnam FC. Haven’t seen much of him, but he’ll be sure to feature in future U20 tournaments. 

Hwang Jae Won
Age: 20
Position: RB
Club: Daegu FC
2022 stats: 34 apps (31 starts), 0 goals
Military service: pending

The starting RB for Daegu FC, he was the Young player of the month in 5/2022 beating out Yang Hyun Jun. I saw him play that one game against UAE U23 where we won 2-0. He was pretty decent. I will definitely keep an eye out on him next season. 

Lee Tae Seok
Age: 20
Position: LB
Club: FC Seoul
2022 stats: 27 apps (19 starts), 0 goals
Military service: pending

The eldest son of Lee Eul Yong, he has had a fairly successful 2nd season with FC Seoul. 

Lee Seung Hwan
Age: 19
Position: GK
Club: Pohang Steelers
2022 stats: 0 apps 
Military service: pending

Our current U20 and prior U17 goalkeeper – I hope his career turns out better than that of Song Bum Keun, Kim Dong Jun, Lee Gwang Yeon, or the other promising goalkeepers that we’ve had in the youth setups.

And that’s a wrap for the series. Are there any names I should’ve put up here but didn’t? Any players who you are especially looking forward to next season? Let us know in the comments.

About Jinseok 220 Articles
Diehard KNT fan

1 Comment

  1. Has there been any word whether or not if eligibility has been “extended” for the Asian Games due to COVID?

    That would suck a lot for the players that would meet the eligiblity requirements for 2022, but not 2023.

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