Something that has bothered me since the 2018 World Cup is why Cho Hyun Woo, probably our standout player from that tournament, never moved to Europe. How is it that to this day we’ve never had a goalkeeper in a major European league? I say major European league because in 2009 we did have Kwon Jung Hyeok play for the Veikkausliiga (Finnish first division), and apparently played pretty well there.
Cho Hyun Woo has spoken directly about this topic recently, once in an interview on Naver Sports, and once on Lee Chun Soo’s YouTube channel (which by the way is actually super informative – highly recommend subscribing to him). Here’s what we learned from his snippet with Lee Chun Soo. Most of the points discussed below are also discussed in the Naver interview.
After 2018, there was undoubtedly lots of hype around CHW. Several high profile Korean footballers were singing his praises. Lee Woon Jae said that CHW had already surpassed him and will get many great offers from different teams. Kim Byung Ji (his idol) labeled CHW the best Korean GK in World Cup history. Son Heung Min said he would 100% succeed in Europe. Cha Bum Keun called him the MVP of Korea’s tournament. Jørn Andersen, previously the manager of Incheon United, recommended CHW to Jurgen Klopp (although CHW is uncertain how accurate this is).
So what happened? LCS suspects it was a transfer fee issue. CHW corroborates this. He was willing to take a pay cut to transfer, because SOMEONE has to go to Europe and succeed so future generations can follow. His family agreed that for the sake of Korean football they will all be willing to move to Europe – even with two young kids at the time. Sadly he was too valuable to Daegu and there were too many disputes with the transfer fee. The exact clubs that were interested and submitted offers were not discussed.
This issue isn’t discussed any further in this interview. It raises some questions – did Ulsan pay more than European clubs were willing to? Did the hype die down soon after 2018? How low or how high were the transfer fees? (knowing Korean clubs being cheap AF and how Busan I Park REPEATEDLY TURNED DOWN CELTIC’S OFFERS FOR DEFENSIVE MID KWON HYUK KYU UGH BECAUSE THEY WANTED MORE MONEY, Daegu FC was probably turning down perfectly reasonable offers…) If anyone knows the details please comment!
Another interesting question is posed by Lee Chun Soo: why is it that Korean goalkeepers don’t move to Europe? Per CHW: There’s no opportunities.
LCS counters: But Kwon went to Finland. Can’t anyone who speaks English and tries hard enough to adapt to the culture play in Europe?
Cho suggests that by the time you’ve gone through elementary middle and high school and already made it as a pro, it’s too late to transfer to Europe as a GK. He says it’s bests to make the move in middle school or even earlier. But for even this, opportunities are hard to come by. He suggests that we need a successful goalkeeper in Europe to encourage others and show others, both Koreans and European clubs alike, that yes, it is possible for Korean GKs to succeed abroad. Upon retirement CHW wants to start a GK academy that can create those opportunities, for young Korean GKs to sign for Europe at an early age.
Another interesting point that LCS brings up is that a lot of parents probably think that if their kid is going to play GK they’d rather not have them play football at all – after all parents probably want to see their kid scoring goals.
To this CHW counters that there are ways to make flashier, cooler, and more “attack minded” saves. Rather than just making plain saves. He doesn’t intentionally do this at all times, but sometimes the opportunities arise, as Kim Young Kwon commented after 2018 that the shots from German players came at CHW such that it made his saves look incredibly acrobatic. He wants to spread enthusiasm for the position across the country.
And LCS, like a proud father speaking to his son, says that these are incredible ideas and that he would like to see CHW make lasting changes on the Korean goalkeeping scene.
There also seems to have been a transfer saga between LCS and CHW where LCS, working for Incheon United at the time, tried to sign CHW after 2018 and make him the club’s highest paid player. CHW was flattered but turned it down respectfully – and when LCS learned about Ulsan’s offer he sent his apologies to CHW for making such a weak offer (LOL). Incheon was also skeptical that a big star like CHW would come to Incheon, but had plans to let him go as soon as an offer from Europe came in. Unlike Daegu FC…
LCS then laments that a citizen’s public club cannot compete with a chaebol-funded one. This made me think that perhaps it’s no surprise at all that teams like Jeonbuk, Ulsan (Hyundai), and Pohang (POSCO) are at the top of the K League table.
Other interesting tibits:
CHW has made the K League best 11 six years in a row. This speaks to how much he’s dominated the K League GK scene.
Re: not playing in Qatar. He has no regrets because he tried his best.
Re: the DF line against Ghana. There was some controversy on Ghana’s first goal where the defensive line was too low. This makes it hard for the GK to come out and take care of the ball because they would just run into their own defenders. This was actually a choice decided on by the players themselves. They tried it out in training and felt that it was better than keeping the defensive line higher. But they only had one week to prepare for this, and CHW wonders if they could’ve prevented the goal with more preparation.
Re: the game against Germany. Kim Jin Hyeon told CHW that he better wear a hat and a mask when he gets back to Korea. At first he didn’t but as soon as he hopped on the KTX home from the Incheon airport he realized that he probably should have, as the passengers and everyone at the station went wild. The conductor of the train even came up to him scolding him for not letting them know that he was coming because he did they would’ve made preparations. All along the way he got fans mobbing him.
At this rate it may be too late for CHW to move to Europe. Not because of his age but because the hype around him has calmed down even though I think he’s every bit as good as he was compared to 2018 and arguably a better GK than Kim Seung Gyu. But we do have a GK who just signed for Fenerbahce’s academy from Jeonbuk – maybe he will be our first GK playing for a major European league?