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Koreans Abroad Season Recap

Korean Footballers Abroad stops by to contribute a season recap for the Taeguk Warriors playing in other countries.

So the season finally comes to a close and I'll do my best to recap the players I track and some that I keep looser tabs on.  Despite the immense disappointment at a poor World Cup showing and also the distraction of the Asian Cup, the year was pretty successful for most of the players and is hopefully a sign of better things to come.  I'll do my best to rank performances from best to worst as well:


Ki Sung Yueng - We saw last season that he could carry a poor team but this year we saw him elevate his game to a whole higher level and show the influence he could have on a good team.  Things started off well for Ki as he scored the first goal across the Premier League (and first in a Swansea shirt) and helped defeat Manchester United.  Over the first half of the season, he was predominantly the deepest of the defensive midfield pair, but unlike under Laudrup, Ki pushed forward a lot more and helped guide Swansea to a strong start.

After the Asian Cup and the arrival of Cork, Ki moved to at first the 8 role (the more advanced of the defensive midfield pair) and then to the side of a midfield diamond.  While his influence decreased in the diamond and despite fatigue from the additional duties of AC/WC and nagging knee injury, Ki's goals went up and his contributions helped propel Swansea to their highest point total and table position in the PL.

The biggest question now will be his desires for next season.  Certainly his stellar year will have big clubs interested but would he accept being a bench option at first like his former teammate Bony?  And certainly Swansea looked like they could challenge for even greater heights next season with a quality addition or two.  That said, Swansea has a lot of CM/DM players and while the diamond helped get most of their best ones onto the pitch at the same time, perhaps a return to the preferred 4-2-3-1 may make keeping them all a bit of a luxury, especially if the fee is high.  For now, I expect Ki to stay as there's a lot of risk in moving, between minutes or managerial uncertainty.


Park Joo Ho - What an excellent year he had.  He looked to have great chemistry along the left with Koo early in the season, but soon shifted to defensive midfield role in anticipation of the Asian Games to get Kim Jin Su onto the ptich.  This paid off with military exemption and the continuation of his Bundesliga career past this season.  That said, once he returned to Mainz, his shortcomings at DM became pretty clear as though he had the defensive instincts to cover the middle of the pitch well, he made some poor decisions going forward.  Fortunately, after the Asian Cup, Park Joo Ho started to play more and more at LB and he found his rhythm quickly and was one of the top LBs in the league.

While not particularly flashy, he rarely lost the ball and handled opponents' pressing incredibly well.  And his footballing instincts flourished in his natural position where he didn't have to think and made so few mistakes.  And he handled a variety of attackers with aplomb, rarely getting caught out or beaten.

Park Joo Ho had his contract extended for another two years at Mainz.  And it would be hard to imagine that he would leave given his comfort with the team and the presence of his pals Koo and Okazaki.  But his former manager Tuchel is in Europa-qualified Dortmund now, and Okazaki may be sold this summer and the terms of his contract were based on when he was an unproven Swiss League import, not a proven Bundesliga starter.  And clearly Mainz struggled with the terms of his contract as intent to exercise their option was expressed long before it was signed.  I expect Park Joo Ho to either be at Mainz (more likely) or Dortmund (far less likely) next year.


Kim Jin Su - Another player who earned exemption at the Asian Games, Kim Jin Su got thrown into the deep end after missing the World Cup due to a serious ankle injury (IIRC).  He came in fearless (claiming that he would learn German (didn't quite make it)) and played like a perfect match to Hoffenheim's all-out approach.  He showed immense amount of talent with incredible pace, some good passing and intelligence and a willingness to run all 90 minutes.  Unfortunately, a concussion and the heavy load placed on him, particularly with his first season adjusting to the rigors of the Bundesliga, put up a huge wall at the end of the season that he could not work through.  But his future is very bright and its no accident that he was on many internet sites' best young player lists.

Hopefully next year at Hoffenheim, and certainly I doubt a move would happen after his rut and his just starting at Hoffenheim, he learns how to manage his positionining better, particularly against the fast attackers.  Kim Jin Su's pace may have allowed him to maraud freely at lower levels, but defending speedsters like Aubameyang requires a discipline that he still needs to learn.


Lee Chung Yong - Unfortunately, most of his great perforamances were not televised but his strong performances at Bolton had some there thinking that he deserved player of the year despite leaving in the January transfer window (and missing time due to AC).  While he was so-so under Freedman, when Lennon arrived, Lee Chung Yong flourished and he was able to impress enough scouts that he transferred back to the Premier League to Crystal Palace despite suffering a broken leg at the Asian Cup.

Unfortunately, his recovery took quite a while and he only had a few short cameos afterwards, and even worse, his first one was marked by an error that resulted in an opposition goal.  But hopefully a full pre-season with his new team will help him have a bigger impact at the PL next year.


Son Heung Min - His frustrating inconsistency continued and it appeared at the end that carrying the offensive load for KNT for WC/AC was too much for him as his season ended weakly despite a strong start.  He had so many strong moments, including being the major force behind Leverkusen's CL qualification and his hat trick vs Wolfsburg.  But in between those and with increasing frequency as the season wore on, he had matches where he was either poor or invisible.  It seems in particular (perhaps with a bit missing from his pace from fatigue) that the Bundesliga had figured him out vs the CL where he had far mroe success.  BL teams started to sit back on him to neutralize his pace or dared him to dribble past where he'd usually cough up the ball.

He needs to develop more aspects of his game if he wants to fully utilize all the talents available to him.  Compared to his teammate on the other flank, Bellarabi, Son struggles to consistently beat defenders when it counts.  And some of that is attributable to his tactical awareness where he still struggles for consistency and faster decision making.

That said, his potential flashed more than a few times what he's capable of and perhaps a bigger team will take a chance on that.  But his poor second half probably minimized any major chance of moving though Leverkusen is a good place to be with CL football and a coach that trusts him and plays a fast-pace style that suits Son well.  But it's up to Son to develop himself into the player that he can be.


Koo Ja Cheol - He started off well with being a bright light during EL qualifiers but injuries and inconsistency continued for much of rest of the season.  Fortunately his contributions were far better than his negatives this season than last but certainly Mainz must still wonder why they paid so much for him.  The change to Schmidt mid-season was a boon to Koo, as he could leverage his pressing skills and aggressive play.  And he started to find some form again before missing the last couple weeks with injury.

Koo is entering his prime age and still he's without a true position, though he's done best now at Mainz and Wolfsburg as a non-traditional winger.  He's still shown a good nose for goal and his pressing skills are a good fit for the modern German game.  Yet Koo has yet to even match his form from his first time at Augsburg now quite a few years gone and it is starting to feel like this may be what kind of a player that he is.  A good enough player for a good enough side.


Hong Jeong Ho - Injuries have always been a problem for Hong Jeong Ho both for club and country and he missed huge chunks of the season to a persistent back problem.  But his health came around at a good time when Augsburg needed him to step up and he showed the potential that had him given so much NT responsibilities so young.  Augsburg and Weinzierl were able to coax the physical aggression that seemed to have disappeared from his game and he showed an aerial presence on both ends of the pitch, though sadly not quite finding the scoring touch for set pieces.

Hong Jeong Ho still has a long ways to go, in particular with regards to eliminating the mental lapses that were fortunately rarely punished (at least for Augsburg... sadly too strongly punished with KNT).  With the additional challenge of European football, there should be plenty of opportunities to improve his game next season at Augsburg.


Kim Bo Kyung - Really had a first half to forget, where he was once suggested as being one of Mackay's first buys after his pending Crystal Palace appointment, to suddenly being caught up in a awful controversy where Mackay was caught sending racists texts about Kim Bo Kyung.  The first problem was that it appeared that Kim Bo Kyung turned down Celtic for PL football and suddenly had nowhere to go when Mackay lost the offer.  Second was that after a season of rarely making the bench and being blamed for a horrible cup loss, Kim Bo Kyung signed for that same racist manager in January.

Fortunately, it seems the Wigan fans warmed to Kim Bo Kyung quickly and it seems few blamed him when they got relegated at the end of the season.  Kim Bo Kyung only signed a short term contract and as a free agent, he will be able to pick and choose where he goes next.  It would seem that his multiple MOTM performances probably didn't go unnoticed and that the Championship is a logical destination next year.  Or perhaps he will go abroad to Germany where there was rumored interest in the summer.  I expect the former, maybe even at a place like Bolton where a positive predisposition meets financial reality/need to play.


Suk Hyun Jun - I really didn't expect to be writing about him again after going to the desert.  But somehow, he found his way back to Portugal where he did a surprisingly decent enough job by all accounts.  And some of his goals were real highlight worthy videos.  But my limited watching seemed to show some of the same faults... such as lack of aerial presence, and inability to impact games without scoring.  Suk seems to want to move all the time so may manage to escape again, but he's likely to suit up again for Vitoria Setubal next season after helping save them from relegation..


Yun Suk Young - It was a very frustrating year for him as he started off the season poorly, missing preseason with an ankle injury and having a formation designed around him as a wingback get scrapped one week in.  But when Yun Suk Young finally got a chance to start, he excelled against Liverpool and got the attention of the commentators with his effort and pace.  Unfortunately, Yun got injured and it seems Yun never quite got back to 100% for the rest of the year

Injuries afforded him a return to the starting lineup in February and he did well enough though with some embarassing mistakes.  And again as he started to get decent again, he suffered a concussion and would return to the bench.  And it was a mixed bag for the rest of the year with some good performances and some horrific ones.

I expect him to be a more significant member of QPR's squad next season as they return to the Championship.  Perhaps there he can find both a run of good health and good form and find the promise that had us so excited during the '12 Olympics.


Ji Dong Won - Really got caught in a bad situation in the beginning of the year, where his continuous health problems came at the worst moments when Dortmund really needed a striker to step up after the bust purchases of Immobile and Ramos.  Certainly one wonders as well what would have happened if he had stuck around rather than return to Augsburg in January given the likely exit of Immobile this summer.  But either way, he ends up in Europa League next season which should grant some minutes to find his form.

Because a move back to Augsburg was not the panacea to his problems.  He still suffered far too many muscular injuries and really lacked the aggression that marked his improved play in his prior run at Augsburg.  He never seemed to get the confidence that an attacking player needs regardless of his position.  His touch never got that bad but his fitness seemed off and never got on the page with his teammates.  With Augsburg doing so well, it may result in quite a bit of change as they prepare for Europa League and the probable departure of players like Bobadilla.  A full pre-season and the aforementioned quantity of minutes across 3 competitions will provide ample amount of opportunity for Ji to find his Augsburg form again next season.


Other players (in no particular order)

There are a variety of other players outside senior and top tier football that I do my best to keep tabs on a weekly basis.  And no, I don't keep super close tabs on the Spanish kids who can't play matches or are just too young.  Maybe next year.

Ryu Seung Woo (Leverkusen on loan to Eintracht Braunschweig) - He had a lot of promise at his loan at Eintracht Braunschweig and did well but soon a shift in formation to a single striker meant that he was on the margins as he was perceived to not be physical enough on top (which makes sense) but also lacking on the defensive end to play a midfield role.  And then he tore his knee which more or less knocked him out for the rest of the season.  Given Leverkusen's quantity of attackers (and none looking on their way out), I expect another loan for him... and probably to the BL2 unless he has a strong preseason at Leverkusen.

Park Jung Bin (Karlsruher SC) - A kid that always appears to be close to making it, first as a promising Wolfsburg reserve player, then at Greuther Furth where they got relegated and never used him all that much, and then at Karlsruhe where he struggled to even make the squad... and did well in his performance but disappeared again as they barely lost to Hamburg in the promotion/relegation playoffs.  Not sure if he's hurt or not but he will hope to take his small steps towards regular first team action next season.

Kim Young "Kiu" (Almeria B on loan to Real Aviles) - A promising player who was soon forgotten in a relegation fight for Almeria B despite cameos for their first team, he found himself loaned out to Real Aviles in January where his performances were reportedly marked by good effort and trickiness but little offensive impact on matches and soon found himself out of the squad and back early to Almeria.  He'll look to start over, perhaps with a better chance being devoted to B rather than splitting between A/B squads as his previous Almeria stint.

Kim Woo Hong (Deportivo de la Coruna)- Like his former teammate Kiu, Kim Woo Hong also left Almeria but he went on a permanent basis to Deportivo where he switched to left midfielder and started to have some good success.  Unfortunately, injuries seem to have had a negative impact and he's struggled a bit for playing time since but he's been part in and out of the squad as they are still in the relegation playoffs.  Hopefully he gets fit and gets a more regular role.

Jeong Chung Geun (Nantes) - He's played a prominent role for FC Nantes' CFA team as he found his role around the winter as a second forward / 10.  He started many of their matches though he's often one of the earlier subs out.  As he matures as a player hopefully he gets a look with the senior team soon though Nantes' transfer ban is soon ending.

Kim Shin (Lyon) - It appears that he suffered some injuries that have slowed down his acclimitization to French football but he's done well in his limited opportunities.  We'll see how many more opportunities he may get next year.

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