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Koreans Abroad Second Half Recap

(image via express.co.uk)
By @KoreaFootAbroad

A fairly fairly meh first half got followed up by an even worse second half.  While there is already a bit of chatter with rumors pointing to a hasty exit for both Son, LCY and Suk, I think some are fairly unfounded at this point, but I suspect many of the other guys will be at new homes next season.

It went bad even for many of the kids as far as I can tell but that will have to wait for a later post/update while I dig around the internet.

Tomorrow, Korea faces Spain in a friendly as Spain look to prepare for Euros.  Given the presence of two Spanish teams in the CL final, perhaps we may get a bit of a mixed Spanish squad but even that should be enough to terrify most teams, let alone a KNT squad without key members like Koo.  Kickoff is at 10:30 ET on ESPN3 so a rare opportunity to see KNT without risking the illegal streams and against a quality opponent.

Koo Ja Cheol -- I'll start with the brighest of the bunch as Koo Ja Cheol's strong season continued with key contributions in so many roles.  Really everything I had said in the midseason recap stayed true in the second half, if not more so.  For a team that struggled to score, Koo's eight goals and four assists were critical in helping free Augsburg from the relegation zone that they had been stuck in most of the season.  His positional flexibility that was useful in the first half turned into a necessity in the second with so many players hurt.  Koo spent most of the last few weeks out wide or deep, where he's less comfortable but still provided reliable quality.

It was good also to see Koo mature on the pitch as well.  While he still had a few outbursts at the referee and some matches where he wound himself up too much, Koo was far better at pacing himself, lasting the full 90 for six out of seven last matches before breaking his foot and providing a consistency to his game that he hadn't shown in years.  The aforementioned broken foot suffered in second to last match was the one downer as it would have been good to see him against Europe's best for KNT friendlies, but Koo has gotten back on the right path and will be looking to build on his impressive season.

The biggest question for the summer will be if Weinzierl will call for Koo to join him at Schalke (where Weinzierl looks to be all but set to take over as manager).  Heidel (Schalke's sporting director) did sell Koo while at Mainz so it's far from a certainty, but it seems a high possibility to take Koo who has worked so well in his system, is well trusted, and unlike some of the other players on this list, also has a good handle on German.

Hong Jeong Ho -- Despite the addition of some new defenders, HJH continued to do well but he struggled with health yet again.  Though he quickly suited up again, it felt out of necessity with the injuries that Augsburg suffered and it seemed he never was at full strength, struggling both with a lack of quality and some glaring mistakes, with one particular one (slipping and losing the ball for eventual goal) that looked to be the straw that broke the back of Weinzierl's confidence in HJH, who ended up becoming third choice for the remainder of the season.

Despite this HJH continued to contribute, as Weinzierl tried several tricks to kick start their way out of relegation, such as using a five man back line.  And there were flashes of the good HJH with only a few errors.  With Weinzierl leaving, HJH will have to decide his next path.  I could see him deciding that his health continues to be too much of a problem, and having to work up from 3rd choice with a new manager might be too much vs. the large amounts of money he could earn going to an AFC club (e.g. China).  And there were rumors of that during the year.

But inside HJH is maturing and still improving as a player, and it seems that he should try at least to play one more season at Augsburg, with still two years before WC to recover from any further career derailment.

Ji Dong Won -- Reliable but unspectacular over second half, Ji was often the 12th or 13th man... frequently coming on but usually too late to have a large impact.  His playing out wide limited his contributions in a system where Weinzierl wants his widemen to either play defense or be independent attackers, Ji could do the former but really struggled to have an impact in attack (but to be fair so did most of the squad).  Throw in his continuous injuries causing him to miss a month or so, and he really didn't take advantage of the opportunities that were there, in an Augsburg side that desperately needed help in attack.

I don't think Ji has too many choices for next season besides digging in and trying to earn minutes next season at Augsburg.  There will be a fair amount of turnover and Augsburg runs a fairly lean squad so Ji will have his chances but hopefully he will take them fully next season.

Park Joo Ho -- When Durm started to return fit and looking no worse for wear, things looked bad for PJH, and it seemed a merciful end to the season a couple months later when he suffered a bone bruise that effectively ended the season with months to go.  Despite a strong winter camp from PJH, health continued to escape him and unlike the first half, Tuchel had more than enough alternatives.  This left PJH so rarely used in the squad.

While PJH certainly was aware of this possibility when he signed, especially after the deal getting done only after Durm was hurt, it must have been frustrating to be on the sidelines of a very good Dortmund season and a deep Europa League run. 

That said he's probably being paid better than he could elsewhere in Europe, Dortmund will need depth ahead of CL, and the logjam at FB could get some changes in the summer so I'd put his chances of going to a smaller Bundesliga side at 50/50.

Kim Jin Su -- KJS appeared to be the biggest victim when Stevens resigned and Nagelsmann took over, going from semi-regular starter to not even being in the squad most of the rest of the season.  Certainly, things went terribly downhill when he struggled vs Bayern Munich but he's not the only defender to have that problem, but for KJS, that signaled the end of his minutes on the pitch.  Originally, Nagelsmann wanted more attacking out of his wide defenders, initially starting off in a back five with a converted attacker playing wingback, and then settling in with four or five in back, with Toljan for most of the rest of the season.

Certainly, with Hoffenheim playing well and escaping relegation, there was an element of not wanting to fix what wasn't broken.  Yet Nagelsmann kept tinkering with the defensive lineup and KJS was nowhere to be seen.  Perhaps it was lack of communication skills that kept KJS out, but it was a bit bizarre to see him not even make the squad at all.

It will be interesting to see what happens to KJS.  He's shown plenty in his time at Hoffenheim of the type of player he is, but the fact that struggling Hoffenheim didn't even have him in the squad should be a red flag to any potential suitors.  His future is one of the cloudiest and we've seen other talented Korean fullbacks fall through the cracks too, but I suspect it will be hard to gauge until further into the transfer window.

Suk Hyun Jun -- It looked like a dream move to Porto after such a good half season at Vitoria Setubal starting off well and fans applauding his industry and desire but soon the turmoil in the top meant a placeholder manager who quickly started leaving Suk on the margins.  Combine that with the emergence of other attackers like Andre, and Suk's ideal situation of staying in Portugal where he'd shown his quality and for a likable club like Porto quickly went sour.

With a new manager, Suk might have a clean slate to start with, but Olympics might be a big wrench in things.  If they win, certainly it gives Suk time to figure things out but it will be a bigger question if they don't medal with military duty coming closer.

Suk has shown to be very determined, getting in some odd situations (like being partly owned by a third party and spending a short period out in the desert) but always pushing towards his goal of being a striker on a historic club like Porto, so I don't think that he will give up easily so he may fight it out at Porto in the fall.

Lee Chung Yong -- A very frustrating situation where Pardew was not leveraging what he had in LCY and other players but also LCY not taking advantage of the opportunities he did get came to a head when LCY criticized Pardew in the Korean press.  While I think some was misconstrued, it does appear to be reflective of LCY discontent.

One of my biggest criticisms of LCY has been his reluctance to adapt to what Pardew wants.  Clearly Bolasie and Zaha aren't the smartest passers, but both attack the box and defenders regularly.  LCY has that same toolkit which is why he was bought, but for some reason, LCY was very passive and careful, rather than daring and dangerous.  Perhaps some could be attributed to rustiness after so little use, and let's not diminish the fact that LCY showed more than his share of skill and quality at times. But the fact that the overlap of what Pardew wanted vs what LCY offered was always too small.

As for next season, things are tricky between LCY's potential difficulty in getting a work permit on a permanent move, the obvious awkwardness if he were to stick around after such rough statements about Pardew, and his PL wages which will be tough to match elsewhere.  While conventional wisdom says that he will move, I think his move is less probable than one might hope and it will take a bit of stars aligning for him to go for anything besides a loan.

Ki Sung Yueng -- The disappointing part was actually seeing Ki play brilliantly in the second to last game of the season, knowing that the Ki that was player of the year last season was in hiding.  Whether it was due to health (and it seems he's still struggling with his knees) or problems with Guidolin who left Ki on the margins for much of the time, the fact that Ki was still in possession of his amazing skillset but not showing it week to week was very frustrating.

Ki did get plenty of chances to show it, and yet was soon buried on the bench (or off of it) by guys like Fer, who offered only a marginal bit more effort and a lot less quality, but were playing regularly.  As I've mentioned here many times, Ki struggled out wide where his lack of pace was frequently exposed.  But he's adapted last season even if not in his best role, and he should have done so this year, especially as Swansea struggled to work their way clear of the relegation zone.

With new owners and Guidolin signed on in a permanent role, I think that Ki is likely to leave, especially as he does carry PL credentials that should enable him to get a work permit wherever he goes.  He's historically wanted playing time over challenge, and thus his links with clubs like Aston Villa last summer.  I think his window to try for a higher challenge is closing rapidly, and seasons like this are only accelerating that process.  At the end I expect him, to look for a bigger role on a mid-table team, but I'll say now that I'll be disappointed if that's the case.

Son Heung Min -- When the season ended with Son being pulled at HT, and a major newspaper saying that Tottenham were ready to give up on Son after only one season, it seemed to be fairly incongruous after two previous weeks where Son showed for the first time in a while why Tottenham bought him in the first place.  Yet certainly there were weeks were Son just was invisible or outright terrible, and so the kernel of truth was planted for the press to use.

Do I think that Tottenham would let him go for a big price tag?  Perhaps, but no way that a guy getting close to military duty after an up and down season would go for what Tottenham paid.  At the end of the day, it seemed at best a negotiation ploy ahead of Olympics and a potential fishing expedition to see if someone was silly enough to pay for Son.

Obviously the equation changes depending on how Son and the Korean Olympic team does in Brazil.  I'm not expecting much so Son will have to step up to the greater challenge of CL football and a Tottenham side that looked better than they often were that needed Son to be that extra gear.  Fortunately for Son there will be plenty of chances to show his value one more time this fall.

Hopefully he can pick up where he was headed, with two goals out of final three games reflective of much better play and doing his part to try to help Tottenham. But the inconsistent performances that have always haunted his career remains a concern for Son as he tries to establish himself in the PL

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