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Column: Hwang Inbeom's Daejeon Return

Hwang Inbeom returns to Daejeon K League 2 Military Service
The return of Hwang Inbeom to Daejeon Citizen following the wonderkid's involvement in the gold medal-winning South Korea Asian Games squad could be the difference between mid-table mediocrity and a genuine shot at the playoffs for the Purples.
(Image via K League)

Asian Games Gold

Daejeon-born Hwang Inbeom found himself to be in a rather unusual situation recently whereby the creative midfielder has now earned himself military exception whilst already on military service. After two seasons as a first team regular with Daejeon Citizen, Hwang Inbeom moved to Asan Mugunghwa on loan as part of his mandatory military conscription for the beginning of the current season.

However, on Saturday evening, the U23 Korean National Team saw off the challenge of first rivals Japan 2-1 in the final of the 2018 Asian Games to earn themselves a gold medal and military exemption to boot. From the squad of 20, only Hwang Inbeom was currently on military service meaning that, whereas the rest of his teammates returned to their clubs as expected, Hwang is due to return to his parent club instead, as opposed to the national police team Asan Mugunghwa.

Purples' Promotion Aspirations

Whilst Asan Mugunghwa are in a two-horse race for the K2 title and the subsequent automatic promotion, his parent club, Daejeon Citizen, are just about knocking on the door of the playoffs. The Purples haven't been consistent enough to really force their way into the top four but, after an unbeaten August, Citizen look to be poised for a late tilt. A good blend of foreign talent in Aurelian Chițu, Shohruh Gadoev, and Sanzhar Tursanov, alongside some exceptional young Korean players like striker Park Inhyeok, midfielders Park Sooil, Kang Yunsung, and central defender Ko Myeongseok, the Purples have the foundations of what could be a very good team.

What Citizen have been lacking, though, is a creative midfielder who can unlock defences with the right pass at the right time; a player who can dance past defenders at ease with such poise and guile that has ensured Hwang Inbeom of a call up to the full Korean National Team; a player who never hides, always wants the ball because he has confidence in his ability to create something; a player who occupies positions on the pitch that, frankly, no one else can; a player who can give everybody in the team a lift. The return of Hwang Inbeom to Daejeon Citizen could be exactly what the team need and could well prove to be the difference between another flat season in the mid-reaches of what is, in truth, a very open K League 2 table, or a genuine shot at winning promotion for the second time in the club's history.

Hwang Inbeom (R) in action for Daejeon against FC Seoul in 2015 (Image via K League)

Europe Bound?

Whereas many Korean footballers try to delay their military duties until as late as possible, Hwang Inbeom decided to do his early perhaps so that any potential suitors in Europe are no longer deterred by the obligation that looms large for all able bodied Korean males - mandatory military service.

According to sources close to the player at the time, the 21 year-old's rise to prominence since his professional debut in 2015 did indeed attract potential suitors in Europe and some genuine big hitters in the world of football to boot such as Benfica of Portugal and an unnamed Bundesliga club.

For one reason or another, no deal materialised and Hwang remained with Daejeon up until the end of the 2017 season. But, with the prospect of having to cut any potential career on foreign soil short, Hwang's decision to begin his military service early may well have been made for him.

Presently, Asan Mugunghwa's strong showing this term, going head to head Seongnam FC for that much-coveted single automatic promotion place and the K League 2 title. Such form has been of little surprise to many given the quality of the playing squad that manager Park Donghyuk has at his disposal; a midfield that has boasted experienced Korean internationals such as Lee Myeongju and Ju Sejong, not to mention the 2013 K League Young Player of the Year Ko Muyeol in attack.

Hwang Inbeom in action for Asan Mugunghwa (Image via K League)
Hwang Inbeom's fleeting stint with Asan will have served him well,  learning alongside the aforementioned Lee and Ju, as well as playing in a team that has, more ofteb than not, been on the front foot. Asan have the second-most goals scored this term and the least goals conceded in the division. This season Hwang Inbeom made 17 appearances in the yellow of Asan with the opening goal in a 2-0 win over Suwon FC in March being the only goal to his name this term.

In the purple of Daejeon, though, and even at the tender age of just 21 years-old, Hwang Inbeom has already racked up no fewer than 81 league appearances, scoring 13 goals. His first strike came in a 2-1 home defeat to FC Seoul in Citizen's relegation season, during which the Galma-dong native went on to score three more - one apiece against Pohang Steelers, Seongnam, and Jeonbuk Hyundai.

Disenchanted Daejeon World Cup Stadium

Hwang Inbeom's return to Purple Arena for the last stretch of the season could be exactly what the whole club needs, not just on the pitch but off it as well. Following former manager Kim Ho's appointment as CEO in the winter, and his then subsequent appointment of Ko Jongsoo as manager of the first team, certain sections of the Daejeon supporters have decided that they do not want to support this current regime.

Kim Ho and Ko Jongsoo have worked together before; they both their names in the K League with Daejeon's once-bitter rivals Suwon Bluewings before they were eventually reunited for the first time in 2003 when Kim Ho was Purples manager and Ko Jongsoo was a player.

The atmosphere at Daejeon World Cup Stadium is eerie with large sections of the support protesting in the way of refusing to show up. The the away ends are sparse, too and it's credit to the team for being in the position they are without having the complete backing of the supporters. The return of the club's most favourite son may well be the boost that the club didn't know they needed.

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