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Jeonbuk Defender Kim Min-jae Signs for Beijing Guoan

Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors defender Kim Min-jae signs for English Premier League side Watford FC

South Korean international and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors centre-back Kim Min-jae has today moved to Chinese Super League outfit Beijing Guoan for a fee of around $6 million. The transfer sees the former K League 1 Young Player of the Year and two-times title winner make his first move overseas.
(Photo via K League)

In what is one of the highest fees received for a K League player since the departure of Kim Kee-hee, Kim Min-jae has confirmed he is to move to Chinese Super League side Beijing Guoan from reigning Korean champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. The transfer sees the 22-year-old centre-back capitalise on a number of eye-catching showings in the AFC Asian Cup in addition to a strong 2018 campaign.

The move will see the highly-rated defender make his first foray into an overseas league, playing for one of China's strongest clubs. Beijing finished last season in fourth position in addition to winning the FA Cup and securing automatic passage to the AFC Champions League for this season.

The player had also been strongly linked with a move to England, with English Premier League League side Watford FC initially reported to have submitted an offer to the club. It was felt that the negotiations with Bejing were too far down the line, however, despite Jeonbuk chief Back Seung-kwoun willing to support the player's decision if he were to change his preferred destination.

The player though has recently said that he had no knowledge of such an offer and has been coveted by Beijing since November. Watford manager Javi Garcia also recently told local newspapers that he knew nothing about the player.

There would have also been concerns regarding his eligibility for a work permit in England if such a move did transpire. It would have been likely that a move would potentially involve him being loaned out to a European side immediately.

Career

Kim Min-jae has been a highly-rated young player in both Korea and Asia for the last two seasons, collecting a number of club and individual honours during his short career. Nicknamed "The Monster" in Korean due to his size, the centre-back has shown a level of maturity beyond his years in his ability to read the game, cementing his place in one of the continent's strongest sides.

Kim made his professional debut for Jeonbuk in 2017 after a season at National League side Gyeongju HNP. The player had previously agreed in principle to the move in early 2016 and had spent time training with Jeonbuk players after choosing to leave Yonsei University. He would later move to Gyeongju on a short-term deal for experience and fitness with a view to playing for the then Asian Champions the year after.

With manager Choi Kang-hee tipping the player as one of the best prospects he had seen since midfielder Lee Jae-sung, Kim's first season in the K League 1 saw him play for every minute he was available and eventually end the season with both a league winners' medal and the K League 1 Young Player of the Year award.

2017 also saw the young defender make his international debut, joining the South Korean side for two must-not-lose World Cup qualifiers to Iran and Uzbekistan. The defender started both games, playing a role in both clean sheets and helping his country progress to Russia.

Last year saw Kim continue to be a central figure in Jeonbuk's back line as they returned to the AFC Asian Champions League. The player was able to continue his development, facing up against some of the continent's strongest sides and assisting Jeonbuk in their run to the competition's quarter-final stages. He would also go on to win another K League 1 winners' medal as well as feature in the division's best eleven.

On the international stage, Kim Min-jae was cruelly ruled out of the World Cup squad after picking up an injury against Daegu FC in May. He was able to recover in time for Korea's successful Asian Games squad, however, and collected the gold medal and subsequent military exemption that many Korean players crave.

Most recently, Kim has been a key figure in Korea's AFC Asian Cup campaign, notably scoring two powerful headers in the group stage to help secure the side's progression to the knockout rounds.


What Next?

The defender's move to China will likely be met with disappointment in some quarters from Korean fans as hopes for an exciting young Korean talent to develop his career in Europe are dashed for now. However, this is not to say that this move cannot lead to something in Europe at a later date. Kim boasts youth and notable talent, with Beijing potentially being able to help with a move in a few seasons time if he plays to the level fans know he is capable of.

Kim is also set to earn substantially more than his current contract as at present his salary is capped at a maximum of $32,000 per annum (excluding performance bonuses) within the K League due to being under 23 years of age. It will also see him tested in a new environment after having proven himself against all the K League can throw at him, ideally helping to develop further as a result


A more concerning factor for the player's development perhaps is the Chinese Super League's foreign players quota, with the removal of the AFC "+1" international being in recent years leading to the benching of other Korean players plying their trade in the division in favour of fielding other internationals within squads.

At present, the Chinese Super League operates a policy where a maximum of three international players can feature in a matchday squad. Previously, an Asian player could also be named in addition to three overseas players in this squad, before being reduced to three in 2017. The worry would be that Kim would not only be vying for a starting place in the first eleven, but also for one of three spots in a team that currently has three foreign players on its books.

However, there is also the belief that Kim may adapt well to his surroundings. Beijing currently has three players who can speak Korean, and the player himself has a number of international teammates who have all made the trip to China who will be well-positioned to advise the youngster.

With no requirement for an Asian player on the domestic front either, for Beijing to continue to pursue the player's signature for several months would suggest that this lofty transfer is more than just to have him available to fill the +1 quota in the Champions League. It is likely he will still receive considerable game time in the league as well.

To get a more informed take on how Kim Min-jae will be expected to feature, Editor of Wild East Football and Beijing Guoan columnist, Brandon Chemer had this to say about his move.

"There is a lot of excitement over Kim Min-jae joining the team, I’ve seen so many fans talking about it on social media and other places, especially because he was a real standout for Korea at the Asian Cup. Guoan has experience with Korean players, with Ha Dae-sung spending a few seasons with the side and the current team features three ethnic Korean players who speak Korean as their first language so they will help make him feel at home."

"On the pitch, due to the rules I don’t think he’s going to start every game, but he’ll get plenty of playing time as Guoan is in desperate need of defensive help. Last season Jonathan Soriano was the “fourth foreigner” and still made 16 appearances in all competitions, I’d expect Kim to get a lot more than that."

Ultimately, the player's decision is final. While many may lament the move given the reported (and possibly unfounded) interest from the Premier League, this is a transfer Kim Min-jae feels comfortable with and should still offer its own unique challenges to assist in his development.

As for Jeonbuk, the recent signing of Kim Min-hyeok in addition to the renewal of Hong Jeong-ho's loan should provide more than capable cover for the departure of the centre-back for the season ahead, although it is likely Kim Min-jae will still be greatly missed by the club's supporters.

Coincidentally, Jeonbuk fans will get to see their former defender once more when they host Beijing Guoan in their first group match of the AFC Champions League on Tuesday, March 5th.

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