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Out in the Cold: Winter Transfers to Boost the KNT

A generation of exciting young players is currently thriving in Paulo Bento's Korean team, but not all are content at club level and several have been linked with transfers this winter. Some players are struggling for minutes, while others are looking to further their careers with moves abroad. Tomas Marcantonio assesses the potential moves that could benefit the Korean national team.

Kim Min-jae (23 years old)

Current Club: Beijing Guoan (Chinese Super League)
Ideal Destination: English Premier League

Nicknamed 'The Monster', Kim is arguably the most promising Korean talent since Son Heung-min. After coming to prominence at Jeonbuk Hyundai in the K League, Kim moved to Chinese club Beijing last January and has only enhanced his reputation in 2019. A towering and composed central defender, Kim has drawn comparisons to Virgil Van Dijk, and a big move to Europe seems to be a case of when rather than if.

Rumours of a transfer to Watford have circulated in more than one transfer window, and despite his tender years, Kim seems to have all the attributes to succeed in the Premier League. Of course, transfers for defenders can be risky at a young age as managers rarely rotate their back line, but such is Kim's potential that these fears are easily allayed.

Kwon Chang-hoon (25)

Current Club: FC Freiburg (German Bundesliga)
Ideal Destination: German Bundesliga (Loan Move)

Kwon looked set to become a star after an outstanding first full season in France's Ligue 1 with Dijon, in which he scored 11 goals and added a further three assists. An injury in his second season restricted his impact, but a transfer to Freiburg looked – on paper – to be a logical step up and a shrewd move for the attacking midfielder.

Unfortunately the move hasn't quite panned out. A goal on his debut turned out to be a false dawn, as Kwon has largely found himself restricted to substitute appearances so far this season. With Freiburg exceeding all expectations by breaking into the top six, Kwon has struggled to find a place in the team. There's still plenty of time for Kwon to succeed at Freiburg, but it seems unlikely that his breakthrough will happen this season. A half-season loan to a bottom-half club could be hugely beneficial for Kwon, but it remains to be seen whether Freiburg would sanction the move.

Hwang Hee-chan (23)

Current Club: Salzburg (Austrian Bundesliga)
Ideal Destination: English Premier League

Salzburg have one of the most talented young squads in European football at the moment, and their impressive performances in the Champions League group stages alerted several big clubs to the young diamonds in their team. Winger Takumi Minamino has just signed for Liverpool, while striker Erling Haaland has been strongly linked to Manchester United. The third member of Augsburg's celebrated front three is Korea's Hwang Hee-chan.

The forward is a regular for the national team and has been a key player for Salzburg since his debut in 2015. A disappointing loan spell at Hamburger SV in the German second division last year seemed to suggest that Hwang's development had stagnated, but he has answered his critics emphatically this season. Although still far from the finished product, Hwang's numbers make for impressive reading. He has nine goals and ten assists in 22 appearances for the Austrian champions this term, and a transfer to a bigger league looks increasingly likely.

Wolves and Arsenal have both been linked with the 23 year-old, and the former would appear to be a good fit for the rising star of Korea's attack. As he showed in his two appearances against Liverpool recently, Hwang is not daunted at the prospect of facing off against some of Europe's top defenders.

Kim Moon-hwan (24)

Current Club: Busan IPark (K League 1)
Ideal Destinations: German Bundesliga 2, J1 League

With fellow senior right-backs Lee Yong (32) and Kim Tae-hwan (30) both nearing the end of their international careers, Kim Moon-hwan is currently in pole position to line up for Korea at the next World Cup. His appearances under Paulo Bento have been promising, but it's worrying that Korea's first-choice right-back has only played club football in the Korean second division.

Busan IPark's recent promotion gives Kim the chance to step up to the K League 1 next year, but at 24 years old, this might be the ideal time to move abroad. Fellow Korean full-backs Kim Jin-su and Park Joo-ho both enjoyed spells in the German Bundesliga with Hoffenheim and Mainz respectively, and a move to the division below would undoubtedly benefit Kim Moon-hwan. The second division has proven a good fit for Lee Chung-yong, Lee Jae-sung, and Paik Seung-ho, and it would surely improve the tactical awareness and defensive abilities of the hard-working but inexperienced Kim.

Na Sang-ho (23)

Current Club: FC Tokyo (J1 League)
Ideal Destinations: J1 League, Austrian Bundesliga

A speedy wing-foward, Na is now a regular part of Paulo Bento's Korea squads. Despite his growing influence at international level, however, Na is yet to nail down a starting spot at current club FC Tokyo. The 23 year-old set the K League 2 alight in 2018 with 16 goals and a starring role for Gwangju FC, but 2019 saw only five league starts and two goals in the Japanese top tier.

Tokyo finished second in the league this season and competition in the squad was fierce, but Na will surely be considering a move elsewhere lest his career stagnates at a crucial time. A move to another Japanese team would suffice, but should a move to a European league present itself, Na would surely leap at the chance.

Hwang In-beom (23)

Current Club: Vancouver Whitecaps (MLS)
Ideal Destination: German Bundesliga

Central midfielder Hwang has the potential to be a regular in Korea's midfield for the next decade. An excellent passer with great vision and an eye for goal – as he showed with two strikes in the recent EAFF championship – Hwang is expected to move on from the MLS sooner rather than later.

Although his performances have come in for some criticism in the past year, Hwang is only 23 and still developing. At Vancouver he has regular football, but many feel that he needs to play regularly in a more competitive league in order to fulfil his potential. Germany has been a successful destination for Korean players in recent years, and a move to the Bundesliga could do wonders for the former Daejeon Citizen player.

Jo Hyeon-woo (28)

Current Club: Daegu FC (K League 1)
Ideal Destinations: J1 League, German Bundesliga

28 year-old Jo has been named in the K League Team of the Year five seasons in a row – twice in the second division, and three times in the top tier. His World Cup heroics in 2018 won him plenty of admirers, but despite gaining military exemption in last winter's Asian Cup, a rumoured move to Europe never materialised.

Jo is undoubtedly an excellent shot-stopper, but concerns about his distribution have never gone away, and at 28 the time for a big move may have come and gone. Jo is such a talented keeper, however, that his name continues to crop up in the rumour mills. The chances of a transfer to Europe might be diminishing, but a move to Japan, where Korean keepers have thrived in recent years, could also be beneficial.

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