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Lee Kang-in: What If He Moves On? (Part 1)

Lee Kang-in is one of South Korea’s hottest prospects right now, but the 2019 U20 World Cup runner-up is currently having a turbulent time at Valencia since being promoted to the main squad. With trouble brewing in the club, guest contributor Azri Firman explores Lee’s current status at Valencia and the prospect of where he should go next. 
(header image via Yonhap news)

The Current Situation

Lee Kang-in has not had the best experience so far with Los Che since he got promoted. He has not been getting the number of games he would’ve liked, despite impressive performances in the U-20 World Cup last year that saw him crowned the best player of the tournament.

Not only that, the relationship between him and his teammates is not as harmonious as hoped. He seems to be the subject of ire of the other players and was even seen to be a reason for Marcelino’s departure given his unwanted status as owner Peter Lim’s favorite. According to new Manchester City winger Ferran Torres in an interview with Marca about the situation behind his departure from Los Che, he stated that “The worst of it came after Marcelino's departure when [Lee] Kang-in and I were seen as culprits in the dressing room and they stopped talking to us for weeks.” There are stories about Marcelino and Lim butting heads about including Kang-in in the starting XI, which is likely where the perceptions of favoritism by the other players stemmed from.

Speculation that Kang-in might leave was fueled after reports of him rejecting contract renewal talks despite Lim saying otherwise according to local Valencia media, The Superdeporte. Despite this, it seems things are looking up for the young man as Valencia recently hired former Watford FC manager Javi Gracia. According to Radio Taronja, Kang-in is happy with Gracia as he is being deployed in his favored position in midfield, and is willing to be patient to see how he gets along with Gracia before deciding whether or not to renew his contract.

Along with the departure of influential captain Dani Parejo (who is believed to be the one that led the cold shoulders for Kang-in and Torres in the locker room) to Villareal, perhaps the locker room situation could also improve. Additionally, Parejo’s exit would present more chances for Kang-in to play. But a big problem has emerged for the club. According to AS, Valencia are on the brink of a financial crisis thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic and they haven’t paid their players for the 2019/20 season because their cash reserves have run dry. So if the situation isn’t improving, we might see an exodus. After all, we’ve seen the departures of Torres, Parejo, Francis Coquelin and Rodrigo Moreno as an effort to boost funds and we might see Kang-in and other players leaving too because of that crisis at hand. However, the positive developments appear to have a great effect despite the club’s troubles as there is a report Kang-in has signed a three-year extension until June 2025 thanks to Gracia’s influence according to Steve Han.

Even if Kang-in impresses though, what if the club’s troubles get worse? Who knows what will happen next given Valencia’s turbulent time under Lim? Let’s explore some of the big teams where Kang-in can show his stuff. Take note though that this is taking into consideration of Kang-in’s favored position as an attacking midfielder


Which Teams Could Use His Services Now Or In The Future?

If he does get the desired minutes at Valencia and successfully takes his chances, there could well be clubs looking to secure his services. If he doesn’t want to leave Spain, Real Madrid could definitely use him as a long-term solution when it comes to creativity with Toni Kroos and Luka Modric sadly not getting any younger. Manager Zinedane Zidane prefers a 4-3-3 system, but the Frenchman usually tinkers with his midfield depending on who Real are facing. So Kang-in’s creativity and runs could well be an option for Zidane to utilize.

Barcelona could also benefit from getting Lee for similar reasons. There appears to be an exodus set to happen under the eye of new manager Ronald Koeman. With Messi seemingly set to hit the exit, and many players (even Luis Suarez) seemingly not in Barca’s current plans, we might also see an influx of new players. Besides, they need someone like Kang-in more than anyone else due to the aging squad they have and they need serious rejuvenation in the attacking front. Taking all this into account, Barca looks like a great platform for Kang-in’s abilities if they’re serious about rebuilding.

Next, we go to England. I can think of at least two English Premier League clubs where Kang-in’s services can tremendously help. Manchester United has a good team with manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer having a settled starting XI, but they are severely lacking depth as showcased in their 2-1 Europa League semi-final defeat to Sevilla where Solskjaer waited until the 87th minute to make his first sub. Kang-in would be a great rotation option for United’s creative forces Paul Pogba, and Bruno Fernandes for United’s cup and midweek games. Admittedly, there is the question if he is willing to be on the bench sometimes.

Then we go to North London. Arsenal is in need for a new No. 10 given how Mesut Ozil is frozen out and doesn’t look like to be in manager Mikel Arteta’s plans. Not only that, Ozil is the only senior player that can play in that position for quite some time so they are severely lacking depth in that position for years. They are in need of someone who can unlock low-block defenses and provide that link between the midfield and forwards. With Kang-in there in the 4-2-3-1 system Arteta originally preferred, Arsenal wouldn’t need Lacazette to drop deep and support his midfielders to keep the attack going with Kang-in as an additional ball carrier. But the problem is getting a work permit, which is a major stumbling block for young Asian players who have ambitions to play in England. Japanese internationals Takuma Asano and Yosuke Ideguchi are examples who can sadly attest to that. So if any Premier League team wants him, they either have to break the bank (which I doubt they can thanks to the financial impact of Covid-19), or wait for him to fulfill the criteria of getting more international caps.

However, with all that said, there is one other league where I can foresee Lee Kang-in making his mark... stay tuned for part 2 of this segment!

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