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scouting

Lim Sang-hyub: An Unlikely Hero?


Plenty of eyebrows were raised when Pohang Steelers signed Lim Sang-hyub from Suwon Bluewings last winter, with the veteran winger appearing to be well past his peak. 15 goals later, however, and Lim finds himself spearheading Pohang’s buccaneering run in the Asian Champions League. Tomas Marcantonio takes a look at the resurgence of one of the K League’s most unheralded goal getters.


Early Career: A Star at Busan and Sangju

Lim Sang-hyub might have been in the footballing wilderness for a while before this season, but his goal-scoring exploits this year aren’t without precedent. When Lim transferred to Busan IPark from Jeonbuk Hyundai in 2011, he became an instant hit on the south coast. 

Lim in action against former club Jeonbuk in 2014.
After scoring nine league goals in his debut season, he went on to become a key figure for the Royals over the next three years. At the age of 24 he made his one and only international appearance for Korea in a friendly against Peru in 2013, and the following year he was named in the K League 1 Best XI after bagging 11 league goals for a very average Busan team that would be relegated the following season. 

He carried on this form while on military service with Sangju Sangmu, scoring 20 goals in 59 appearances for the army team. 

In the six seasons between 2011 and 2016, Lim scored a total of 55 goals, 42 of which were scored in the top tier, making him one of the most consistent goalscorers in Korean football in the first half of the decade.


The Decline of a Journeyman

After completing his military service and returning to Busan at the tail end of the 2016 season, Lim began to struggle for form. In 2017, Lim only managed six goals in the second division, and when Suwon Bluewings came knocking for a transfer, there was a feeling among Busan supporters that the Royals were offloading a 29 year-old who had already seen his best years. 

Lim only made 14 league starts for Suwon over three seasons.
In three years on the books at Suwon, Lim struggled to make any kind of impact. He only managed two league goals for the club as injuries, age, and poor form combined to push him to the fringes of the squad. He was even loaned to Jeju United for a spell in 2019, but he looked a shell of his former self in his rare appearances in orange. 

It seemed to all observers that Lim Sang-hyub was experiencing the kind of natural decline that affects many wingers later in their careers. Unsettled, plagued by fitness concerns, and lacking the pace of his youth, it seemed Lim was headed for either retirement or a move to the lower leagues. 

But it turned out Lim wasn’t quite finished yet. 


Resurgence: Pohang Take a Chance

Although Lim’s time at Suwon will be not be remembered fondly by anyone involved, there were hints at the end of his Bluewings career that he still had something to offer. After being given an unexpected run of games in Suwon’s charge to the ACL quarter finals, 32 year-old Lim scored twice in four days, against Vissel Kobe and Guangzhou FC. 

It was surely this glimpse of form that led Pohang to recruit the veteran as they looked to fill the void left by departing stars Stanislav Iljutcenko and Aleksandar Palocevic. It seemed a desperate gamble at the time, but the move has paid dividends for all. 

 

Lim Sang-hyub, at 33 years old, is currently enjoying the most prolific season of his career. Song Min-kyu’s departure to Jeonbuk has left Pohang seriously short of goal threats in the second half of this season, and Lim’s form has been an unexpected saving grace for them. Lim has 10 goals in the league – no other player in the squad has more than three – while a brace in the ACL quarter-final win over Nagoya Grampus took him to 15 goals for the season in all competitions. 

According to Soccerway, Lim has averaged a goal every 155 minutes this year – a record comparable with the likes of Iljutcenko, Lars Veldwijk, and Joo Min-kyu, all out-and-out strikers who also are also on penalty duty. 

 

A Poaching Winger

Although the influence of wingers tends to decrease as they enter their thirties, Lim Sang-hyub’s greatest assets were never his pace or work rate. Despite playing for the majority of his career on the left wing, Lim is just as much of a goal poacher as he is a traditional winger. 

While he still aims to cut inside off the left flank and shoot with his favoured right foot, in his veteran years he is ever more reliant on a poaching instinct cultivated since his early years with Busan. Lim doesn’t influence games massively – he can go missing for long periods, and at 33 his pace and dribbling won’t strike fear in the heart of full backs. He is, however, a master fox in the box, and that instinct has been vital for Pohang this year. 

It speaks volumes that despite playing for most of his career on the wing at average teams, Lim is right up there in the all-time K League scoring charts. 


Of the players still active in the K League, Lim is sixth in the all-time scoring chart, hot on the heels of K League legends Park Chu-young and Lee Keun-ho. And, after surpassing all expectations this season, this will surely not be Lim’s last in the top tier. 

This career resurgence may not rewrite any history books, but if Pohang are to defy expectations and make their first ACL Final appearance since 2009, expect Lim Sang-hyub’s name to be among the headlines. Coming to the end of a long career in Korean football, Lim might just be making a case to be remembered as something more than a better-than-average winger of the early 2010s – he might instead be remembered as one of the K League’s most underrated goalscorers.


FNR

 


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