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Kim Dae-won: Gangwon’s Not So Secret Weapon

When you think of this current incarnation of Gangwon, there’s one player who instantly springs to mind: Kim Dae-won. Signed from Daegu in the Winter of 2021, he made an instant impact in the provincial club, scoring twice in the Bears’ opening three games (their only two goals that season, at the time). From there, he became an integral part of Kim Byung-soo’s  forward line, often operating on either side of the wing, a position which would allow him some relative freedom to drift into the centre, or make long surging runs upfield.

Gangwon’s Star Player

Despite strong early form, things didn’t continue going directly to plan, as the skilful forward began to find his playing time reduced, even if his team’s results weren’t exactly improving without him. Yet, when the chance came to pin down a starting position in September, Kim Dae-won emphatically stood up to the task, resulting in him playing near enough every minute until the end of the season, and proving himself as Gangwon’s most valuable asset. Without Kim and his 17 goal contributions, it’s fair to say we might not even be talking about the Bears as a K League 1 outfit.

But the 25-year-old is a bit calmer, as well as forward-thinking, about his excellent debut season, saying: “For me personally, it was a career-high, but it was a difficult year for the team. What I personally felt is that for the team to do better the individuals need to do better too. That's why this year, like last year, I will try to contribute in some way to the team picking up wins.”

That attitude has already stood Kim in good stead, with the Bears’ opening day win over Seongnam topped off by his Man of the Match performance and 87th minute goal. “I was pleased to score in the first game of the season and for that to help the team win also felt good,” he says.

Changing Fortunes

Talking generally, it does feel like Kim Dae-won is playing in a new Gangwon this year. Choi Yong-soo, a manager who himself has plenty of pedigree, has overhauled the way the Bears set up, and comes armed with ambition after their dramatic survival. Prior to the season starting, Choi made clear his aims to make the Final A portion of the league, arguably a lofty goal considering last season’s low scorers more than just stumbled into their promotion/relegation playoff fate just a few months ago. With that being said, should Gangwon continue their current form, it’s a conceivable target.

When asked about the goals set for the club, a succinct response is given: “I think it's a different team this year, and one that has enough to make into Final A which is our aim. I think we will get better with each game.”

Of course, there has to be an element of caution when discussing Gangwon, even if they do appear to be turning a corner. Last season was a dramatic downturn in fortunes for the club, resulting in them playing in the aforementioned playoff, against a confident Daejeon outfit. In the first leg, the Bears lost 1-0, and truthfully offered little in the way of attacking threat. “For the first game, he (Choi Yong-soo) said that we had only shown 50% of what we were capable of,” Kim explains. Given that the subsequent home tie was won 4-1, it’s reasonable to assume the manager was right.

“For the second game, he said that because this is a home game and we simply have to win, you (the players) have to give absolutely everything,” Kim says regarding the team-talk which came prior to their triumph. But what about the experience itself of such a tense, fate-deciding pairing of games, and what motivated an underperforming team to become the first side to stay up after losing the first leg?

“In truth, the relegation playoff is a game that I do not want to go through again as a player. Physically, mentally it was the most difficult game and so it was extremely challenging. I think the biggest factor in us being able to win was not wanting to disappoint the fans who support us. None of the players wanted to get relegated and there was a belief that we could win,” is the answer.

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Ambition, Ambition, Ambition

Going forward, it’s clear Kim Dae-won will be a regular name in the starting eleven, which is something that brings added eyes to Gangwon’s number 17. “I don't feel any pressure about that sort of thing. Rather, having more responsibility in games is a good thing. It can be the driving force to jump one step further in difficult situations,” Kim says when asked about whether his increased status could cause any semblance of anxiety.

Such a rise in stock has its benefits, nevertheless
. Although he didn’t feature, the 25-year-old was called up to the South Korean national team before he joined Gangwon’s pre-season training. “It was a really great experience. To represent your country as an athlete helped a lot in setting future plans and goals,” Kim says, before adding: “All players want to represent their national team and, of course, I am no different. I have a huge desire to go back and be part of the national team setup again. In order to do so, I think it is important to play well for your club team.”

The proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow has been discovered, it seems, and has left the forward with a taste for more. Though, it’s not all about individual achievements. When asked about his ambitions for Gangwon, Kim says: “Whilst I am with Gangwon FC, I want the team to be one that is, to some extent, recognised. For example, making it into the Asian Champions League every year. I want the team to get to that kind of level. My own personal goals are to help Gangwon FC with theirs and I think that's more than achievable.”

A Look to the Future

To do so, some adaptation will be required along the way. Choi Yong-soo favours a 3-5-2 in how he sets up, a system which has pushed the 25-year-old away from the wing and into a role as a more defined striker. There, he plays off either Lee Jeong-hyeop or Dino Islamovic, but finds parts of his dynamism slightly tempered when unable to truly roam. That’s not to say it bothers the attacker, though.

“To be honest, my most comfortable position is right wing. But I don't get stressed just because the position that the coach thinks is different from the position that I think. If I can help the team win and play a role in doing that then I don't think the position itself is that important,” he says.

With all that in mind, it’s worth keeping an eye on Kim Dae-won, and to a further extent, Gangwon. Buoyed by belief and ambition, and anchored by a strong-minded manager, the provincial club may just start to make their mark on a league they almost exited in December.

“In truth, last season the results were not good and fans were disappointed. This season, I want to repay the fans with different results than last year. At the very least, do all we can to win games at home and in every match and all the players are really working hard to win matches, so I hope fans will support Gangwon FC's growth,” Kim says, in his own message for the Gangwon fans.

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