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scouting

Yang Hyun-jun: Gangwon’s Up-and-Coming Star


While Gangwon have struggled for consistency so far this season, an unlikely first-team mainstay has taken his opportunities by the proverbial scruff of the neck. K League United Columnist Nathan Sartain looks at the impact Yang Hyun-jun has had, and could continue to have, this campaign.

It’s often in times when your back is against the wall, that an unlikely breakthrough is made. Gangwon themselves know that, with their own survival last year being all the necessary proof needed to back such a statement up. But this time, the words are applicable to one particular player: Yang Hyun-jun. And, while his foray into the Gangwon first team is anything but unlikely - he has shown all the assets needed to be a key player going forward - it’s conceivable that he would not have ended up as prevalent as he has been in the first eleven should Dino Islamovic remained fit.

The K League Young Player of the month for April, as well as the winner of Gangwon’s overall individual accolade for the same period, it’s now inarguable that the 19-year-old has proved himself capable of impacting games at the highest domestic level. With four goal contributions so far in his league appearances (1 goal, 3 assists), his regular presence is aiding in filling a massive gap left by the injury of Dino Islamovic, as well as lessening the impact of Lee Jeong-hyeop’s underperformance (and current injury). Put simply, Yang is ensuring that the Bears’ attacking play is not ending up as stale as it was in large periods last year, while also carrying the burden of increased responsibility.

In a similar vein to how Kim Dae-won was integral in 2021 to the Bears, should Yang Hyun-jun’s goal contributions be taken away, the provincial club would be three points worse off, leaving them 11th. While that’s only a one-place difference, and none of these goals or assists have directly led to victory, it’s important enough to matter to a side who were so close to relegation last year. Every last positive result counts, so if the 19-year-old can contribute towards more of them, it’ll ultimately go a long way in helping Gangwon attempt to secure survival again this campaign.


However, there’s more to praise than just face value, easily digestible statistics, or how his contributions have led to points. There’s an element of enjoyable freedom in Yang’s play, the type of which only a raw player can truly have. When he progresses the ball it’s often swift, unpredictable and eye-catching. There are plenty of mistakes made in this area, sure, but in a team which lacks an element of attacking punch, the “maybe it’ll work this time” type feeling, in addition to the eagerness in the player’s game, really helps. With an added clinical edge, or perhaps just a more defined calmness, such errors will most likely be alleviated anyway.

Of course, it does help that Yang is adaptable. Across his appearances so far, the forward has played on either side of a front three, shared striking duties with Kim Dae-won, and even ventured into the number 10 position. While it’s clear that the right wing is where he is most skilled, it’s a helpful asset to be able to play wherever is needed, without much detriment to play (from his least familiar position just behind the striker, Yang got his first, and as of right now only, K League goal).

This story of a player coming through the ranks in Gangwon is nothing new under Choi Yong-soo, however. Unlike during his predecessor’s reign, U-22 players are now often allowed longer than just brief cameos, have defined roles, and occasionally trump their more experienced counterparts from a quality perspective. Kim Dae-woo, who played well when given small opportunities last year, has thrived when allowed more minutes this campaign. The same can be said for Seo Min-woo (though he is 24 now), and would have been said for Lee Gwang-yeon should he have not picked up an unfortunate injury not so long ago. Trust in youth is an important part of player development, so it’s refreshing to see the likes of Yang Hyun-jun favoured as integral components to the setup, as opposed to being sidelined to 15-minute bursts.

Going forward, it’s obvious that Yang Hyun-jun will be vital for Gangwon’s survival push this season. His energy, creativity and positivity with the ball will help a side which struggles in transition, and his consistent goal contributions may ensure that the Bears at least put up a fight going forward. More than that though, he sets an example for others, like Park Sang-hyeok, that there is a genuine pathway towards getting first-team minutes, one that will see good performances, as well as strong training, rewarded.

FNR

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