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scouting

'Son of Daejeon' and KNT key cog Hwang In-beom will be a success in Greece

Former Daejeon Citizen midfielder Hwang In-beom sealed a move to Greek giants Olympiacos at the tail-end of July, ending his stay with Rubin Kazan in the Russian Premier League. At Olympiacos, Hwang looks set to challenge for major honours for the first time in his career. with Olympiacos seeking a 48th title. Wherever he's been, Hwang In-beom has been a top performer and will, no doubt, be an asset to the serial champions of Greece, writes Paul Neat.

With 35 caps to his name, Hwang In-beom has become an established full international and a key cog for Paulo Bento and his South Korean team. In fact, he was part of Bento's first squad and made his debut in Bento's first ever match in charge of the Taeguk Warriors back in September 2018. He made the step up from the under-23s right after Korea won gold at Asian Games in 2018 with Bento looking to that squad for players to blood. Ever since then, Hwang has, injury permitting, been ever-present for Korea.

Style of Play

Hwang In-beom is a central midfielder who's always looking to move the ball forward. He's always very positive, gets his head up and looks at how he can help his team build an attack. In terms of positions, he can play as a six, an eight or even a 10 but his strengths are his vision and passing which he can use while occupying deeper positions to find teammates in advanced areas of the pitch or in the channels. 

He has great technique and balance and can go past players if he needs to. While is assist tallies throughout his career so far have been solid, he doesn't get too many because he's often the player who starts the move as opposed to being the one who's teeing up the scorer. 

Career History

Daejeon Citizen, 2015 - 2018

2015 - Eventful, breakthrough season


Hwang In-beom's professional career began his career with his hometown club Daejeon Citizen in 2015. At the time, Daejeon had just won promotion back to the top flight but that season ended up being one to forget for the Purples. Daejeon suffered relegation from what was then the K League Classic (now K League 1) on a record-low points tally. 

His debut could have come in better circumstances, too. Daejeon lost 5-0 away to Jeju United but Hwang played the full 90 minutes. His home debut came a few weeks later, albeit as a small cameo off the bench in a 1-1 draw with Ulsan. His first home start came in the FA Cup but he was sent off after 23 minutes. It was, to say the least, an eventful first season for an 18-year-old Hwang In-beom.

Hwang burst onto the scene and managed to score some impressive goals against top K League sides that year. He scored four in total, one each against FC Seoul, Pohang Steelers, Seongnam FC, and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. He also got an assist in the game against Jeonbuk - a 4-3 thriller at home which saw Daejeon lose rather cruelly in the last minute. Hwang had levelled the scoring at 1-1 in the 27th minute with a real stunner before teeing up Han Eui-kwon in the 80th minute to make it 3-3. 

An ankle injury in the summer cut his first season short and he wasn't to appear for the club again until the 2016 season. There was a fair amount of buzz around him even before he appeared for the first team and fans could see why even after just 14 appearances.


2016 - A season of 'what ifs'


Having just been relegated, Daejeon were seen as one of the favourites to win promotion straight back to the top flight. A fully-fit Hwang In-beom was a key player despite being just 19. He ranked top in the division for through passes at 51 that year and made six key passes - the second-most at Daejeon. He ranked fourth for passes to final third and 10 per 90 minutes ranked him 13th in the division while the accuracy of his passes to the final third was the second best at his club at 41.3%. 

It doesn't end there, either. What Wyscout classes as a 'smart pass' - i.e. a "creative and penetrative pass that attempts to break the opposition's defensive lines to gain a significant advantage in attack" - Hwang was second with 46, and for shots outside the box he was ninth overall; 13th for shots despatched from open play; and 12th for accuracy at 37%. The fact that this was his first true full season as a professional makes these accomplishments all the more impressive. 

From 35 appearances Hwang got five goals and laid on five assists. Daejeon finished seventh in the league that season, despite the performances of Hwang - which earned him a spot in the K League Challenge Best XI - and the league's MVP Kim Dong-chan who scored 20 as the top scorer. It was disappointing but Daejeon knew for sure they had a player on their hands.

2017 - One of Daejeon's few bright sparks


The 2017 season was Daejeon's 20th-anniversary year but, yet again, it proved to be one to forget. The Purples finished rock bottom of the league but Hwang was one of the team's very few bright sparks. He played 32 times, making 30 starts and scored four goals - all came in wins. And although Daejeon did finish rock bottom, it was no surprise to see Hwang named in the best XI again. 

He ranked second for passes made (1264), first for through passes (48), third for key passes (13), third for passes to the final third (258), second for smart passes (53), and first for deep completions (42). Considering that Daejeon barely competed all year, again, makes Hwang's metrics all the more impressive. 

The 2017 season was his last full campaign for Daejeon and he joined Asan Mugunghwa to complete his military service. As he's a local boy born and bred in Daejeon, he is adored by the Daejeon Hana Citizen fans. Some even flew to Canada and Russia to see him play when he was with Vancouver Whitecaps and Rubin Kazan respectively. Some still buy shirts with his name on the back wherever he goes. To the fans, he is the 'Son of Daejeon.' 

He is, essentially, Daejeon's answer to Preston North End legend Sir Tom Finney. Sir Tom was Preston's most famous son, likewise for Hwang In-beom and Daejeon.

Asan Mugunghwa, 2018 (loan)

2018 - Nearly two promotions in one season


Hwang In-beom made the short move to Asan to get his military service out of the way. He played in a midfield three alongside Lee Myung-joo and Ju Se-jong, two experienced full internationals whom Hwang will have learned a lot from. He played 18 times for a team that went on to win the K League 2 title.

In July of 2018, he was part of Korea's Asian Games squad which won gold and as this would earn him exemption from military service, Hwang was free to leave Asan and return to Daejeon. It took a while for things to be finalized but he eventually returned to Daejeon in September in time for the playoff run-in. For Daejeon that year, he played seven times and scored twice, assisting one. For Asan, it was one goal and two assists.

His overall passing accuracy was 85.66%, he ranked second for smart passes at 52 (first per 90), seventh for through passes, third for through passes made per 90, second for through pass accuracy at 38.1%, and fourth for passes to final third per 90.

In the end, Daejeon failed to win promotion and Hwang, who had picked up a knee injury while on international duty, wasn't risked for the playoff matches. The Daejeon manager at the time, Ko Jong-soo, understood that Hwang was on the cusp of securing a move abroad and didn't do anything that would his career at risk. Ko, himself, had his own playing career curtailed by injury and was someone who was once seen as one of the most naturally gifted midfielders of his generation. 

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Vancouver Whitecaps, 2019 - 2020

The move abroad wasn't Europe. Instead, it was MLS with Canadian side Vancouver Whitecaps despite reported offers from Benfica and clubs in Germany. He had a good first season there though, scoring three and assisting three in 34 league appearances. But the Whitecaps finished bottom of the Western Conference, winning just eight of their 34 matches. The following season was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and ended with the special MLS is Back tournament instead. Hwang did feature in that tournament but it was to be his last involvement for the Whitecaps.

Rubin Kazan 2020-2022

In the summer of 2020, Hwang got his move to Europe, signing for Russian Premier League side Rubin Kazan. He seemed to settle in well, too, scoring his first goal in just his second appearance for the club in the 3-0 win over Ufa. He scored two more in 18 appearances and assisted two in his first campaign. His second year there was similar, with two goals and three assists in 17 appearances in the league. A fractured toe prevented him from finishing the season and, in the end, his last appearance for Kazan was in May 2021. 

FC Seoul, 2022 (loan)

Short but sweet

Due to the war in Ukraine, FIFA granted special permission that would allow all foreign players in Ukraine or Russia to suspend their contracts and instead play for another team abroad. There was plenty of interest in Hwang's services but, in the end, he joined FC Seoul.

Despite having not played for a while there was no evidence of ring rust at all. It was also clear that he'd progressed an awful lot as a footballer since his time abroad. He's bolder, there's more aggression in him and he's stronger on the ball - he can get stuck in when he needs to. He featured nine times for FC Seoul, 10 including a 12-minute cameo in the FA Cup quarterfinal win over Jeju United, and Seoul fans fell in love with him.

The amount of Hwang In-beom shirts that were sold was remarkable, considering he was never likely to stay longer than a few months. There were reports of how impressed FC Seoul's staff were with Hwang's professionalism and his quality.

His Seoul debut came on 5th May in the 1-1 draw away to Jeonbuk and the last match of his initial spell came on 22nd June, a loss to Ulsan Hyundai. Throughout that spell he ranked seventh for passes to the final third (114) and third per 90. He showed a passing accuracy of 83.3%, 62.3% for long passes, got three 'second assists' in one game (FC Seoul's 3-1 win over Suwon), showed 70% accuracy for passes to the final third, and 50% accuracy for passes to the penalty area.


[READ: Hwang In-beom sought advice from Paulo Bento on Olympiacos move]

Summary

Hwang In-beom has been a top performer wherever he's been. His move to Olympiacos comes at a critical time in his career, age 25 and with a first World Cup coming up in a few months. He's been to Canada and Russia and back to Korea but his career is now well and truly back on track. Having the chance to win some silverware is what's needed to help him progress even further. It's clear he trusts the advice of the people around him and is determined to make his move to Greece an absolute success. There's no reason why Olympiacos can't make a healthy profit on him either should a team from the so-called "big five" come calling. 

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