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Breaking: FC Seoul announce signing of Jesse Lingard

FC Seoul have officially announced the signing of former Manchester United star Jesse Lingard on a free transfer in what is a blockbuster transfer for K League.
Image via FC Seoul press release

The 32-capped England international has signed a two-year deal with the capital club and will soon join up with the rest of the team for pre-season in Kagoshima, Japan.

Speaking via the club's official channels Jesse Lingard said:

"Based on respect for Korean football, I am excited to represent the K League as soon as possible by playing good football and dedication to my new team, FC Seoul. I am looking forward to meeting coach Kim Ki-dong and to make an impact in the team.

"My dream from a young child was to play in the Premier League. I've always worked hard to achieve that goal. I've always wanted different challenges and to create new memories in my career. And I believe being in South Korea is the perfect place for that."

With FC Seoul marking 20 years since the club moved back to the capital, it is targeting big-name signings, and, for K League, they haven't come any bigger than Lingard.


Background

Lingard arrived in South Korea on Monday and was greeted by thousands of fans at Incheon Airport, some were lucky enough to get an autograph.

The news that a deal was possible broke on Friday 2nd February by Sky Sports News. However, with reported interest from 26 clubs, including Lazio, many were skeptical that Lingard was K League bound.

But a picture uploaded to Lingard's Instagram story of what appeared to be him about to check in or board a Korean Air flight all but confirmed that he was on his way.

The winger was pictured at a Gangnam hospital on Tuesday ahead of his official medical, and on Thursday images appeared on social media of Lingard posing in an FC Seoul shirt.





Lingard played 232 times for Manchester United, scoring 35 and assisting 21 in all competitions. He has FA Cup, League Cup, and Europa League winners medals and has 32 caps and six goals for England. 

Six of those England caps came in the 2018 World Cup where the Three Lions reached the semifinals.

The Manchester United academy product became a first-team regular in the 2015-2016 season under Louis van Gaal and featured heavily under Jose Mourinho. Lingard's best season to date was the 2017-2018 campaign, where he featured 33 times in the league, scoring eight and assisting six. 

However, first-team football was hard to come by for Lingard under Mourinho's successor Ole Gunner Solksjaer and a loan move to West Ham United in 2021 was aimed at keeping his hopes of a place in the England squad for the Euros alive.

Lingard left Old Trafford for good at the end of the 2021-2022 campaign and joined Nottingham Forest on a one-year deal. He featured 20 times in all competitions for Forest and left after just one season.


Who are FC Seoul?


Located nearly 5,500 miles from where Lingard made his name at Manchester United, FC Seoul and indeed the K League perhaps won't be on the radar of many fans of European football. But as six-time K League champions - three-time champs in the 2004 post-LG Cheetahs era - FC Seoul are one of Asia's most famous clubs.

They have, however, experienced something of a fall from grace over the last few seasons. After winning the K League title on the final day of the 2016 campaign, the capital club then suffered an early AFC Champions League exit the following year and were only able to finish fifth in the league. A relegation battle followed in 2018 and despite a return to the top half of the table in 2019, Seoul have had to settle for lower to mid-table finishes since. Last season, despite a positive start, Seoul finished seventh in a 12-team K League 1. 

FC Seoul are owned by GS Group, a Korean conglomerate that has affiliates in energy and power, retail, and construction. GS Group also own a women's volleyball team, GS Caltex Seoul KIXX, and used to be part of LG before splintering away from the electronics giant in 2004.

FC Seoul play at the 66,000-capacity Seoul World Cup Stadium which hosted three matches at the 2002 World Cup, including Korea's semifinal loss to Germany. The club attract the biggest gates in K League, averaging 22,493 last year.

The club are, however, determined to get back on track and recently appointed one of the league's most promising managers in Kim Gi-dong. Kim had worked wonders with Pohang Steelers in a five-year spell, guiding them to an Asian Champions League final in 2021, and an FA Cup triumph last season - the Steelers's first trophy in 10 years.

If the move goes through, Lingard will be lining up against former Swansea City, Sunderland, and Newcastle midfielder Ki Sung-yueng who recently put pen to paper on a new contract and was reappointed as club captain.


Where will Lingard fit in?


The K League has a foreign player quota of 5+1 in the matchday squad and 3+1 in the starting lineup - the "+1" being a player from an Asia Football Confederation nation. Seoul's other foreigners are German striker Stanislav Iljutcenko, Serbian attacking midfielder Aleksandar Paločević, and Brazilian winger Willyan Barbosa. With Lingard's arrival, not all of FC Seoul's foreign stars can start at the same time. 

"JLingz" will be in direct competition with Willyan for a starting berth. With new manager Kim Gi-dong's 4-2-3-1 system, used 48% of the time for Pohang last season,  Lingard would likely start as one of the wide forwards - Willyan can operate from either side too so the pair could well play together.

The new K League season for FC Seoul begins on March 2nd with an away trip to Gwangju FC. Seoul's first home game of the new campaign is the Gyeongin Derby against Incheon United on March 10th.

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