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scouting

K League 1's most valuable players and how market valuations are calculated

Jesse Lingard's move to FC Seoul has placed him as Transfermarkt's most valuable player in K League 1 at 6 million euros, three times more than Nana Boateng of Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors who'd held that mantel before the former England international's arrival. Who else is in the top 10, and how are market values calculated?
(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Top 10

1. Jesse Lingard, FC Seoul (€6.00m)

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
He's not kicked a ball in a competitive game since a two-minute cameo for Nottingham Forest at home to his former employers Manchester United, but Jesse Lingard is the most valuable player in K League 1. Read more about Lingard's arrival here.

2. Nana Boateng, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (€2.00m)


Defensive midfielder Nana Boateng joined Jeonbuk from CFR Cluj in the summer as one of Dan Petrescu's first signings. The Ghanaian played 13 times in the league and helped Jeonbuk secure a place in AFC Champions League 2 for 2024-2025. Boateng had worked with Petrescu before and boasts an impressive CV having won the Romanian top division title in 2022, the Norwegian league with Strømsgodset IF in 2013, and the Finish Cup in 2021 with Kuopion Palloseura.

3. Darijan Bojanić, Ulsan HD (€1.50m)


Darijan Bojanić joined Ulsan from Hammarby last winter along with Gustav Ludwigson. But unlike fellow Swede Ludwigson, the defensive midfielder hasn't been able to have too much of an impact after barely featuring for the Horangi last term, playing just nine times in the league. He does, however, have three Swedish cup winners medals with three different teams - Hammarby, Östersunds, and IFK Göteborg.

4. Seol Young-woo, Ulsan HD (€1.40m)


The highest-valued Korean player will perhaps see his valuation go up thanks to strong performances for South Korea at the 2023 AFC Asian Cup. There have been links to Europe over the last few months but it looks as though Seol Young-woo is set to stay at the club for the time being. The 25-year-old has two K League 1 winners medals, one ACL, and has Asian Games gold meaning he is military exempt.

5. Gustav Ludwigson, Ulsan HD (€1.3m)


Yet another Ulsan player in the top 10, Gustav Ludwigson joined the Horangi last winter and made an instant impact, scoring the winner against Jeonbuk on the opening day. The 30-year-old winger made 27 league appearances for Ulsan last term, scoring six and assisting three.

6. Song Min-kyu, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (€1.20m)


The highest-valued forward player among the Korean contingent is Jeonbuk's Song Min-kyu. Still only 24, Song has had a stop-start Jeonbuk career but last season, his third at the club, was his best in a green shirt, scoring 10 from 37 appearances in all competitions.

7. Jasir Asani, Gwangju FC (€1.20m)


After scintillating performances for Albania, it's something of a surprise to see that Jasir Asani is still with Gwangju FC. Nevertheless, the winger staying with Lee Jung-hyo's side will be a massive boost for the team's first foray into the AFC Champions League. Asani arrived in K League last winter from Hungarian top-division side Kisvárda FC. Seven goals and three assists in 33 appearances marked a very solid start to life in K League.

8. Matheus Sales, Ulsan HD (€1.20m)


Another newcomer to K League, Matheus Sales is a Brazilian defensive midfielder who joins from Coritiba FC. The 28-year-old spent last season on loan at Atlético-GO where he made 28 appearances in Brazil's Série B.

9. Tiago Orobó, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (€1.20m)


Tiago Orobó came so close to winning the K League 1 Golden Boot last year and missed out only on minutes played, having the same number of goals as Joo Min-kyu. His performances helped steer Daejeon Hana Citizen to safety in the club's first season back in K League 1 and persuaded Jeonbuk to move for the 30-year-old as Dan Petrescu begins something of a rebuild at Jeonju Castle.

10. Um Won-sang, Ulsan HD (€1.10m)


The fifth Ulsan player to sit in the top 10, Um Won-sang, struggled with injuries last season but eight goals and six assists were enough for the former Gwangju winger to be named in the 2023 K League 1 Best XI.

Full list on Transfermarkt


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K League United spoke to the Head of Asian Football at Transfermarkt, Tiberius Radziejewski, to get an insight into how it all works, starting with the valuations themselves.

"The Transfermarkt market values are calculated taking into account various pricing models. A major factor is the Transfermarkt community, whose members discuss and evaluate player market values in detail. In general, the Transfermarkt market values are not to be equated with transfer fees. The goal is not to predict a price, but an expected value of a player in a free market. Both individual transfer modalities and situational conditions are relevant in determining market values." 

Image courtesy of Transfermarkt

As one might expect, there are "numerous factors" taken into account when calculating a player's market value, including market demand.

"Demand is defined using a paid transfer fee and salary in the context of the individual and situational parameters. It should be noted that in bigger leagues there is a heavier focus on transfer fees, while in smaller leagues where there is a greater emphasis on free transfers, the focus is primarily on salaries to determine market values. Our goal is to reflect the demand for the player and adjust for special factors or framework parameters in the medium term.  

 "At the same time, market values are viewed both individually and in comparison to other players, clubs, and leagues. A player with an expiring contract has a transfer value of zero, the market value, however, is calculated independently from his actual transfer value. In this respect, even a short contract length can only be taken into account to a limited extent. The individual transfer modalities are also relevant in the case of a possible difference between market values and transfer fees."

Market values don't fluctuate like the stock market in the sense that they are changing daily.

"In principle, every league in the Transfermarkt database will undergo a market value update twice a season. Usually, after the end of the season, as well as during a season when enough games are played to allow for market adjustments. Further intermediary updates are conducted in many leagues to allow for player adjustments throughout the season, for example for young players with strong performances or for players newly signed to the league. Young players, in particular, are targeted in intermediary updates as it allows Transfermarkt to react to increased playing time or players that previously did not have a market value." 

Transfermarkt's Factors of the Market Value Determination
  • Age
  • Performance at the club and national team
  • Level and status of the league, both in sporting and financial terms
  • Reputation/prestige
  • Development potential
  • League-specific features
  • Marketing value
  • Number & reputation of interested clubs
  • Performance potential
  • Experience level
  • Injury susceptibility
  • Different financial conditions of clubs and leagues
  • General demand and "trends" in the market
  • General development of transfer fees
Evidently, there's a lot to take into consideration. Individual transfer modalities - in other words the specifics of a player's move - such as contract length, whether the transfer was a swap deal, whether there's a buyback option, and whether there's a release clause. There are also what's called "situational conditions" such as the will, desire, or interests of the player, the club not needing to sell to the highest bidder, the player's salary, whether the club wants to sell the player, and whether the club is in a pressure situation whether that be financial or from a competitive point of view.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Jesse Lingard is by far the most valuable player in K League at present at a cool six million euros, but his market value is expected to go down due to playing in a smaller league than he was before, and his age. 

But what about players linked to be going the other way from K League to Europe? Seol Young-woo, and perhaps after a very solid showing in the AFC Asian Cup will be valued even more highly, finds himself in the top 10. But the links to Europe throughout the tournament might have affected his market value.

"Yes, Seol Young-woo was linked to several European clubs this winter. As the rumours appeared only recently there has been no update in his value since - his market value got updated in December and therefore will likely either undergo an update in spring as part of an intermediary update or in summer. Considering the possible fees mentioned in the rumours, his current value fits really good, however." 

Ulsan have five of the top 10 valued players in K League 1, including Darijan Bojanić who arrived last winter but only managed 13 appearances under Hong Myung-bo last season, including just nine in the league. The reputation and standing of a club also affect market values.

"Yes, there is a difference if a club with big financial backing signs a player or if a non-franchise team does. Many of the Ulsan players in the top 10, however, came from abroad only recently and took their value with them. Last year, Matheus Sales played very well in Brazil's second tier and therefore increased his value to 1.2 million euros last November. If he can confirm this level in Korea remains to be seen. 

"Bojanić, however, is a very different example. He came with a really high market value at 2 million euros, and accordingly very high expectations, but was not able to meet them at all. Consequently, his value has been going down since then." 

Image courtesy of Transfermarkt

Another interesting inclusion in the top 10 is Jeonbuk's Song Min-kyu who looked destined for great things while at Pohang. Song managed 20 goals and 10 assists in 78 appearances for Pohang, giving him a goal contribution every 2.6 matches. For Jeonbuk, it's 2.9 having scored 17 and assisted 13 in 87 appearances. Song has a lot of name value which also affects valuations.

"It does definitely affect a market value. Transfermarkt does not penalise or punish bad season starts right away in the first update. Popular examples are Julian Brandt (Borussia Dortmund) and perhaps Leroy Sané (Bayern Munich) who joined with really high expectations and didn’t manage to meet them first, but now they both are very important key players to their team. A contrasting case is Chelsea FC’s Mykhailo Mudryk who has not yet lived up to his value and fee after his record-breaking transfer to England. Sometimes players adjust differently to new environments. Especially if they come from abroad; footballers are humans after all. 

 "Song Min-kyu proved his potential and abilities before and Jeonbuk paid an accordingly high fee for him. Given his age, it's completely natural for his performance to fluctuate but he starts at Jeonbuk with high expectations in the upcoming season. Since the transfer to Jeonbuk, his value has decreased a little, nonetheless." 

The transfer window is closed in most of Europe now but remains open for K League teams until March. Transfermarkt has become a go-to resource for many, including fans, agents, and clubs. Tiberius admits that he probably spends "way too much" time updating information but it's something he enjoys.

"It is really fascinating and I continue to learn so much about people, culture and communication. As Head of Asian Football I am in contact with pretty much all Asian countries every day which is very exciting. Very recently we added the Oman Pro League and the Indian U17 Youth League, for example. Now you can see every match report, player stat, coach and other data of everyone in these leagues as well. 

"Currently, we work a lot on covering K League historical data, too, hence we have all 446 matches of Go Yo-han displayed including stadiums, refs, all bench players and so on. A very lovely point for me is that we are working on collecting these for almost all countries worldwide on Transfermarkt. Thus, if we have legendary players - but also amateur players - that moved abroad like Lee Dong-gook we also have the data from abroad perfectly displayed in all detail. I can look up that Lee played only seven times in Germany but 23 times in the Premier League - I love it. 

"For the K League, I can proudly confirm that we added all confirmed 728 transfers so far (including K League 2). Also for K3 and K4, we added 456 transfers. While pretty much all K3 league teams are up to date there is still a bit to check in K4 League. It is always interesting to see the number of players without a club in K3 and K4 League after a season ends. Most of them transfer to fellow clubs or leave the football stage permanently. 

"Recently, we launched a Korean version of Transfermarkt, www.Transfermarkt.co.kr, for our Korean visitors. Small disclaimer however: the translation in some parts of the statistics is yet to be perfected because of a file error. Please be a bit lenient.” 

 In terms of professional clubs and agents using Transfermarkt:

"Yeah, there are a lot of mentions here and there every day. While almost every agent i the world frequently uses Transfermarkt, clubs and even leagues worldwide do it as well. Clubs use it for entertaining announcement videos or scout players on Transfermarkt. As for the variety of the database, you can scroll down on the landing page to see some live updated data stats. Right now, we display 1,153 leagues and 862 cup competitions with match and player data accessible to everyone. 

"A specific example would be people like infamous former Barcelona president Bartomeu a few years ago, or a recent example such as amateur French fourth division teams or German 1. FC Union Berlin a few days ago. Also, players that feature in graphics posts on the popular English Transfermarkt Instagram account often repost them happily on their Insta stories - they love that in Turkey - or even league associations like the one of Switzerland. There are a lot of charming and interesting stories, but these are a few recent ones that I recall." 

The K League transfer window closes on March 8th, seven days after the season begins.

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