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Who is Yang Min-hyuk? Gangwon FC’s Teenage Sensation Tipped for a Premier League Move

It’s been a fast-track few months for Yang Min-hyuk. From breaking into the Gangwon FC first team as a semi-pro, to earning himself a professional contract, to potentially securing a move to the Premier League, columnist Nathan Sartain sits back and looks at just why the 18-year-old has created such a name for himself in a short period of time.

Building Blocks

Of course, Yang Min-hyuk didn’t appear out of thin air. Prior to penning any sort of deal with Gangwon FC’s first team, the winger was grabbing attention with his performances at youth level for South Korea. In the AFC U17 Asian Cup last year, for example, the then 17-year-old notched two assists in the opening group game, before continuing to feature throughout the tournament all the way to Korea’s eventual 3-0 defeat in the final to Japan. A goal in a friendly against Morocco would follow three months later, as would appearances in the U17 World Cup towards the end of the year.

Clearly, Yang Min-hyuk was being noted as a promising asset, his quick-thinking, fast-paced style an instant eye-catcher. And that fact was not lost on Gangwon, who promptly took the opportunity to sign the youngster to a semi-pro contract just before the beginning of 2024. This would allow Yang to feature in K League 1 matches, without compromising his high-school studies.

Stepping Up

Naturally, then, with momentum now behind him, Yang Min-hyuk would at least be given a chance to impress in pre-season. And he did just that, quickly. In a friendly against Dynamo Moscow, the teenager bagged a goal and an assist, helping Gangwon to a 2-2 draw, and showing he belonged to be amongst the first-team, as well as on manager Yoon Jong-hwan’s radar as he sought out his most effective lineup for the coming year.

Fortunately, Yang Min-hyuk wouldn’t have to wait long for a top-flight opportunity either, and by the same token, he would be swift in taking it too. Making his K League 1 debut in the opening round against Jeju United, it took just over 30 seconds for the winger to get his first goal contribution, his deflected shot earning him an assist in an eventual 1-1 draw. Any disappointment he wasn’t awarded that goal would soon be wiped away too, as just over a week later Yang scored for the first time in Gangwon colours, a wonderful curling top-corner strike born from his own endeavour to win the ball high up the pitch. Here, the teenager would become the youngest K League 1 goalscorer since 2013 in the process.

Throughout the Bears’ opening games, the energetic 18-year-old became integral to Yoon Jong-hwan’s higher press that was being implemented, averaging (per 90) 3.5 recoveries in the opposition half, three interceptions, 8.5 offensive duels, and 4.25 loose ball duels across the first four fixtures. Adding this to the tangible goal contributions, almost instantaneously, it felt like Yang Min-hyuk had gone from an intriguing prospect, to a genuinely important part of a new-look Gangwon side.

Headline Maker

The good form would continue too. With his ability to play on either the right or left side of the wing, and self-assuredness in taking on opposition defenders, the rapid directness of Yang Min-hyuk became a real benefit to the team, aiding them in being able to execute effective counter-attacks. And, in a similar vein, it would, alongside his general ball retention skill, help afford teammates time to better position themselves to receive a potential cross or through ball in attacking transitions. Put another way, for someone who would attend school during mornings, then training in the afternoon, there certainly wasn’t any lack of chemistry between him and the likes of Lee Sang-heon, Yago Cariello, and Hwang Mun-ki on the pitch.

Continuing, as Gangwon began to build more momentum during May, so too did Yang Min-hyuk. Scoring three times across the six games that month, the winger showed more of a clinical edge to his game, amidst improvements in areas like link-up play, positioning, and decision making. In a slightly tweaked tactical system, the 18-year-old was no longer required to press as aggressively, so instead found alternative ways to stand out by averaging (per 90) five dribbles, 4.16 touches in the opposition box, 2.8 progressive runs, and 1.3 passes to the penalty area.

A Professional Contract

With that in mind, and following another goal and assist in the early part of June, Yang Min-hyuk was to do something no K League player had previously done: sign a professional contract while in the middle of a semi-pro deal. On June 17, a livestream with club CEO Kim Byung-ji brought forward the news to Gangwon fans, acknowledging the surprising success of their standout rookie.

Notably, this rewarding of form came after arguably Yang Min-hyuk’s career-best performance to date, and consecutive Young Player of the Month accolades. In Gangwon’s 3-1 home victory against Suwon FC, which briefly put the Bears top of K League 1, the winger was a constant imposing presence in attack, making eight recoveries, five progressive runs, two successful dribbles, two accurate passes to the penalty area, involving himself in 10 offensive duels, taking four touches in the opposition penalty area, three shots, and scoring a game-sealing goal (his fifth of the year) shortly after Yago put the team 2-1 ahead.

The Future

So, what does the future hold for Yang Min-hyuk? It’s a loaded question, and one almost entirely unable to be answered with resolute certainty. After all, the 18-year-old winger is yet to complete a full professional season, and noticeably retains the rawness a young, developing player should have alongside some of his already refined skill. For although he garners plaudits through confident dribbling, using his pace effectively, composing himself in the box, and creating chances for teammates, there’s definitely still work to be done in areas such as holding the ball up, and finding ways to stamp his authority on games which may be slower in tempo.

But all of the above forms part of why Yang is so highly rated as a player with abounding potential, and so it only seems natural that he will take the next step in his career sooner rather than later. Patience should be exercised of course, and it's a marathon as opposed to a sprint in the long-term with his overall growth, yet by the same token it is exciting in its unpredictability wondering where the winger could end up, and what his ceiling quite is. For now, though, Gangwon can look proudly on perhaps their biggest youth prospect to date, who could well soon move to the Premier League.

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