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Transfers: Jesse Lingard arrives in South Korea ahead of FC Seoul move

Former Manchester United and England star Jesse Lingard has arrived in South Korea to finalise a move to FC Seoul.
(Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
The 31-year-old, who has been without a club since July after departing Nottingham Forest, landed at Incheon Airport at around 4:30 PM KST on Monday ahead of a medical and the formal signing of his two-year contract with the option of a third.

It wasn't until just after 5 PM that Lingard walked into the arrivals lounge where thousands of fans had gathered to greet him. 

The winger stopped to sign a few autographs before heading out of the terminal and towards Seoul.


A picture uploaded to Lingard's Instagram story, showing what looked like a departure gate for a Korean Air flight, sent the domestic media into overdrive. He is coming to K League after all.

The BBC reports that Lingard is expected to sign and then head to Kagoshima in Japan where the rest of the team is for the next phase of pre-season.

Lingard hasn't been short of offers with the Daily Mail reporting that he has had offers from now fewer than 26 clubs, including Serie A giants Lazio, so the signing is a huge coup for FC Seoul.

The reality of a deal being possible was something that caught FC Seoul boss Kim Gi-dong off guard:

"I heard about it two to three weeks ago and I thought it was unrealistic. I asked our director of football about it and he replied to me 'Yes, it's true we are in contact with the player but the deal is not confirmed yet.

"If he comes, of course, it would be great for K League as more foreign fans would be interested in our league.

"And if he comes as he was not playing for a while, we need to give him time to adapt rather than expect an instant impact."



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 gets 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, guiding them to an FA Cup triumph last season which was 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. 


Where would 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. Not all of FC Seoul's foreign stars, then, can start at the same time and will be in direct competition with Willyan for a starting berth. 

But with new manager Kim Gi-dong's 4-2-3-1 system, used 48% of the time for Pohang last term,  Lingard would likely start as one of the wide forwards - Willyan can operate from either side too so the pair could well play together.

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