KI Sung-Yong. It’s a name that will struggle to ring bells if you aren’t a fan of Scottish or Korean football. The name might even fail to register to Scottish fans who aren’t followers of Glasgow Celtic. None-the-less, it’s a name worth remembering as this 21-year-old Korean midfielder is set to have an exciting summer in South Africa.
Having signed for Celtic from FC Seoul in August 2009, the youngster only managed to move westwards after finishing the Korean season with Seoul in January. With only a handful of appearances though, Ki has made an impact at Celtic Park, winning the Man of the Match award on his debut against Falkirk in a 1-1 draw.
THE NEW NAKA?: Ki Sung-Yong has insisted that he is a different kind of player from Celtic’s former favourite Shinsuke Nakamura.
The five Bhoys appearances that Ki has made so far have already been enough to get the Celtic fans talking with enthusiasm about the young Korean, who has impressed with confident passing, a superb technical touch and a unique creative vision.
These assets have made Ki one of the most sought after Asian stars since breaking onto the scene in 2005. At FC Seoul, he was known as the ‘Korean Gerrard’ and Ki has admitted that the Englishman has been the model on which he’s based his playing style. Ki said: “Gerrard is my idol, he’s the complete midfielder. He can score, he can pass and he never stops working. That’s why he’s the best in the world and that’s what I want to be.”
Jeff Hopkins was Ki’s coach throughout his early teenage years and he believes that the youngster has a bright future. Hopkins said: “Ki was 13 when I first worked with him and even at that age, you could tell he was really special, the best player I have seen at that age. We went on tour to England and after a few minutes of a practice match, Derby wanted him. If he can go on to have a good World Cup, he could be worth a lot of money.”
CONFIDENT KID: Despite his youthful age, Ki Sung-Yong plays with the authority and self-belief of a seasoned pro.
At the World Cup this summer, he will have the opportunity to fulfil that potential. The Taeguk Warriors have been drawn into Group B, alongside Nigeria, Greece and heavyweights Argentina. Against such an array of abilities and playing styles, Ki must showcase the adaptability of attacking threats that have made him such a popular figure in his homeland.
The biggest challenge will undoubtedly come from Argentina. The match against the South American’s will see Ki sharing the stage with Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano. If the Koreans are to have any chance of victory, Ki will need to control the tempo, utilising his creative passing and pace to keep Argentina struggling to guess his next move.
South Korea has proved to be a hotbed of talent recently, with many youngsters making it as professionals at European clubs. The Taeguk Warriors semi-final finish at the 2002 World Cup demonstrated that their players have to be treated with respect. As the 2009 Asian Young Player of the Year, Ki Sung-Yong is perhaps the most exciting South-Asian player that will feature at this year’s tournament.
MIDFIELD ENGINE: Since his international debut in 2008, Ki has been an ever-present player, featuring in all of South Korea’s World Cup qualification matches.
Whilst it would be unfair to compare Ki to his idol Gerrard, there is no doubting that he can make an impression in South Africa. South Korea will not win the tournament but players like Ki can help them punch above their weight whilst highlighting themselves in the process. Senegal’s performance in 2002 saw the rise of El-Hadji Diouf. With some luck and hard work over the coming months, there is no reason why the surprise name on everyone’s lips this summer can’t be that of Ki Sung-Yong.
Ki Sung-Yong demonstrates his superb creative vision.