'Biggest signing in K League history' - what can Lingard expect?

by 24britishtvFeb. 8, 2024, 2 p.m. 26
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Last updated on .From the section Football

It's official. Jesse Lingard is an FC Seoul player.

The 31-year-old England international has not played since a fleeting two-minute substitute appearance against United at the City Ground on 16 April.

On 1 February - transfer deadline day across Europe - it became known Lingard was seriously considering an offer to join FC Seoul.

Club officials had already been in Manchester to assess Lingard's fitness and, by the time he flew to South Korea's capital, the move was a done deal.

Lingard is not yet match fit but says it should not take him long to reach the levels required, although he has some time as the K League season does not start until next month. FC Seoul begin their campaign with the 400-mile trip to Gwangju FC on 2 March.

And this experience promises to be different than anything Lingard has encountered before.

'Lingard could be biggest sports star in South Korea'

"This is the biggest signing in the K League's history," said South Korean football journalist Sungmo Lee.

"Most fans were very surprised when they heard this for the first time but they are very happy to have him in K League."

Aside from the actual football, Lingard, who won the last of his 32 England caps in October 2021, will need to be patient.

In his arrival news conference, the first question came in two parts and took four minutes and 45 seconds to answer, given the question had to be translated from Korean to English and the answer from English back to Korean.

"The last eight months were hard," said Lingard, in reference to his time away from the game.

"My mindset is to never give up. I knew I needed to sign for a club in January and I was training every day, with a strict programme throughout the week.

"I had my own personal trainer and am in good condition - physically, spiritually and mentally."

But what can Lingard expect? The K League - the first mainstream league to start playing worldwide following the Covid-19 enforced shutdown in 2020 - is played in summer, while Lee described South Korea as a "strong football country with passionate fans".

July, when leading European clubs head to Asia for lucrative pre-season tours, is notable for its heavy rain. Manchester City's friendly with Atletico Madrid in Seoul on 31 July had to be delayed by 45 minutes due to a thunderstorm that struck as the match was due to start.

"It's generally warmer and hotter than England, and Korea does have a rainy season but not to the extent the players couldn't play football," said Lee.

As for FC Seoul, their level has slipped since they reached the Asian Champions League final in 2013 - around the same time as Lingard toured Japan and Hong Kong with Manchester United as part of David Moyes' squad.

Ulsan and Jeonbuk are now the K League's leading clubs, while FC Seoul finished seventh in the 12-team top flight last season. New head coach Kim Gi-dong said his "first target" was to "reach the AFC Champions League next season".

Lee says South Korea's media can be as sceptical and as critical as their English counterparts, while the fans are enthusiastic and open-minded.

If Lingard commits fully to his move to "one of the most popular clubs in all Korean sports", he can be a huge star. But if not, he may not last long.

Lee said: "Lingard is a big star from his time at Manchester United and although Seoul is an enormous city, he can expect to be noticed wherever he goes.

"To have an English international player in K League is huge news, not only for football fans but sports fans in general and it is expected there will be a large number of new fans attending FC Seoul's games to watch him.

"In general, Korean fans don't like football players making issues or noise outside the pitch in their private lives. They want players to do their best on the pitch. This is what Lingard needs to focus on.

"If he shows that he's committed to FC Seoul and the K League and does his best in the games, he could be the biggest sports star in South Korea right away, and it'll be great for Korean football as well.

"But if it seems he's not doing his best on the pitch and if he makes issues outside the pitch, he could be criticised by the fans."

The links between South Korea and England

Footballing links between South Korea and England are long established - although Korean players have tended to move to the English top flight rather than vice versa.

Park Ji-sung became the Premier League's first South Korean player when he joined Manchester United from PSV Eindhoven in 2005, with Lee Young-pyo signing for Tottenham soon after.

Park won four Premier League titles with the Red Devils and played in two Champions League finals - and was left out of the squad for another - before joining Queen Park Rangers in 2012.

By that time, Bolton had signed Lee Chung-yong, who also played for Crystal Palace, while Ki Sung-yueng spent two-and-a-half years in the Scottish Premiership with Celtic before moving to Swansea and on to Sunderland and Newcastle.

Tottenham captain Son Heung-min, who shared the Premier League Golden Boot in 2021-22 and is one of the league's outstanding players, is the only challenger to Park as South Korea's greatest export.

Wolves forward Hwang Hee-chan and Brentford B teenager Kim Ji-soo were the other English-based players in South Korea's squad for this year's Asian Cup, when the Taeguk Warriors were knocked out in the semi-final by Jordan.

However, moves the other way have been less notable.

Prior to Lingard's arrival, former Cardiff and Crystal Palace player Jordon Mutch was regarded as the K League's most significant English signing. But he only played a total of 12 games during a short-lived spell at Gyeongnam in 2019.
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