Olympics triumph, World Cup joy, Premier League breakthrough: What next for Kim Bo-Kyung?
When he walks out for his country at next summer’s World Cup Finals, it will be hard for Kim Bo-Kyung not to pinch himself, as if this is all a dream. A bronze medal at the London Olympics, followed by promotion to the Premier League with Cardiff City and a small matter of Brazil 2014 to look forward to next summer – all this for a player who was still at university just three years ago.
With eight Premier League games under his belt – as well as 28 appearances in a gruelling Championship campaign last season – the South Korean is now well and truly at home in British football. Though it was not until 2010 that Kim opted to drop out of university and instead focus on his true love of football – it’s fair to say he hasn’t looked back since.
By moving away from his family at a young age after joining Japanese side Cerezo Osaka, Kim toughened himself up ahead of a career that was destined for a move to European football – the home of the biggest club sides in the world. A loan spell at second division Oita Trinita gave Bo-Kyung his first real taste of regular football, before eventually being given a chance by Osaka.
Kim rewarded his side’s faith by scoring eight times from midfield in his first full season in the J-League, before following this up with another seven goals in 15 appearances in the 2011/2012 campaign – a run of form which truly captured Europe’s elite, including Monaco, Celtic and Borussia Dortmund.
Despite the initial interest from Dortmund and Celtic, Cardiff City manager Malky Mackay still remained confident that, by offering a launch-pad into European football, the Asian star could learn his trade in a side seeking promotion to the Premier League – it was a mutual agreement between two parties looking to better themselves: Cardiff City wanted to play in the top-tier of English football, Kim wanted to put himself in the shop window for bigger, more established clubs.
Though things could have been a lot different. Monaco reportedly came close to signing Kim, though potential visa and military duty issues – which had caught out fellow countryman Park Chu-Young previously – meant that Cardiff’s offer was the best on the table and the 22-year-old would be moving away for a second time in his short career.
Before joining the Bluebirds in a deal worth around £2m, Bo-Kyung had the small matter of the Olympic Games in London – providing the South Korean international the opportunity to get accustomed to a new culture. It also provided the attacking midfielder with his happiest moment to date – a bronze medal, which he picked up by helping his side to a victory against rivals Japan in a play-off. South Korea had knocked Great Britain out of the competition en-route to the semi-final, winning a penalty shoot-out at, of all places, Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium – the first real opportunity for City fans to see their future star up-close for the first time.
As morale-boosting as the Olympics had been, Kim took time to get up-and-running with his new club following regular international call-ups which would see him travel half-the-way around the world regularly. It wasn’t until the back-end of September of last season that the man dubbed ‘the next Park Ji-Sung’ by the man himself had got his first minutes under his belt. That coming as a substitute in the club’s 2-0 win at Millwall.
I enjoy playing with confidence; when I’m confident I score goals and I hope to score a lot of goals
His first start couldn’t have ended much better with a 4-0 defeat of Burnley, though he had to wait until December to bag his first goal – a second half effort which helped his side to a 4-1 victory against Blackburn Rovers. This was followed up with another goal at Blackpool the following month in another victory in what would be the club’s first promotion to the Premier League in half a century.
Though goals were few-and-far-between, Bo-Kyung was still a regular for Mackay’s side in the second-half of the season. As Cardiff seemed to hit a little rut with a third of the campaign remaining, Mackay brought Jordon Mutch into the team alongside Kim – a combination which seemingly flourished which culminated in the 3-0 home win against Blackburn.
With a season in a new country under his belt, excitement reached fever pitch during pre-season with three goals in three games for the Korean. It was an aspect of his game he was always likely to add to following his goal-scoring spell in Asian football, though it has somewhat dried up so far in his debut Premier League campaign.
Just two full appearances to date suggest that Kim has gone off the boil somewhat in terms of fan expectations, though it would be harsh to suggest he is under-performing to any extent. International duty has seen the 24-year-old travel back to South Korea on a number of occasions already in the opening stages of this campaign, with the midfielder helping his country to next year’s World Cup – the first Cardiff City player to appear in the Finals of the competition since 1958.
It’s been a gradual progression for Kim through the international scene from the U-20s to the U-23s, before finally picking up his first cap against Zambia in 2010 for the senior side. This was followed by participation in that summer’s World Cup, where he failed to make an appearance – not surprising considering he was aged just 20 and had only six previous caps . Much like his short spell in Japan, goals have also been more regular for his country with two goals in the U-20 World Cup, to go alongside his previous four – taking his tally to 13 goals from midfield for Korea at all levels.
So why is he struggling to find the net with Cardiff City? There is no simple answer, but in short: Kim is simply playing too deep and too defensive. In City’s opening Premier League game against West Ham in August, Kim won an aerial duel, made a successful defensive clearance, a successful tackle, won his side two free-kicks and managed to complete one take-on. Impressive going, though it all happened around his own penalty area – with the large majority of his received passes coming out wide (as can be seen from the snapshot above).
In terms of personal performance, it was a good team effort from Kim in a game in which so many of the side underperformed in a disappointing 2-0 loss. It’s clear by looking at Kim’s goals at previous club Osaka (below), that he thrived on scoring a lot of his goals in – or just outside – the penalty area. It’s a position which he simply isn’t getting into enough – understandable in what is a change of game for the man who looks to build his game around David Silva.
It was actually in the clash against Silva’s Manchester City in which Bo-Kyung put in arguably his finest performance of the season to date. His assist of the assist, which came after his bursting run from midfield, led to Cardiff’s first Premier League goal. It was a good attacking performance from the Korean, which came in a game where he had arguably his worst defensive display of the season so far – though two interceptions around his own area is certainly not bad for an attacking midfielder.
In terms of all-round play, the 0-0 draw against Everton (left) – Kim’s last full appearance – saw the Olympic bronze medallist combine attack with defence – although ultimately it was again his defensive ability that outshone his attacking instinct. The fact that, the odd game aside, Kim has been playing in a more defence-minded role in his time in South Wales to date is something which Mackay is looking to rectify.
“He’s someone who can play right across the midfield in any sort of position,” the former Watford manager said during pre-season. “He is quite comfortable playing central midfield or just a little bit further forward.
“[Moving him further up field] is something I’m trying to impart to him, that he does get into that final third to get in the box or get strikes off at goal, which is what he’s started doing this year.”
Though there’s one word that Mackay is often heard repeating and emphasising when asked about Kim’s talent: “caution”. He may now have his parents living in the country and his English is coming on strongly, but the Scottish manager knows that he has to be careful when it comes to a player with so much potential, playing in a new style.
Kim himself backs this theory, and understands that he was brought into the side to create chances and score goals. “I still have a lot to learn, but feel I can offer my technique and passing ability to the team here at Cardiff City,” the youngster said upon signing for the club.
“I enjoy playing with confidence; when I’m confident I score goals and I hope to score a lot of goals.”
Though as things stand, despite being played in what is a free-role in midfield, he is struggling to create chances on a consistent basis and was left out of the side in place of Mutch this week – rightly so, it must be said.
The man who has in the past been tracked by numerous European heavyweights must now push on to the next level. In order to achieve this ambition, Mackay will have to turn that caution into confidence and watch this future star blossom, before it’s too late.